The application headache starts
“Outline a situation in which you have, by your leadership of a team, overcome a difficult obstacle.” That’s right, leadership. We secretly know that you are chubby middle-class third year student with no experience of the real world, but we want to see how well you can blag this. What’s it going to be then, eh? A gap year anecdote? Oh come on. Maybe a story about how, as a school prefect, you solved a difficult situation involving a common room spat? Grow up, you blatant mediocrity. Into to the bin with your withered excuse for a CV, you haven’t got a chance – your predicted 2:1, even those three A*s at GCSE, just don’t cut it.
It’s Week 7 of the first term of my third year, and I’m applying for jobs. Life isn’t over when you start opening the Milkround and Graduate Jobs emails which, maggot-like, have infested your inbox since the freshers’ fair, but you know it’s the beginning of the end. Before long, it’ll be the 9-5 grind, the tiny flat in north London – wondering why, each morning, you end up reading Metro. Oh, and you’ll only be allowed to get drunk at the weekends.
But how do you get there? Well there are, I’ve discovered, three distinct types of job. 1: The job of your dreams (well paid and well interesting). 2: The sensible job (well paid and well dull). 3: The left-field pov job (well interesting but you’ll be well poor). There could be a fourth type, well poor and well dull, but it’s better not to think about it. Reality hurts, especially if you a Waterstone’s bookseller with an Ph. D.
Now I’m not one for Brookerish pessimism – in fact, it bores me intensely – but there is one more crucial point to be made: your preferences bear no relation to the preferences of other third years. So, for example, while being a management consultant might be a number 2 type on your list, it might be a number 1 on someone else’s. Yes, you heard it. Somewhere, probably in a polluted, stinky corner of north-east England, there is a spotty girl called Belinda who wants more than anything to be a management consultant. And this works, too, for type 3. Some people seem to want left-field pov jobs; to splash about in wellies as an archaeological researcher digging up bog-buried skeletons, or to work for a city council as chief traffic light executive. They will have more drive than you, and probably less ego – to them, you see, money doesn’t matter.
But to most of us, money does matter, so the upshot of all of this is classic third-year angst. In second year, you saw it in the library. Now you’re experiencing it. There’s not a huge amount more work, but you realise that you care. Suddenly you need that 2:1 more than ever, seminars give you performance anxiety, and key texts becomes your second, very cold, home.
Worse still, on a Saturday afternoon you’ll find yourself trying to figure out a real-life situation in which you have led a team a overcome a difficult situation. What do these people even want? Difficult to tell, really, when you don’t know what a management consultant does. Eventually, the intense boredom of the application got the better of me – I started to lose concentration, to daydream and to reassess my angsty third-year situation.
First, it became apparent that English and Philosophy was a very silly choice of degree. Three years after the decision was made, it turns out that economists and management types will do well after all. But me? In English, I’ve spent almost three years attending a weekly book-club to hear emotional and girly responses to third-rate set texts. Ok, I’ve often appreciated the genius of writers – Shakespeare, for instance – but rarely have I formed any valid or noteworthy critical opinion. In Philosophy, the opposite takes place: far from examining the beauty or cleverness of the philosophical argument, we assume to role of the argument’s challenger and attempt to prove its inadequacy. Discuss the weaker points of Kant’s coperincan revolution? Ok fine. Then, just to make sure George Eliot doesn’t get cocky, I’ll re-write Middlemarch.
Nevertheless, after a pensive period of Lama-like meditation, I realised that third year wasn’t actually that angsty after all. Life for third years, I thought, is good. And the worst thing is, most of us won’t realise it until it’s over. We have a very manageable amount of work, and we have a lot of time to sleep and eat. While the world’s financial strcutures crumble, shops and restaurants, pubs, bars and clubs cut prices, we still have a solid income with good old student. We, more than any other group in society, are reaping the capitalism’s fat rewards.
Students seem to enjoy telling others how much we’ve worked. Or that we’ve pulled yet another all-nighter. But, really, university life is slow and it’s fun.