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The crux of academic pressure for young people

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In this month's blog, Hannah delves into the different shapes academic pressure can take, from the insistence to choose a degree soon to the expectation to offer employers more than "just" a diploma. "It feels as though you hop from one moment of heat and questioning straight into another".

There have always been debates about the amount of pressure put on students, from exams in their teenage years to the pressure to pursue a Bachelor’s degree. As a young person today, I feel we grow accustomed to this pressure and go along with it as being "the way of the world". As I am entering the final year of my Bachelor's, and have many friends finishing their final year, I feel I have been re-exposed to the pressure to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life at the age of 20 or 21.

Academic pressure feels as though you hop from one moment of heat and questioning straight into another. For example, when you are finishing school, you must box yourself into a Bachelor’s degree, immediately putting yourself on a path that you are told will shape your life forever, while still only 18 years old. Once this decision is made, you are suddenly hit with choices of which minors to take and questions about what Master's programme you will pursue.

This pressure is a constant through some of the most important and formative years of your life, which can cause detriment to many young people’s mental health. If you take a brief survey of 5 to 10 LinkedIn profiles, you will see that most adults have a different job to what they studied, yet this is not told to young people. This side is hidden, with the idea constantly perpetuated that firstly without a degree you will not get a good job and then, while you are doing your degree, without a Master's you will not succeed in any reputable field.

One of the most concerning aspects of this mindset in society is the set idea that everyone will have an academic mindset and ambitions. The support system for people who choose vocational or practical careers is weak and continues to shine light only on careers with high status. I understand that universities are academic instructions, yet even within them there is a hierarchy. The well-funded science and medical programmes are seen as affluent, meanwhile humanities do not receive the same status. As a humanities student myself, I have often been shoved into the “She does Humanities because she wanted an easy degree/doesn’t know what she wants to do” category. This argument, which is heard in universities around the world, could not be more false. A humanities degree, although different to a science or medical degree, does not hold less value in the world of academia. Without authors, philosophers, musicians, filmmakers, where would the world be?  

Another wave of pressure that has become an ever-growing topic amongst my friend groups is the idea that employers expect you to be leaving university with more than ‘just’ (!) a degree. Entry-level job adverts are requiring an internship, experience volunteering or work experience in the field before you enter the supposedly ‘entry-level' job. As an English student who wants to pursue a career in journalism, I see this in every interview, podcast, or career chat I listen to. Repeated mantras of “You need to complete an unpaid internship before you will be hired somewhere” or “If you aren’t published before you leave university, it will be very difficult afterwards”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the working world is tough and job markets often create fierce competition, but the idea of a degree providing no basis for your ability until you add extra supplements to it can cause burnout before a person even graduates.

Due to this constant pressure from a young age, people can find it very difficult to take a gap year or a part-time job to pursue their goal on the side. In a money and career-driven society, sometimes taking a step back and looking at happiness and fulfilment compared to the pressures and expectations set by people around you can open a door for a true goal.

In truth, nobody must know what they want to do at 18, 21 or even after that. Life ebbs and flows, people change and so do their wants, like and dislikes, goals, and ambitions. People can stumble across a passion or a career opening when they least expect it. This is not me saying not to work hard, be motivated and give yourself the best chance at the field you want, but more so to say "Go with your passion, follow a path that makes you happy and just the path you are told to take".

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