Ps might get degrees, but you should still make the most of university

Internships, travel, connections, and taking advantage of each opportunity can help students make the most of their university degrees. (Image source: Mohammad Shahhosseini)

By Jordan White | @JordanBWhite1

We’ve all joked that “Ps get degrees” at some point during our studies – probably while submitting a lacklustre assignment one minute before its deadline. But nowadays just your degree alone doesn’t cut it.  

The ABC reported that of 120,000 university graduates surveyed in 2018, almost seventy-five per cent landed a job within four months of graduating.

Graduates from health degrees, including rehabilitation or dentistry, and engineering degrees had stronger job prospects, with 97.2 per cent of pharmacy graduates snapping up a job shortly after graduating.

Psychology, humanities, communications, creative arts, and tourism and hospitality were at the lower end of the spectrum, sitting between 52 and 64 per cent.

A moment of silence for my fellow journalism student cohort, please, who have recently witnessed countless job cuts in an already grim job market. (Best dry your tears, let the fear of job competition motivate you, and start submitting to On The Record … just to be safe). 

Need I mention the classes of 2019-20? Recent graduates, who have had their ceremonies and job prospects sabotaged by COVID-19.

I mean not to scare anyone out of tertiary education. To quote Universities Australia acting chief executive Anne-Marie Lansdown, a degree “will pay dividends”. A journey of lifelong learning is fulfilling and priceless.

But with nearly one in four Australians having completed a Bachelor degree or above, increased job specialisation, and higher work/study balance demands, it’s safe to say you should be doing all you can to get the most out of your degree.    

After all, $33,000 and three to four years of caffeine-fueled late nights and tears is a lot to pay just for a pretty piece of paper. Best maximise the return on your fat investment and make the most of your time at uni. Here are a few tips from some of the people who have done just that.

Travel

Holidays are fortunately a rite of passage for most university students (when the world isn’t ending, of course) but did you know you can make travel a part of your degree?

International exchanges or internships let you see the world while studying, and help build sought-after skills like intercultural understanding and problem-solving. It’s also a great way to gain life experience and learn about the world around us.

UniSA offers many international exchanges at partner universities and short-term travel opportunities.

The university has a dedicated student mobility team, who can answer questions and provide information, and plenty of information on the study overseas page.

If funding is a worry, UniSA offers generous international travel grants of up to $2500 for each eligible student.  There is OS-HELP—Australian Government loans of up to $7500—that students can add to their HELP debts to help fund overseas studies.

If you’re worried about spending a whole semester abroad, there are also credit-bearing study tours you can attend with a group of fellow students and staff.  

UniSA international recruitment and mobility support officer Hannah Kemp says studying overseas is a great way for students to see the world while challenging oneself. 

“With a variety of Study Overseas opportunities available and financial assistance like grants and scholarships, make the most of your time at UniSA with an exchange or study tour.”

“The benefits are endless – experience a different culture, gain independence and confidence, build your resume and employability, and make connections with people from all over the world,” Ms Kemp said.

Internships

Placements or internships are a prerequisite for some study areas like education or health, but compulsory internships in humanities and arts-related degrees are scarce.

Securing an internship early on in your degree will build skills, experience, and connections that will help you through your studies and into an eventual career.  

Recent graduate and UniSA student communications officer Geena Ho said making the most of her degree and completing internships early on helped her secure employment. 

“I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to start my first full-time job halfway through my final year of study, giving me a six-month start on most of my classmates,” she said

“Looking back, this was only possible because of the extra internships and volunteering that I chose to do in my early years of study, which definitely all paid off in the end.

“I always tell people my number one biggest tip is to get out there and get involved beyond the bare minimum of your curriculum. Just because you’re not required to do an internship in your first year doesn’t mean you can’t go find one anyway.”

Extracurriculars

With ever-increasing job competition, simply showing up to university might not be enough.

Joining extracurriculars will help flesh out your resume, and build valuable transferable skills and experience that are sought after by employers. 

UniSA career advisor Claire Curyer said employers look for skills including active learning, analytical thinking and innovation, leadership and social influence, creativity, and problem-solving.

“These are what we call employability skills [and] transferable skills, meaning they will be valued by many different employers across a range of industries and roles,” she said.

“These skills can be developed over various means like previous or part-time employment, volunteering, community service, study, or extracurriculars.”

Geena shares this view, citing that “University is about more than just study, it’s about the holistic experience.”

“I was involved in a few extracurricular activities while at uni, including being an editor of Verse Magazine, playing in the UniSA Sport netball club, interning in the UniSA marketing team, and volunteering at a few campus events.”

Students could get involved with a club or society on campus, or utilise the several volunteer opportunities offered on the UniSA career hub.

There is also the UniSA+ Award, a carefully designed program awarded to students who “actively participate in extracurricular activities”. 

Students enjoying themselves at Campus Fair 2020 (Mawson Lakes). Image source: USASA

Connect with your peers

Geena also said getting involved socially helped her make life-long friends and better soak up the ‘uni experience’ so many students expect when they commence their studies.

“I think a lot of us start uni with this expectation of what it’s going to be – mainly influenced by the unrealistic portrayals of uni or college life in American teen movies,” she said.

“Obviously, the culture here in Australia is a lot different and I feel like people sometimes struggle to make connections with their classmates.

“When I first started uni, I decided to really put myself out there and try my best to meet people and make friends. I started a Facebook group for first-year journalism students in my second week of uni, inviting a few classmates.

“Soon, the group expanded to about eighty members and it’d be a super wholesome community where we’d share resources, clarify assignment questions, and organise group outings.

“Your uni social life is 100 per cent what you make of it! Just putting yourself out there and not being afraid to talk to the person sitting next to you in class, or joining that student club you’re keen on, could well mean you’ll meet new friends for life.”  

Making friends during limited contact hours can be a challenge so consider joining a club or attending an event. And if you’re shy, try and remember that many other people are, too.

Above all, try your best

Being a student is hard nowadays. A full-time study load is challenging, especially when it needs to be balanced with part-time work, family and social commitments, and so on.

It is important to note that people, especially students, do struggle.

‘Your best’ somedays might simply be showing up, but please remember there is student support available for those who need it.

Still, it is important to try your best whenever possible and look beyond the attitude that ‘Ps get degrees’.

Geena said while there is some truth to this adage, it doesn’t mean it is the right attitude and that students should still try their best but aim high where they can.

“Your entire university experience is what you make of it. You can definitely just cruise through, only to your classes, and never speak to a single person your whole degree.”

“But, on the flip side, if you grasp every opportunity that presents yourself, whether it be academic, social, or professional, you can really change your whole university experience. 

“For many of us, we’re never going to have as much freedom as we do during our university years so it’s a great time to go to all the events, sign up for all the clubs, apply for all the internships, and, if you do it right, you might just set yourself up for the rest of your life.”

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