Graduate Limbo

Words by Alice Eve, Illustration by Lish Draws Life

‘I don’t care if I get it or not. I just want to know either way.’

That’s what I told myself as I anxiously sent off the final round of my Drama-School-Panic-Masters application material. Of course, that might have been true at the start of the process when I had no faith I’d even get a look in and I wasn’t sure that a MA was even the right choice for me, but now that I’d put so much work into it and really got into the course, I was crossing my fingers and toes for a positive response. But the point still remained – even a ‘No’ wouldn’t be the end of the world.

As a 2020 Graduate heading into the Arts and Culture sector I’ve become resilient, but what I was more worried about was the increasing reality that come September I’d still have no plans in place.

I’ve never taken a gap year, I went straight from school to Uni and have no plans of taking a year out before work. Even under the best of circumstances, I (like many other students) graduate with a lingering desire for the structure a year in education starting in the Autumn offers. For 17 years, the start of a new year in September was one of the most reliable factors in my life, and as the Autumn following graduation comes and goes, it’s understandable that many young people feel displaced. I was theoretically prepared for this experience, but given that I’ve been applying for jobs since January, my abstract optimism gave me confidence that surely by 2021 I’d be settled in some kind of job, even if it wasn’t exactly where I’d planned.

Then the world turned upside down. Fast-forward to May, and I was finishing my exams at home and panicking about… well, everything! Though I’d never considered an MA, the loss of my final months at Uni and the complete instability of the workplace suddenly made a year of further study more alluring than it had ever been. Fast-forward again to the end of June, when, somehow, I’d made it to the final interview stage at a top London drama school. I mentally prepared myself for the grilling and a potential rejection, happy with the knowledge that after this long process,  the end of this zoom, I’d know if I was set for the next year, or if I had to head back to LinkedIn – both were fine options, each with their own benefits.

But instead of the definitive answer I was craving, the uncertainty was only extended. The interview itself was incredible, but their standard yes/no policy was out of the window. I was told within two minutes that they wanted me on the course, but that now there were no longer any places for 2020/1 – I was crestfallen, but unsurprised given my late application, and proud that I’d got as far as I had. My interviewer explained that under normal circumstances I would have been sent a rejection email and that would be that. However, anticipating drop outs from international students, I was placed at the top of a waitlist.

This waitlist is active until the day the course starts. In October. I was over-the-moon that I was suitable for the course, and that if I decided to apply again for another academic year I’d likely be successful, but the one thing I really wanted – the reason I applied in the first place – was still non-existent. Desperate to ensure maximum capacity and tuition fees, various institutions keep us hanging. Of course, I could relax and wait till October to see, but my financial situation means that after summer I either need to be earning or studying.

Still stuck in graduate limbo, I’ve gone back to the drawing board but with even more to consider; is it worth worrying about job applications when any day I could hear a yes from my MA course? If I plan on reapplying in the future, is it appropriate to apply for certain jobs knowing I’d only be staying a year? I’m constantly carrying a million questions, all whilst trying to muster up the energy to apply for jobs that won’t even send rejection emails! I’m a patient person, but only if I can see that my patience is beneficial! Like many students, I’m still waiting in the middle-ground and telling myself everyday ‘You’ve just got to keep going. At some point something will change.’ Family advise ‘enjoying the time off’ without seeming to understand this toll of uncertainty; I’m desensitized to rejection itself at this point, but now ‘No’ is another chance lost to gain some control of this crazy grad-life. 

I get frustrated at hearing myself say this mantra everyday, but hopefully my experience will be yet another sign that we are all in the same boat. And to anyone else out there who, like me, is feeling the mental drain of being unable to make plans and commit to one course of action – keep it up. At some point, something will shift.

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