College or life; what is next?

Paula O’Sullivan takes a look at the options available to all those seeking out their futures…

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College or life; what is next?

Shy children hide behind their mother’s jeans while others leap and bound towards the school steps without any fear. Bloodshot eyes are wiped as parents reluctantly hand their four-year-old over to the education system, to be moulded by school teachers into viable and productive members of society. Weeks and months and years fly by in a series of routines punctuated by the summer holidays.

Skip forward a bit, and the great hall echoes the excited chirps and laughs of youngsters as they line up to collect their robes. No, this is not a primary school gymnasium, but today you could be forgiven for thinking so. Today, parents wait for their children to collect their robes and tasselled caps instead of their pegged coats. It is ironic really that 18 years of institutional education has culminated in the wearing of a robe that resembles the cape of a children’s television hero.

The protective shroud of education has been swept away from those not wishing to pursue postgraduate study. The world where they can bring home their washing at the weekend is now gone. Students go out on a Monday night, dance the night away and wake up with sauce stains on their jeans, from the chipper on the way home. One bleary-eyed morning, much sooner than they realise it, they will wake up and be… 26 and finished.

Being 26 and finished is a far cry from the good oul’ days of being a 21-year-old student with another two or three years of college ahead of you. Being 26 involves learning how much ‘tie-backs’ for living room curtains cost. You will start to be invited to stag or hen parties of people you went to college with, who were in fact three months younger than you. 26 is where you are expected to have travelled for nine months before having run out of money and come home early.

When asked where they will be when they are 26, the three girls before me laugh. “Somewhere sunny, hopefully!” It is obvious that today of all days is not a day for serious discussion. Perhaps en route to the college pub is not the place to be apprehending graduates for a few questions on their future.

The ‘current economic climate’ has definitely forced some people into further study. “I’m going to do a Masters because I know there’s no job for me out there. We’ll see about a bit of travelling after that.” Do people really want to do another year in college after a gruelling three or four years? “Not really,” he admits, “but it’s only a year and it’s better than being around home annoying my parents.” I hear from behind him, a very assertive “Yes”. There is a sense of ‘buying time’ with the notion of doing a Masters Degree or some other postgraduate course, ‘waiting around’ for things to get better perhaps.

Underlying here are serious issues: future prospects for graduates. The general consensus is that there are two options, postgraduate study or travel. Are there many people staying around to work? I managed to catch a pair walking with interlocked fingers. “There’s a few working, but maybe three out of four from our group,” the girl says, “and there’s about 20 of us”. Her companion pipes up, “We were working in summer camps in Spain this summer so that kept us busy. We’re each going on to do a Masters now.” The reality of them having to separate for this study is evident on their faces.

TEFL has of course been around for years, but agencies such as Tiger English and Sabis Schools have had staggering numbers through their doors in the last few years. One cannot do any travelling if one has no money, and the Teaching English as a Foreign Language programmes allow you to earn money and see a bit of the world. Not all as rosy as it seems however – there is a minimum of a 12-month contract in many places and little prospect of getting home for Christmas.

So, are a Masters Degree and a spot of travelling going to be a natural choice for all graduates? It will mean that you’ll have lived abroad for a while, but having to live with your parents again while you find someone to employ you after years abroad might be challenging. Will the lucky ones be those who found jobs and never saw the world? Balance is the answer, even if it’s tricky to find the ideal solution in today’s world.

The years between secondary school and university graduation have gone by in a haze for many. The years to follow will be similarly haze-like. Graduates have both delayed and facilitated their ‘growing up’ over the last three or four years. Gone are the days when a graduate will easily walk into a job with their degree in tow, fresh from their Psychology lectures and undergrad thesis. Safety and a sound job in the civil service or teaching are no longer viable so it’s time to take a broader look at the options available to decide where they will try to buy more time.

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