Comment & Analysis
Feb 6, 2020

For Students, Having ‘Too Many Options’ is Both a Luxury and a Liability

It might seem a champagne problem, but the landscape of career paths can be incredibly stressful for students, writes Julie Leenane.

Julie Leenane Assistant Opinion Editor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

The final years of college can be exciting, bringing with them both the sense of a new chapter and the end of an old one. In a four-year undergraduate degree, finishing second year feels like a watershed, the end of the first years somehow mixed up with the sensation that you have barely started college at all. Suddenly, everyone who told you that college flies by was proven right, and the big, bad world starts to beckon.

Third year brings with it a whole new set of difficulties and responsibilities. Chief among them is the sensation that you should be planning for after college, figuring out if postgraduate life is for you, or what other career-building activities you should be involved in. It can feel like everyone around you has their career mapped out, has been networking since day one, and that they will all move onto something great while you will be left behind. It can be overwhelming, even terrifying, and adds an extra dimension of pressure to the already stressful college environment.

The academic demands of your last two years far exceed what came before, a situation compounded by an extra item that keeps cropping up on our to-do lists. Between internships, graduate programmes, work experience, real jobs, postgraduate courses and more, the pile of applications to complete seems higher than the pile of coursework you’ve been assigned. This landscape of opportunity we are promised as young graduates feels both never-ending and, at times, hopeless. The sheer amount of options that are supposedly open to us means that wading through applications and researching positions can breed the sensation that nowhere will actually be a proper fit.


On top of this, it can feel that in order to get these jobs, you need a good degree, but what if spending too much time on the applications is jeopardising your chances at getting those grades in the first place? The difficulty of striking this balance is exacerbated further by the demands of extracurricular activities and part time jobs.

This landscape of opportunity we are promised as young graduates feels both never-ending and, at times, hopeless

The realisation dawns that everything you have done over the last few years – all those society nights out, that committee room you sat in drinking endless cups of tea when you should have been at lectures – has to be sold on a CV and translated into cover-letter competencies to paint you as an employable human.

Even when you do master the job-market jargon, those rejection emails keep coming in, and you start to question everything – from your degree choice to what you really want to do with it. For those in general degree courses, the road can feel longer again, as there is no perceived direct line of fire to a training contract or graduate programme. Deciding you want to be a lawyer halfway through your arts degree may prompt you to question whether you should have done law the first time round.

This is compounded by the sensation that everyone else has it sorted – hearing as others start to line up “grown-up” jobs for after college makes it all feel a bit too real.

The first thing to acknowledge at this new stage is, of course, the privilege of being there in the first place. Searching for a career path with a degree under your belt is a position of huge advantage. The seemingly endless market of internships and other opportunities directed at young graduates is a stream we are incredibly lucky to tap into, even if it is highly competitive and overwhelming.

Having too many opportunities to choose from is something of a champagne problem. However, the pressure it puts on students day to day is also worth considering.

It is all too easy to become trapped in a toxic cycle where it feels like you’re never doing enough to build your career. There is always going to be another internship advertised or another grad programme you’re only vaguely interested in but feel under pressure to apply to because of the very real fear that you will be left with nothing. The breadth of events available through the Careers Service can be fantastic, but it is equally important to know where to draw the line.

The real challenge lies not just in balancing your academics with your job-research, but in keeping the two in perspective to live your life

It is impossible to go to everything, and though the prospect of narrowing your areas of interest is frightening, it is important to realise that exploring every opportunity available just isn’t feasible.

Figuring out the most useful events for you, and attending enough to hedge your bets on a number of applications that may or may not come through, is about as much as anybody can manage. In the terrifying landscape of networking, meeting the right person at the right time can make all the difference – but it is also worth remembering that the connections you make with your peers will be just as important down the line.

The real challenge lies not just in balancing your academics with your job-research, but in keeping the two in perspective to live your life right now.

Ultimately, navigating this world as a young graduate is about following your own path. So what if your friends already have jobs lined up at the Big Four, or at a prestigious firm, and you’re not quite there yet? More likely still, you may not even know what you want out of life yet, and may need to spend a couple more years figuring out where it is you want to go. It’s hard to chase your dreams when you don’t know what they are, and though it’s important to take on the opportunities available to you, it isn’t worth getting stuck in something that isn’t right just because it is there. Following your gut, and gaining experience wherever you can, are the only things you can really expect of yourself. Perhaps it is all good practice for building work–life balance in the real world anyway.

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