The one thing ambitious graduates do while at university

Jan 8, 2015

As a graduate with the prospect of graduating £45k in debt you cannot afford a lackadaisical attitude to preparing yourself to find a good job. If you are an ambitious graduate there is one important thing you must do while still at university. Prepare.

The reason you are at university is to invest in your future and increase your career prospects. But with the high level of debt at the start of your adult working life you cannot afford to be among the 35% of graduates who never find graduate level employment paying a salary sufficient to clear their student loans.

Four in ten graduates in the recent Which? survey said that their earnings were below what they expected, and 47% said that university had not opened the door to jobs in the way that they were expecting.

Even after taking into consideration local and national market trends and students’ abilities and motivations for work, research suggests that a significant minority of graduates aren’t faring well when to comes to employment. A quarter are not in professional jobs six months post-graduation. Graduates who find themselves in such a position will be paying off their loans for many years to come.

Ambitious graduates prepare early

With competition increased many graduates now feel that one degree isn’t enough and so go on to study for a postgraduate qualification in order to increase their prospects. There is nothing wrong with this but it obviously increases the amount of debt owed.

The key point here is: What are you expecting? Are you ambitious enough to get it? Do you have a plan?

If you are at university then you are among 43% of the UK’s young people who go to an institution that still operates in some respects as it did 50 years ago when just 5% of young people went to university. That means that today’s graduates are not getting out of their university experience the same level of security or benefits their parents and grandparents enjoyed.

An ambitious graduate does not leave preparation for work up to the university or until after graduation.

Ambitious graduates see themselves as co-producers

You must understand the nature of the product you are receiving. A great university outcome is not one that students can passively acquire without actually participating in a partnership where the university provides the lectures etc. and the student actively studies them. You are co-producers of your university outcome.

One of the most important measures by which students measure the quality of their university experience is how much help they receive to prepare themselves to find work and actual employment outcomes.

The figures released by Which? are concerning in this area: when it comes to help to find a job at university, 43% of students say they attended a careers fair, 43% career talks and 30% work preparation sessions. Despite figures showing that students who study a sandwich placement being paid 8% higher salaries six months after graduating only one in 10 do a sandwich course, and 42% a work placement or internship.

Ambitious graduates develop employability skills

A quarter (23%) of graduates in the survey said they felt their university had not helped them to develop all the skills they needed for employment. A fifth (20%) said they weren’t satisfied that their university had helped them to develop communication skills, and a similar percentage (21%) said this about teamwork skills.

With eight out of 10 employers citing employability skills as among the top three most important considerations when deciding which graduates to employ, acquiring, developing and articulating these skills is paramount, whether the university helps you with them or not.

There have been many improvements for students over the years, especially since the 2011 market reforms. The recent Which? report points out that students benefit from greater clarity on how to access consumer rights legislation and access to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. There are now over 600 bodies representing students’ interests and there has been an increase in the use of Student Charters to set out student rights.

However, there are still many other ways in which universities lag behind our time, especially when it comes to what we might call delivery of customer satisfaction on outcomes.

It remains to be said that as an undergraduate it is within your best interests to do all you can to give yourself the best chance of getting the kind of graduate employment you desire. That is the only way to ensure you are in the best position to quickly pay off the £45k that awaits you upon graduation.

 Act now and get help if you need it.

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