Student Blog

I have a degree, now what?

It is a very common question uttered by many fresh university graduates. After leaving the temple of high learning, they struggle to apply their study knowledge at work. Is this an inescapable fact or can something be done about it?

I have a degree, now what?

No one enters university thinking “I hope I will be unemployed after this”. Most of us paint a picture in our minds that after graduation all doors will be open, and employers will stand in line to have an opportunity to offer us a job. Program promoting university websites only deepens that belief by listing job opportunities after graduation and bringing examples of successful people who once studied in that university and now achieved something impressive. And after all, if we ourselves value the topic we study (if we don’t, then why study that topic in the first place), sure everyone else will value it as well, right?

When I was a child, my parents dreamt of me becoming a diplomat. They thought that English language was the key to that profession. It was many years ago, then Soviet Union collapsed and at that time speaking English was not a common widespread practice that anyone could do, so the logical choice was to enroll in the university and study English philology. Instead, I chose history. Don’t get me wrong, I liked speaking English with new friends and watching Hollywood movies without subtitles, but I simply didn’t see myself digging deeper into linguistics. On the other hand, I liked history in school a lot and I am a big reader. So, my mind, to the disappointment of my parents, was made up even before I got my high school certificate. It was only years later then I understood that loving a field of study and being able to find a job in that field are two completely different things. Since I was not interested in building an academic career and soon enough understood that I am not good at teaching and working with children, I struggled to find a suitable work in my field of study. In the end I taught history in secondary school for a year, quit for good and never had a job related to history since.

Although it’s been a couple years since my personal struggles to find application of my studies in labour market, the current situation with university graduates is still far from ideal. According to a study made by Federal Reserve Bank of New York, analyzing the US labor market for recent graduates, 4-5 % of young degree holders (22-27 year olds) were unemployed, and even more troubling 40-45 % were underemployed. This means that almost half of these university graduates are not applying acquired academic skills in their workplace upon graduation. The situation becomes even less optimistic when looking into individual study fields. The study by Federal Reserve Bank has investigated 74 different study fields. Out of 74 fields, 27 study fields are experiencing underemployment at a rate less than 35%. The underemployment among the rest of fields is reaching as high as 73%. All in all, a pretty bleak picture.

So what happens? Is it because university programmes teach things that do not give graduates a competitive advantage on the labour market and instead only prepare them for another round of academic studies? Or is it students themselves, who make impulsive, in the moment decisions, failing to think ahead? Perhaps, the answer lies in the employers’ greedy attitudes, who want recent graduates to be fully formed professionals with years of experience.

Future Experts Meet Current Experts is a project of young enthusiasts from Tallinn University, who despite their diverse international backgrounds ask themselves the same questions. Through the series of podcast discussions with those in charge of academic programs at universities, employers and young successful professionals we tend to dive deep into the realities of the current education system, demands on the labour market and challenges students face after graduation.

If you ever wondered if there are better ways to link your studies with your dream job, then you're in the right place.

This blog is written by Mihhail Jevdokimov and Roman Tsurilov who are two of the members of the ELU project "Future Experts Meet Current Experts". The aim of the project is to have an open discussion between students and experts from different study fields at Tallinn University.
For more information, have a look at the project's FB and Insta pages!