A Masters in Procrastination
Most students spend university putting off the future they are hurtling towards one hangover at a time. You couldn’t possibly make it to that career fair because you had a deadline, right? First, you have to get the 2:1 after all.
Test-driving a career with a summer internship might have helped, but internships are often unpaid and you had all that inter-railing to pay for. How else are you going to find yourself and discover your true calling?
It’s easy to end up with a degree and little to no experience. Not the slightest inclination of whether you should turn left or right out of the graduation hall.
Well, great news. There’s a simple way out. What if I told you that you could postpone this decision for a whole 12 months?
The only trade-off is about 33% more student debt, more of the deadlines and exams you swore you were finished with, and the reality that almost all of your friends have left you to get on with their lives.
This is the deal a lot of students make when embarking on a Masters degree.
Active vs. Passive Decision-Making
Now I have nothing against post-graduate study.
If you want to pursue a PhD, I really admire you. Maybe you fancy a change of direction, doing a Law conversion course after training as a historian.
In technical fields like Engineering, a Masters is often essential to even compete on the job market. I get it. That’s why many courses have an integrated Masters.
Perhaps you are just looking for something a little more vocational. You realised that you don’t want to use your Criminology degree and would like to pursue something more “useful” like Business Management or Marketing.
It’s a miracle that anyone picks the right Bachelors degree at 17.
I have a huge amount of admiration for anyone that commits to a Masters because they are actively pursuing a change of direction or following their passion.
But I wouldn’t make this decision passively.
We’re talking about a year of your life and at least another £10,000 of debt.
I say that as someone who has been in that position, sitting on the fence. It’s so easy to default to education because at 21 years old, education is all you have known.
Post-graduation Plan B
I’m not writing this as a judgemental graduate who got a job straight out of university. I’m actually writing this as someone who took the easy way out – or at least tried to. The truth is, I had no idea what I wanted to do after university. By the time 3rd year came around, I had next to no work experience.
What was my plan?
To stay in my comfort zone.
Studying was my strength. I was full of myself because academia is all I knew and it happened to be an extremely narrow sphere of confidence. Choosing my local university (which happens to be the best in the country), I applied there for a Masters in Criticism and Culture, a highly theoretical English course.
It was my dream. It had been since I was growing up.
What happened? I put in a last minute application and got rejected.
Now I could have applied to other courses. I had a back-up in mind, I started the application, but I never finished it. How come?
Because I realised, deep down, that I only wanted to go to that university. More than that, I realised that I was only putting off the thing I was really dreading – leaving my comfort zone and entering the real world.
Doing a U-turn on the post-graduation plan I had settled on years ago wasn’t quite as easy as that. I didn’t walk away from postcolonial African literature and straight into Marketing. What I did was decide to take a year out.
Whether I believed it at the time or not, I told myself I could always re-apply next year when I could be sure I was making the decision for the right reasons. I would have saved some money by then too, with more time to better prepare.
If you are currently a student without the faintest idea what you want to do after university, don’t torment yourself too much, take solace from the fact it’s never too late to change directions and scrap plans, especially at 21.
My New Direction
I was forced to come up with a Plan B as late as March of my third year. I was sitting my finals in just three months’ time. What did I do?
After my last exam, I applied for half a dozen internships through my university’s career service – the service I had neglected to use over the previous six semesters. Fortunately, I landed two placements in Marketing, lining them up back to back.
They don’t tell you this but securing an internship as a final year is a lot easier.
Why Marketing? Around the same time, I stumbled across Gary Vaynerchuck.
You can find inspiration anywhere if you are open-minded.
One of those internships led to a full-time job and I haven’t looked back.
Sure, I think about the Masters route I could have taken from time to time. In fact, I’ve been writing this post in my head since I graduated. I’m not completely over it but the main thing I learned is there is no set path for anyone.
You are well-suited to a range of pursuits – you just need to try them.
Design your own real-world Masters
Just when I had given up on the idea of a Masters, I came across Tim Ferriss’ Real-World MBA experiment. If you aren’t familiar with it, I’d check out his blog posts or see the corresponding chapter in The 4-Hour Work Week.
To summarise, Tim decided against studying a 2 year MBA course and spent the $120,000 it would have cost to design his own “Real-World MBA”.
He thought he would learn a lot more about business and investing from risking his own money. Seeing the investment as his tuition fees, he accepted the idea of losing the lot (and subsequently frittered away $50,000 almost immediately).
This turned out to be perhaps the best decision he ever made.
Not only did he learn powerful lessons first-hand from failures, make invaluable connections and life-long mentors, he walked away with seed investments in some of the most successful companies around today…
Now not many of us have the cash to hand for a Masters. And only a tiny fraction of those that do would be willing to spend it in this way.
I’m not recommending any financial risks.
Yet we all do have the time.
Many of us take gap-years in-between college and university. Some people take theirs afterwards, usually to go travelling. This window is the perfect time to design your own “Real-World Masters” in whatever shape or form suits you.
It doesn’t have to be a full-time course either – start a project on the side.
quitefranklee.com is my “Real-World Masters”.
I could have taken a course in Creative Writing or Journalism, probably even Blogging, but why not just get on with it? In 12 months’ time, I’ll have 52+ blog posts, a fully-functioning website and maybe even some readers.
I’ll take that over £10,000 debt and a diploma but each to their own.
My advice to anyone passively defaulting to further education without interrogating your motivation or having a plan for afterwards would be this:
Pick something that interests you, design your own curriculum, set a time-frame or goal and get studying. Enrol today.
If you were going to pursue a Masters to improve your CV or pick up new skills, a “Real-World Masters” can tick these boxes without the debt.