Make your degree worth the money

University can provide us with the training, knowledge and experiences we need to achieve our career goals. Elliot shares his ideas on making the most out of your time at university so you can hit the ground running after graduation.

According to this, 37% percent of graduates regret university – and 49% feel a degree was unnecessary for their career.

Given the time and money we’re putting into studies – not ideal. So in today’s article, I want to outline tactics to avoid university regret.

But first…

Why do people regret university?

Biggest quoted reason? Money.

 

  • Related note – most 25-33 year olds have a quarter life crisis, during which career goals tend to change. Meaning that by your 30’s, there’s a pretty high chance your work won’t be related to your degree.

See the solution yet?

We need to find a way to make your undergraduate degree worth the money.

And luckily, the above points give us some clues about how:

  1. Relative to costs – it seems a Bachelor’s on its own isn’t typically enough to earn back significantly. Meaning: you need to use university to gain career skills outside your degree in the shortest possible time; and to give yourself a sharp edge for competitive job markets.
  2. People find serious career goals only after a certain amount of experience (which, on average – apparently happens AFTER university). Meaning; we need to use university to maximise our life/work experiences in a way that helps us form realistic ideas of what we want to (and can) do.

So – without further ado:

How to make an undergraduate degree worth the money

Based on the above (and personal experience), this is a potential 5-step strategy to set you up with a massive edge in post-study life, that will stave off the circumstances for university regret.

  1. Collect experience

The underlying question when we go to university – how do you want to make your money?

The problem? As freshers, most of us don’t have great ideas on what we enjoy, what we’re really good at (or want to be good at) – and how that really translates into career.

That’s pretty normal. But waiting until after uni to figure it out risks the above-mentioned sense that we’ve wasted 3 years and nearly £30,000 – and also puts us years behind those who’ve already started working.

So – you need to compress that post-uni ‘figuring out stage’ into your time here, at university. Which is simpler than it sounds – you just need to get enough experience to start developing grounded ideas of what you want to do.

This process will help with that:

  1. Find a part-time job (start with Campus Jobs– which focuses on roles that fit around study). At this stage, just pick something you like the look of. If you’re indecisive, just pick randomly (speak to the careers team for free help with applications).

 

  1. Outside work, keep trying new things. Outside your comfort zone, you’ll get a better sense of your capabilities and interests. I don’t naturally gravitate to new experiences – so for a while, I took on a ‘yes-man’ policy; whenever I had activity opportunities (be it travel, social, societies, hobbies – there’s a lot of these going at university) – if it’s not going to cause harm, say ‘yes’ and give it a try.

 

  1. After a month or so, start picturing yourself doing this job for the rest of your life. Sound good? If not– why? What exactly turns you off a life-time of that job? Write down that answer, and what you’d prefer instead (even as simple as ‘not restocking all day’). Now, go out and find a new job that fulfills this new goal.

 

  1. Repeat the process as many times as you need to – until you start coming up with something that excites you, for a specific reason. Write down this ‘something’ and the ‘reason’.

 

Congratulations – you now have a career direction!

 

  1. Research roles

Now you’ve a direction – you need a specific role to plan for. The goal is to get a feel for what’s out there, and find something that positively answers the following:

  1. Is this role interesting to me?
  2. Do I want to be good at this?
  3. Do I like the earning potential?
  4. For those successful in this field– do I like the lifestyle?
  5. Are there opportunities for this where I’m located? If not – where are they?
  6. How competitive are these kinds of roles/what’s the demand like?

This is where university resources can start coming into play:

  • The ‘What careers can you have?’ section of your degree introduction page is a possible starting point, often with suggested fields and companies (g.)
  • Make your interest known – speak to tutors, student support centres, and the careers team. Say you’re after career development, but having trouble finding specific roles you’re interested in – if nothing else, they can point you to job databases, and to contacts with relevant experience.
  • (A note on student support centres– this is valuable spot to find resources inside your own department. For example; did you know Literature and Language has a career preparation scheme, with introductory courses to the publishing industry, digital marketing, translation, and even British Sign Language?)
  • Outside class– ask around. Talk to friends and acquaintances about what they do, and browse the occasional career website. The National Careers Service website have job descriptions, salary info, necessary skills, and typical pathways to (and from) these roles (payscale.com is great too – but US-based).

Be patient, and keep researching – don’t stop at something you’re lukewarm about.

Once something really catches your eye though, you’re ready for the next phase.

 

  1. Master the skills

So, you’ve got a career direction, and an attractive role to aim at. Great start – but the next step is what will pay really big dividends.

Find at least three, current job applications for your chosen role on a job application website – and copy-paste the job description/requirements section into a Document.

This is now the list of skills you need to be good at in order to get the job.

