A letter to the university intake of 2023.

(spoiler alert: IT’S GOING TO BE OK)

Those of you coming to university directly from school have had all sorts of challenges during the pandemic and I know that many families have been hit by terrible loss over the past years. So what I write here should not be seen as ignoring that but I wanted to set out some grounds for optimism because I firmly believe there are many reasons for incoming undergraduates to be positive this year. I realise this may sound crazy and flies in the face of the public narrative so indulge me while I explain why.

The disruption has been enormous. Of course. I really honestly cannot pretend otherwise. But I can see grounds for optimism on campus and in the graduate employment market.

On campus I have seen an increasing feeling of gratitude that the pandemic restrictions are over and students can study, play sport, join clubs, meet people and generally have fun. All universities have opportunities just waiting for students to dive in and experience. My university has rock climbing, chess, netball, esports, politics, tango, k-pop, film, comics, astronomy, darts… in other words whatever you are interested in, you can find other people who share your passion. How great to find people who share your interest in crochet, lego, Minecraft, football, poker or…. 

On a more serious note, lecturers have returned to face-to-face teaching with a renewed energy and have worked out fantastic ways to enrich your learning with amazing online stuff. But I am sure you will find staff and students alike very happy to experience the human interaction you can only really get in real life. 

And it might seem a long time until you are looking for a job, but the message from employers is that they really, really want to hire graduates. They are not really worried about what your degree subject is, they want to hire people who have had the experience of learning and being mentally stretched (in a good way!). What they are really want to find are graduates who have had a rich, diverse experience at university. They are happy that you have studied sociology/history/physics/psychology but they are at least as interested in other things you have done like part-time work, or internships, or sport or any of the myriad experiences you have hopefully experienced at university.

Finally, students will be well aware that the government is very interested in university education. Many of us believe they are often miss-informed or plain wrong. But one fact has emerged that seems set to stick for quite some time: politicians (rightly) believe that employers are interested in the skills that graduates bring. They are looking for employees who have a well informed self-awareness of their individual abilities and skills but can articulate what those are. When faced with a challenge like the current crisis, one question you might not think of is to work out what you are gaining from the current situation. What can you take away from it? And how can you explain this to someone else? In going through this thinking, you will be reflecting and learning about yourself. This not only helps you perform well at interview, it is setting you up well for life. For it isn’t that experience that matters, it is what we learn from it.

So, welcome to the new intake of 2023. It’s going to be fantastic!

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