Giving you the insight into matters directly related to student life is the Pi Comment column, Spotlight: UCL, Universities and Young People, where our team of columnists the tackle issues affecting students today. Karolina Kasparova takes a look at the implications of the need to fill in applications for internships, jobs and further study.
A lot has been written about unpaid internships and how they hinder social mobility. Lower-income students often have to combine their studies, not only with an internship, but also with some paid-work as a means of supporting themselves. Nevertheless, there is one more activity that consumes a lot of students’ time – time spent applying for various positions, whether it be further study, an internship or a proper job.
As a Masters student wishing to do a PhD, for example, you would need a very good proposal, but also have to find up to five potential supervisors across the country who would be willing to work with you on your project (as it increases chances of success if you apply to more places). The whole process, moreover, requires two steps, as most people need to apply for funding, as well as the PhD itself. The majority of Masters programmes only last one year, so how is one supposed to go through the stress of applying for a PhD by the end of December, while maintaining good grades and possibly working or volunteering? It is hardly surprising that most of my fellow students choose to take a gap year and work on the proposal after finishing their Masters programme, while, if they are fortunate, having a full-time job.
Naturally, not everyone wishes to choose this path, and the only other possible alternative, aside from unemployment, is to try find a job. Students are encouraged to start as soon as possible! An article published in a blog run by Students Careers & Skills at the University of Warwick advises applicants to spend approximately 20 hours on a graduate scheme job application. In a job market as competitive as London’s, no one can escape rejection, meaning it might not be that rare to see students sacrifice hundreds of hours on these applications – again, time when you can neither study, nor work. This concerns both job and internship applications.
Furthermore, we cannot forget the psychological impact involved with all these applications. All this ‘invisible work’ might be especially frustrating because of the rejection most students have to face, at least at the beginning, often in spite of them giving their best to the application. Writing a good application surely gets quicker each time. Nonetheless, if the desired results do not come out of it, it is extremely hard to find the motivation again, especially if you are overworked.
We do have access to guidance in deciding our next steps in life, how to boost our CVs, what to say at interviews, and how to make our proposals most ‘attractive’ to those who are responsible for allocating funding. Yet, nobody really acknowledges how hard it is to find the time and strength to go through these soul-sucking processes. It is often assumed that you just do it, because you want to ‘reach your full potential’.
In some respects, the present situation is harder than for students in decades past, for example due to sharply increasing tuition fees over the last 20 years. It would be a good starting point for those who interact with students to acknowledge that on top of studies, work and internships, considerable time spent on applications is another burden many young people have to carry nowadays.