It takes work – but getting good at a skill isn’t complicated:

  1. Practice – lots. Understand that you’ll suck at first– there’s no way around this – this is how you start. If you can get paid, start there – paychecks are great motivators. If you feel embarrassed, or discouraged – channel it into the next part…
  2. Analyse mistakes –quick and easy way to do this? Ask, ‘what are the people – who are doing better than me – doing differently?’ Figure out exactly what that difference is; write it down; and copy them.
  3. Keep practicing –seems obvious. But it’s the step many (including myself) fail at, after getting discouraged by a lack of results. Push past this. Just chip away, replacing each mistake with good habits – and eventually, you WILL get the results. Anytime I’ve dramatically improved at anything has been preceded by a period where I felt like I’d plateaued. But this only happens when you’re persistent, practicing consistently and often.
  4. Optional – teach. It’s an extra step –but really checks gaps in your knowledge. Verbally explaining a concept REALLY tests your understanding. You don’t need to teach formally, either– offer to explain the concept to friends, who think the skill sounds interesting. Or if you’re web-savvy – make a beginner’s wiki, and get some friends to review it.

 

  1. Get a mentor

At this point – you’re miles ahead of the typical graduate. You have a direction; translated this into a job role; and you’re well on the way to becoming the ideal candidate by mastering the skills.

However, there are more issues and requirements along the way – all of which are different for every career, role, company, and location.

A mentor is someone who’s been down the same road you’re on, and helps guide your progress – finding one willing to guide you will help avoid the hidden pitfalls, and you’ll progress FAR faster for it.

Finding mentors can be difficult. Thankfully, the THRIVE Mentoring Scheme matches Reading students to working professionals, and includes training sessions on how to most effectively use the mentor-mentee relationship. Plus, it’s a free service requiring minimal time – I fully recommend it.

Eligible students must be in their penultimate year of study – if you’re not eligible, you’ll just have to do some legwork on your own. Speak to your department head, Student Support Centre, and personal tutor – ask if they know of anyone who could advise you on the role you’re trying to get to. Look through university staff lists, and use society connections too – and remember that mentors are generally most drawn to capable, independent individuals who will implement their advice seriously.

 

  1. Market yourself

Even as the perfect candidate for the job (which you’re well on your way to becoming) – you won’t get it if you’re not an attractive employment option on paper, and in interviews.

This could be an entire article itself – but overarchingly, your CV and cover letter should work together to create an interesting narrative (typically illustrating a promising self-starter), rather than just listing skills.

I’d recommend asking your mentor for feedback on this– both in terms of CV and cover letter writing. If you’ve never written either–start here.

 

Conclusion

University can be powerful– where else is there such a high concentration of mentoring, advice and free programs, all geared to helping you achieve whatever you want?

But university only offers the opportunities – nothing more. Taking actual advantage of them – that’s all you.

Don’t – and you might leave university, wondering with everyone else why you accumulated 30k debt (plus interest), over 3 years.

Do it right – and you’ll leave with a head-start in the first steps to becoming whoever you want –professionally, and personally.

I’d say that’s worth the work.

The ultimate comfort food: Cacio e Pepe

January is finally upon us, which means cold weather and long nights… Elliot shares his go-to comfort food recipe to see you through the winter months.

As the coldest months of the year begin to take hold, cheap, minimal effort comfort foods become invaluable for cash and time-strapped students.

Foodies may recognise this dish, which is currently making a resurgence – with good reason. Described by Bon Appétit as ‘a stripped-back mac and cheese’, this recipe hails from ancient Rome (alongside pasta alla gricia and carbonara). Cacio e Pepe is simple, with a mere 6 ingredients, and less than 15 minutes cook time, making it the perfect late-night snack! It’s also an excellent introduction to using just starchy pasta water for creamy sauces (which is cheaper, tastier, and far less cloying than cream-based sauces). As ever, I advise against using pre-grated cheese, since the added starch (which prevents cheese clumping inside the bag) stops it melting properly.

Allergens

Milk, gluten

Portions

2

Ingredients

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp freshly ground, coarse black pepper

Kosher salt

225g spaghetti

2 tbsp (15g) unsalted butter

55g Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

 

Prep

  1. Finely grate cheese, and set aside.
  2. Add olive oil to a medium-sized pan, pre-heating on low to medium-low (olive oil turns bitter when burned).
  3. Add 1 tsp black pepper to the hot oil, and cook until you hear sizzling, and the pepper is fragrant (if you smell bitterness, the pepper has burnt and you should discard and restart) – remove from heat immediately and set the pan aside.

Method

  1. In a large pan (different from the oil/pepper pan), add pasta, and just cover with water, along with a pinch of kosher salt. Heat over high, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. This method comes courtesy of Kenji-Lopez, and heavily concentrates the starchy water for far more effective sauces.
  2. Cook until pasta reaches al dente (1 minute less than package instructions) and immediately remove from heat.
  3. Immediately spoon 3 tbsp of the pasta water into the medium oil/pepper pan, and add 2 tbsp butter.
  4. Using a pair of tongs, transfer pasta to the medium, oiled pan (saving any remaining pasta water). Add cheese to pan, and place pan on the stove top, setting heat to low.
  5. Holding the pan handle in one hand, and fork in the other – shake and stir pan/pasta very vigorously. This melts the cheese, and most importantly, emulsifies the oils and starchy water (above link for method video).
  6. Continue until a creamy sauce has formed – add extra pasta water a tbsp at a time if too thick (i.e. if the melted cheese, oil, and water is too clumpy to resemble a creamy sauce). Remove from heat, season to taste with kosher salt, and dish immediately.
  7. Serve pasta with an extra drizzle of olive oil, and some more fresh grated cheese, to taste.

