On Wednesday I graduated from university. Contrary to what I previously imagined, it was a 2:2 – I missed out on the 2:1 by 0.25. I should be gutted. I’m not. It’s just a grade at the end of the day and it’s not a barrier to my job-seeking activities so there’s no reason to feel sad or angry about it. Now that I am no longer part of the UCA in Farnham I can finally jot down some post-university thoughts, hopefully with as little unintentional libel and slander as possible.
1. Practical courses are the way to go
First, I’ll start with the good things. My course had a ratio of 70:30 in favour of practical over theory. Courses like that seem to be a good thing to do given the state of the industry at present. Journalists are now expected to be multi-functional and versatile in the skills they can offer and employers seem to be looking more and more at the range of skills you possess. If you go to my CV and look at the varied pieces of software I have listed, most of those have been used in my time at the UCA, even if I didn’t use much of all of it. Whilst our work was practical for the most part, we still covered the essential theory sections – law, politics, journalism history, shorthand etc. – and it was set out so that the workload was manageable. Basically, it makes more sense in the present day to undergo a course that is making you do things as opposed to ponder about things.
2. Work experience
In the third year, we had to do a minimum of twelve days of work experience. I’ve already blogged a bit at length about this subject but what I will say is that it is so important for students to do voluntary/extra stuff outside of learning. It helps build your CV and more doors will open up for you. If you just go through your whole degree just learning and not applying your skills to extra-curricular activities, your job prospects may not be as bright as others.
3. The quality of tutoring/speakers
Every course is different when it comes to who teaches your classes and who comes in as a guest speaker. For me, the experience was so-so. There seemed to be a mix of people with solid qualifications and an equally solid career history to make me trust them but not so much for other tutors. In terms of guest speakers, we got a good mix of people that, whilst not star attractions, had very useful things to say about the industry. If you’re looking for courses to go to, find out who your potential tutors are and research them beforehand if you can so that you can be confident that they know what they’re talking about.
4. Awards and conferences and so forth
My university was pretty terrible at telling us about awards to go for or conferences to go and so forth. We had to find stuff like the Guardian Student Media Conference ourselves and would have missed out on a really interesting day had we not been so instinctive. I also managed to find out about the Future Of News Group completely on my own and something like that would have interested some students, although when I notified people they didn’t seem that taken by it, so interest might vary. Whilst it is not expected for universities to hold your hand over this kind of stuff, it’s in their best interest to tell students about things that might interest them outside of learning.
5. Wasting time
Over the three year period, we had several occasions that were apparently supposed to help us with our work but were actually far more of a hinderence. For our final group projects, which were quite strenuous at the best of times, we had an ‘inter-medium day’ where we were, from my perspective, doing work that was in no way useful to what we were doing and was actually helping some members of staff do their work for them. Events like this were worryingly frequent as well as pretty poor levels of organisation in some places. Since I was out of campus, I got a rawer deal than others sometimes. I remember in the first year I travelled all the way to Farnham (hour-and-a-half journey) only to find out that the shorthand exam had been moved to the following but no one had bothered to contact me. Waste of time and money.
There are things from my time at UCA that I will take away with but I have the overall feeling of dissatisfaction. For a course that is more practical than theory it should be thriving. It isn’t though. The fact that it doesn’t even feature in The Guardian’s list of top universities probably tells you all you need to know about how it is viewed. If you have the chance to go to university for a degree, do go. You’ll meet plenty of people on your course who are intelligent, clever and funny to listen to when drunk but be prepared to do a lot of extra work yourself to put yourself in as much of an employable position as possible when you graduate.
(Edit: Also, I don’t represent the views of all the students on my course, especially given that I was living off campus so my experience was bound to be different anyway. Most of my fellow students are all really good people who I wish the very best for after their studies, and I’m pretty sure they will do really well.)
I’m quite interested to hear the thoughts of other recent graduates. Did you feel equally dissatisfied with your course? Let me know in the comments.