‘I don’t know what to do’: The fear of graduating in the midst of a pandemic

By Olivia Stringer

Under normal circumstances graduating from university is often one of the most daunting experiences that young people will have ever faced and can be a time of great uncertainty.

Having been in education since the age of five, students have grown accustomed to the comfort of knowing that after every summer of exams, they will return in September for another year of structure, obtainable goals, with a clear pathway on to the next step of their education. After graduation however, that comfort blanket is aggressively ripped away, and young adults are thrown into the deep end of the big scary world of adulthood. For students graduating in 2020, add in a global pandemic and that fear gets amplified by a thousand. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on the globe, affecting people’s physical and mental health and also greatly impacting the economy. At the time of writing there have been 367,000 confirmed deaths globally – 39,369 of which have been in the UK. Britain currently has the second highest number of deaths in the world and the government’s failure to enforce a lockdown earlier on in the pandemic, and a premature lifting of this lockdown, has meant that the infection rate is still relatively high. 

If only we had leadership as competent as that of New Zealand, who have essentially managed to eliminate the virus. A strict lockdown was enforced on New Zealanders when the country had just 102 cases and zero deaths and now, seven weeks later, there is just one active case of the virus and Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has plans to lift all lockdown restrictions in the coming days. This means that all bars, restaurants, and non-essential businesses can operate without social distancing measures and life can pretty much return to normal. 

However, this is far from the reality in the UK. Currently, all bars, restaurants and most non-essential shops remain closed and when the government does allow them to reopen, strict social distancing measures will have to be put in place. This means that for graduates planning to get jobs in retail and hospitality to tide themselves over whilst they figure out the next steps to take in their career paths, obtaining employment will be extremely difficult. To add to that, for many graduates who had managed to secure places on grad schemes and internships, these have now been postponed or cancelled altogether, leaving many post-grads feeling unsure how they are going to be able to cope financially. 

According to the Office for National Statistics around 856,500 people signed up for Universal Credit and jobseekers allowance benefits in April and many of the thousands of people now graduating university will sadly soon be adding to those statistics. With predictions stating that Britain could be facing the worst recession in a century, this is an incredibly terrifying time to be taking the first steps into the world of work.

For many students finishing undergraduate degrees, post-graduate courses are the obvious next step for furthering their chances of securing a good job. However, The University of Manchester has stated that all semester one lectures will be delivered online next year whilst Cambridge plans to deliver lectures remotely for the entire academic year.

Tuition fees are ludicrously expensive to begin with, but the audacity of asking students to pay full tuition fees to essentially sit in their bedrooms and teach themselves using poor quality lecture podcasts is beyond ridiculous. Therefore, with the thousands of pounds worth of student debt not seeming worth the standard of teaching that universities will be able to provide due to the pandemic, post-graduate courses will cease to become an economically viable option for many university leavers.  

For graduates who have not even been able to celebrate their achievements with a ceremony, the road ahead is a distressing and uncertain one.

Moreover, this uncertainty has deeply affected the mental health of many graduates. According to a report by Young Minds, 32% of young people surveyed (all who have a history of mental health issues) agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health a lot worse whilst 51% stated that it had made their mental health slightly worse. With many services, such as face to face counselling being unable to take place during the pandemic and with the Conservative government continuously making cuts to mental health services, for many graduates it will be hard to see a way out of the cavernous hole of graduation anxiety. 

The government has failed us all in its response to this pandemic and although graduates have by no means been the hardest hit, our plight has largely been ignored. 

As soon as I submitted my final university assignment, I was swarmed by friends and relatives asking, ‘what are you going to do now?’ I do not know what I am going to do now and that is OK. And for those who are in a similar position, it is OK if this pandemic sets your career goals back by months or years and it is OK if all of your plans have been annihilated. For now, all that we can focus on is making sure that ourselves and our families remain safe and well and that we do what we can to ensure that this virus does not get a second wave.