Halfway there! Tips to get through Dry January

Struggling with your Dry January challenge, or just wondering what it’s all about? Abi has some tips on how to stick with your goal of a booze-free January, and explores the benefits of reducing our alcohol consumption.

So you’ve celebrated the winter holiday and you’ve decided to try out Dry January. But we’re halfway through the month, and you’re tempted to head to Park Bar and give up. Or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon this article and want to attempt a half-dry January…

It’s often too easy to lose motivation. Here are some top tips to help you through the rest of the month:

  1. Remind yourself why. It’s often too easy to focus on the difficulty, and the days may feel like they’re dragging along. But you’re halfway! Focus on the reasons you are doing this. Want to improve your health? Consuming less alcohol allows your body to reset and even get better sleep. And a month of no alcohol is a month of no hangovers. Are you trying to save money post-Christmas? Some are doing Dry January to raise money for charity. Focus on your purpose for Dry January and remind yourself when you lose motivation or are finding it difficult.
  2. Get Involved. Divert your energy into a hobby you have neglected or try something new. You’ve got more time now, so why not attend the Give It a Go events (28th Jan-3rd Feb) and join a new society? The RU Not Drinking Much society do regular film nights you can enjoy with other students in an alcohol-free environment! As you keep yourself busy, you forget that you’ve had 31 days of no alcohol.
  3. Treat yourself! A month of no alcohol can save you some serious money. You can transfer this straight to your savings account or treat yourself. Go out for a nice meal or do some online shopping and buy those shoes you’ve been looking out for. Why not go explore nearby cities- London, Oxford and Bath are only a short train journey away.
  4. Ask for Help. It’s very difficult to attempt Dry January when you’re tempted by cheap drinks, start of term socials and general student settings. Let your friends and family know you are doing a Dry January and ask for help and encouragement. Maybe get a friend to do it with you or get yourself involved with them. This will make it a lot easier!

The charity championing Dry January is Alcohol Change UK, who approximate that there is an alcohol-related death in the UK every hour! Whether it’s the classic Park Bar snakebite or a glass of wine- remember to drink responsibly. Good luck!

Acing Your New Year’s Resolutions

Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions for 2019? Taz has some advice for successfully setting and achieving your goals this year.

Whilst cliché New Year’s Resolutions to ‘Get Fit’ and ‘Get stuck in’ with uni work may seem very contemporary ideas, New Year’s Resolutions date back to over 4000 years ago. New Year’s Resolutions can be a great way to secure a fresh start for yourself and overcome any challenges from the previous year.

The best way to form your New Year’s Resolution is to make a list of all the things that you’re hoping to achieve by the end of the year (whether that be university, lifestyle or relationship related) and to identify your largest priority or an overall goal within the list. Top tip: Try to avoid generalised resolutions such as ‘Lose weight’ or ‘Get more Firsts in my assignments’. The best way to achieve health or grade related resolutions is to create resolutions which are more specific and therefore ones which will offer a larger sense of achievement by December.

Resolutions such as these might be a good starting point:

  • Plan and cook at least 5 healthy meals a week
  • Schedule my revision more effectively using a revision planner
  • Keep in more regular contact with family and friends from home
  • Join a new sports society
  • Take a managerial role in group projects more often

The next stage once you have your Resolution…

The next step to securing that fresh start is coming up with an achievable action plan which will get you well on your way to success. Here’s a few questions you may want to consider before diving straight into the deep-end and trying to achieve your resolution in one go before January is up!

How will you maintain the resolution throughout the whole year?

The key to achieving your resolution is your diary. Use a coloured pen to produce a sub-goal for each month. Doing this will help you to piece together your smaller monthly steps into one larger achievement at the end of the year.

What sacrifices will you need to make to achieve your resolution?

This is very important to consider- you don’t want to throw yourself into anything which you won’t be able to handle alongside your other commitments. For instance, if planning to cook healthier meals, you’ll need to factor this into your shopping list and consider how going home or weekly takeaway routines might affect this.

If you achieve your resolution early in the year, can you extend it to achieve an even bigger goal?

If you enter the year with a flying start and have your resolution down to a ‘T’ by March, use this success as motivation to strive further. If you decided to join a new society to meet more people whilst increasing your fitness, why not find some part-time work so that you can save to go on the sports tour?

The best thing about New Year’s Resolutions is they’re completely personal and controlled by YOU. Use this to your advantage in 2019 and make a change which will help you for the rest of your student life and beyond.

Where to look for help

 If you’re stuck for ideas, or simply the motivation to start, the university’s Life Tools programme is offering a huge variety of workshops this term ranging from ‘Techniques for increasing concentration and memory’, to ‘Achieving your potential’. They’re a great starting point for those looking to make an independent change.