For many university students around Australia, graduation time is rapidly approaching.
But the thought of the upcoming shift into the “real” world is causing some students to develop what has become known as “graduation anxiety”.
After years of first school and then university, final year students are feeling lost, scared and unsure about what is going to happen next in their lives once they leave the safe environment of university.
Rather than excitedly looking forward to their new life outside of university, students like 20-year-old Bailey Thiesz, who is set to graduate in 2019 with a Bachelor of Journalism, are saying that the thought of graduating has made them more anxious than they did at the start of their university experience, when they made the move from school to university.
“I think I feel worse now,” Mr Thiesz said.
“Even though I know so much more than when I started, I feel as though I am not good enough to be entering the workforce,” he said.
Griffith University student counsellor and psychologist Jonathan Munro said he had counselled a number of students who did not think they were good enough or thought they didn’t deserve their degree.
“I’ve had students who ask me if they are worthy of this degree and ‘what does this mean, I’ve got to live up to something now’, and they are really concerned,” Mr Monro said.
And this is not a new feeling among students.
Eloise Coyle graduated from the University of Tasmania in 2014 with a Masters of Architecture and said she, too, experienced similar feelings of anxiety before graduation.
“My university course was fairly high pressure, so the stakes felt particularly high as I’d spent the past five years consumed in my studies,” Ms Coyle said.
“The nature of my industry is quite competitive so I was concerned it would take me a while to get a job, if I got one at all,” she said.
Though the reason why more and more students are experiencing graduation anxiety differs from student to student, a major factor is the uncertainty about finding a job after university.
Jennifer Hughes, who graduated from the University of Tasmania in 2014 with a Bachelor of Education, said she was excited to graduate but was anxious about getting a job in her hometown of Launceston in Tasmania, as the opportunities there were limited.
“I was so keen to graduate, but unfortunately ended up having to move three hours away from my friends, family and girlfriend to the rural town of Rosebery, in the West Coast of Tasmania to secure a teaching job,” she said.
The Federal Government surveyed more than 120,000 university graduates in the
The Graduate Outcomes Survey of 2018 and found almost three-quarters had gained a job four months after leaving university.
But for people in industries such as creative arts, tourism, hospitality, personal services, sport and recreation, the employment rate was less than 60 per cent.
With the average degree in Australia costing between $20,000 and $30,000, and with the Turnbull government lowering the repayment threshold for university graduates to $45,000, students are having to pay back their debts sooner, leaving some students questioning whether their degree was really worth the debt.
Mr Monro said other causes of student anxiety were the social and financial ramifications of graduation.
Twenty-one-year-old Zachary Lloyd is almost halfway through his Bachelor of Biomedical Science with Honours at Monash University and is planning on also completing a PhD.
Mr Lloyd said he was already concerned about how much his degree was adding up to.
“My HECS debt is already at $40,000 and I’ve got a long way to go,” he said.
“I feel like I’ll be paying this off for the rest of my life.”
Mr Monro said another reason for graduate anxiety involved the perceived usefulness of a graduate’s degree.
Trent Solomon, who is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Psychological Science from Southern Cross University, said he could not wait to graduate, but said he had some regrets about his degree choice.
“Graduation can’t come soon enough, I am more than ready to be done,” Mr Solomon said.
“To be honest, I actually wish I chose a different degree, like medicine, because it is going to take me three more years on top of my Bachelor [degree] to be a registered psychologist,” he said.
Out of the same survey conducted by the Federal Government in 2018, only 57 per cent of undergraduates who were employed full time following the completion of their degree felt their qualification was important for their current employment.
While overall, 39 per cent of undergraduates in full-time and part-time jobs reported that their skills and education were not fully utilised.
But for many students facing graduation, the anxiety comes from concern about change, specifically the change that being forced out of the comfort zone that sitting in a classroom week in and week out for the past 16 years or more has created.
Jonathan Munro said the anxiety this change created was so real that he had counselled students who had purposely sabotaged their grades in their final semester so they could stay within the safety of the university’s “walls”.
Similarly, some students choose to stay at university for further study rather than leaving the safety of their higher learning institution.
“A lot of students are only choosing to do a post-graduate course because they don’t think they are ready [to leave university], and I have had some students not handing in final assignments, or not going to the [final] exam so they have to come back next year,” Mr Monro said.
He said students could also feel anxious about leaving an environment that had become comfortable for them, and where they felt safe in their understood role as a student.
Professor Roy Baumeister from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology and The University of Queensland said the concept of graduation anxiety was a tricky one to understand.
“Anxiety is real, and graduation is real, and certainly the two could combine,” Professor Baumeister said.
“I suspect any major life change that brings uncertainty includes some moments, at least, of anxiety – going to university in first place, getting married, having children, and so on – so graduation could certainly bring some,” he said.
“Probably for most it’s just a minor, occasional moment of anxiety.”
“For some it might be a bigger deal,” he said.
Mr Munro said student anxiety might be reduced if students had greater access to things like work-integrated learning, counselling, relevant guest speakers from their industry, and overall more support to prepare them for a role in their chosen profession.
Griffith University journalism student Jess Ambler has completed four work-integrated internships during her time at university, covering a wide range of media platforms including from radio, online, magazines and newspapers.
“I tried to do as many as possible so I could have as much experiences in different media outlets and to make contacts,” Ms Ambler said.
“Now, trying to find work in the media industry, I am a lot more confident, and after all the work I’ve done I am certain that this is industry I want to peruse,” she said.