Graduation, or "cap and gown" dayLouis Ashworth

Maybe it's the rose-tinted specs that come with being half a year on the other side of graduation, but I think fondly of my time in Cambridge. I remember sun-drenched brunches in the college courtyard, thinking Formal Logic was God's gift to Undergrads, and a supercut of everyone who weathered it alongside me. The scales fall from my eyes as we pan to finalist Mark submitting his coursework at the end of Lent. 6am, eight cups of coffee (and one can of cider) down, imploding. That wasn't atypical for him. The ups and downs were roughly 50/50.

In most of those moments, graduation was just an ominous glow in the distance. If you're much like my friends, it's probably felt far away to you too. But this is the penultimate term for some of you. With each casual reminder that it's your last time doing x, y and z in Cambridge, things start to get real.

It's hard to plan for. If you've managed to get it sorted in a way that works for you, then my kudos. You might have gone to a school which prepared you for spring weeks, internships, and cushy grad jobs in the City. Even then, things might not have worked out - you've changed a lot in the interceding time. For most of us, a lifetime of academic excellence builds up to a very similar climax. Vacantly scanning CamCareers; living off Careers Fair merch; bending your degree subject to align with the values of your prospective employer of choice. Cool.

“The purgatorial No Man's Land between watching your last May Week sunrise and walking down the aisle of the Senate House”

Truth be told, I chose to walk down King's Parade on what my grandma termed "cap and gown day" with little in the way of a plan. The big takeaways from my stint as an internship applicant in financial services were that applying for jobs takes a long time. Preparing for interviews takes a long time. Sitting assessment centres takes a very. Long. Time. Plus, eight weeks stretches of intense term fed my personal difficulties and encouraged their neglection. I had work to do, and an impression that my functional time was too precious to waste on applying to employers whose company websites don't even tell you what your day-to-day work involves. I needed space to reflect, plan and think. So I kicked the can down the road.

Add that I'd always wanted to travel. Not in the 'I want to wear baggy hand-woven elephant-print trousers and meditate in Bali' kind of way (although I'd take being insufferable over being home any day), so much as I wanted to chase some interests. I'd been very fortunate to spend 5 weeks travelling by bus and train around Europe, and I missed having the privilege to spend my days hiking through foreign mountain ranges on inadequate prior experience. I wanted to do these things alone while I was still at a stage in my life where I wanted to do those things alone.

You can probably see why I chose a Gap Year after I graduated. And it's not entirely true that I had no plan. Two years of studying Philosophy taught me that if you stick to a few guiding principles, they will entail certain things. My Gap Year Principles were these: I would figure out what I (roughly) wanted to do for the next three years. I would work in jobs which were personally and professionally valuable. And I would travel.

“I needed space to reflect, plan and think. So I kicked the can down the road.”

The Milk Round threatened to stymie my approach. This excellent piece of social engineering posits that most of the major employers a white collar Cantab might aim to impress conclude their application processes by February. Finding the self-restraint to resist this temptation required an uneasy psychological adjustment. I'd once told myself 'you will be a City boy,' and ignoring these overtures from big business meant turning away from that clear-cut path. With hindsight, I'm still glad that I only panic-applied to one grad scheme and didn't qualify for the lack of a full UK Driver's License - I didn't have to extend a single essay deadline for the sake of an interview.

See, as a student intern at GigantAccounting Ltd (real name withheld), I wasn't exactly a human photocopier but did have to dig in hard to pick up any impactful work. A purely anecdotal rule of thumb is that you're likely to feel a bit more hamster wheel-y in a company which thinks scummily of those folks who don't have time to fill in an application until June. The smaller the firm, the more real responsibility you get assigned.

So if you're even vaguely thinking about taking a gap year for even vaguely the same reasons as me, here's my advice: neglect the Milk Round. Not because I want you to fail, but because I know your timetable. You have dissertation proposals to prepare, coursework to plan out, and all of that alongside your regular supervision work. If you're desperate to bag that three year training contract, miscellaneous GigantaCorps stand a good chance of being around next September.


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The chance to milk the last out of this Bubble World we live in will not. In the purgatorial No Man's Land between watching your last May Week sunrise and walking down the aisle of the Senate House, a brief look on CamCareers may reveal to you, as it did to me, that the world doesn't begin and end with businesses under the monikers of Bulge Bracket or Magic Circle. You don't need to do it all when you're still half a year away from getting started.

Make a plan. It's okay if that plan is vague; just three bullet points of things that you want scribbled in a notebook. They might not help you throw together a deposit and a month's rent in advance for SpareRoom.com, but they'll give you a direction to go in. Graduation is the great leveller, coming for BNOCs, scholars and Turf gremlins alike. Most of us go through it, and many of us are okay.

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