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How do final-year university students feel about their future?

18 February 2021

UK Study Centre spoke with final-year student Lara S. about her life at university during Covid and what she feels about her future.

By Vica Granville

Later this month, Education Minister Gavin Williamson is expected to announce that English universities will reopen for face-to-face lectures on the 8th March. This news has had the press talking, once again, about the future prospects of the so-called “lost Covid generation”.

So, we decided to speak to a final-year student about life at university during Covid and what they feel about their future. Lara S. is in her final year at the University of Edinburgh, where she’s studying Philosophy and Psychology.

 

What does a day in the life of a final-year university student look like today?

“At the moment it’s: waking up, trying to get a walk in early because the sun tends to be brighter in the morning, and then watching a lot of pre-recorded lectures. It’s a lot of screen time. All my lectures are pre-recorded, and for one of my courses I have a seminar which is live. It’s like watching an annotated powerpoint.

Food is the main way that people are having some form of joy or excitement at the moment. So, my flatmate and I make a ritual out of dinner time, making sure we watch something we really enjoy.”

 

Alarming research from The Prince’s Trust in January revealed that 1 in 4 young people have been feeling unable to cope with life since the start of the pandemic. Do you think that this correlates with your and your friends’ personal experiences?

“I’ve always been someone that has had a lot of conversations around mental health, because of my own personal experience and because I study psychology. During the pandemic, I’ve noticed so many more discussions about it. It’s hard to tell whether mental health in general is worse, or whether the pandemic has given the opportunity for people to talk about it, where they felt a stigma before.

Personally, my mental health has suffered. I would also say that of my friends, if not all of them — to varying degrees. That’s the thing with the pandemic, it’s affected so many people in so many different ways.”

 

You mentioned making a ritual out of dinner time. Is there anything else you do to support your wellbeing?

“It’s really cold at the moment. It’s properly snowing in Edinburgh. So, I went and bought a big ball of yarn from the pound shop and I have been trying to start knitting again! It’s a good evening activity because it keeps your hands busy, and you can do it while you’re watching a film.

I’m also trying to change up my walk. Edinburgh is quite a small city and the meadows are quite central in relation to the campus, and are very beautiful. So, people tend to congregate there...it’s the easiest place for meeting people. I have to push myself and make sure that if I’m going to go on a walk with a friend, or grab takeaway coffee, to explore other parts of the city where I haven’t been before. I took my flatmate to a park that she hasn’t been to. The fact that we’ve both lived here for 4 years and she hadn’t been to that park before was really nice. It was nice to show her something new and to have a new stimulus of some sort.”

 

There’s a lot of talk now about the “lost COVID generation”. Do you feel this accurately describes how you feel, and are you worried about your future job prospects?

“I do feel worried about my future job prospect. I think that was the worry anyway. There’s so much dialogue, particularly when you get into your 3rd/4th year, from friends who are slightly older, or who have just graduated, or doing postgraduate stuff, who know what the job market is like. So, we’re not under any illusions about how difficult things are at the moment. I think so many people have undergraduate degrees now that I don’t think it quite has the same value.

A lot of conversations I’m having with my friends at the moment are something like: “Yes, I’m worried about what next year is going to bring, but also I’m excited for there to be choice.” Yes, it’s scary and uncertain, but there is choice, and things will move and opportunities will come and some won’t come — whereas now it’s just stagnant. You just sit in your room and write your dissertation, which is a very different type of fear.”

 

So, people are excited for the challenge.

“Yeah! I think so.

I think students at the moment are trying to gain a deeper insight into their rights and the things that they can demand and the things that they can expect post-uni. I think people are trying to gather as much information as they can about what kind of work they should be taking, because a lot of stuff out there is really exploitative.

A friend of mine started this collective called “Sad Grads”, which was in response to the fact that the graduate show got cancelled in her final year (2020). The collective talks a lot about unpaid internships and how you navigate that. How you can go about refusing to take unpaid internships, for example. Arming ourselves with information like that, and sharing it around is really popular at the moment.

A lot of people are also looking at postgraduate options. There’s a certainty in that, because it’s what we know.”

 

What advice would you give to someone applying to university now, or starting in September?

“I have quite specific advice. Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen with Covid, but I would really consider whether you want to come up to university or whether you want to stay in your hometown. If your hometown is a safe and happy place for you to be, then you should seriously consider staying there.

A lot of people feel they have to go to university to make friends, but you do make a lot of friends in your second year as well. I made a lot of my friends in my second year. So, don’t feel like you have to come up to uni, or stay at home. Think carefully about what space is right for you to be in.

My other piece of advice has to do with extracurricular activities. Although it’s difficult to do things online, I have found things to do in my 4th year over Zoom. Like getting involved with editing for certain journals and organising conferences.

A lot of the things that make me happy that are not uni work, I can’t do at the moment. Like, I can’t go to any open mics, I can’t run my writers meeting online. But a lot of uni societies are now online, so try to join in in something you find interesting. The good thing is you can go to the Zoom meeting and if it’s really horrible you can leave. And it’s easier to leave a Zoom meeting than in person, so there’s more room for trying things out. I think you should be trying things out in your first year.

It’s really tough in your first year. I know the city, I know where I can get takeaway or coffee, or where I can buy good vegetables. I have a really established network here, even if I can only meet up with them one-on-one for a walk. I think that makes a world of difference.

Good luck for people going into their first year, is what I’d say.”


 

If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health, take a look at our four useful tips to help with mental health during lockdown.

If you are thinking about applying to university, our expert consultants are always happy to help. For more information about our services click here.

 

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