I distinctly recall sitting in my grimy student room during finals and thinking: 'God, I can't wait to get out of this shithole.'
The 'real world', a world beyond the dictates of lecture timetables, tutorials and coursework deadlines, was a land of freedom and adventure. A place of possibility. Imagine the luxury of being completely independent. Earning your own money, paying your own rent and making your way in the world.
University didn't really prepare us for the brutal truth of the situation.
Upon entering the 'real world' you come to realise that rent is far more expensive than you thought, council tax and bills add up to shockingly enormous monthly payments, finding work is near impossible and upon securing that elusive position of employment you find out that a seemingly unfair proportion of your paycheck gets taken away for National Insurance Contributions and tax- none of which you understand.
I recently had a lovely young girl of fifteen come for two days work experience. She was sweet, intelligent, enthusiastic and completely unaware of the wonderful hardships that lie ahead as part of adult life. It is only upon witnessing first hand the beauty of someone who still looks through rose-tinted glasses that you come to see just how smudged and bleary your own vision is- obscured by the dirt of financial woes and career confusion.
For someone so young, this girl had an amazing range of interests which extended far beyond the stereotype of my super sweet sixteen. She talked of her love of art house films, Wim Wenders documentaries and modern art, which we saw first hand at the Frith Street Gallery (an intriguing little wonder in Golden Square, W1). Yet when we briefly discussed her potential career trajectory she was blissfully unaware of the realities of interning.
There has been much debate in the news recently about the pay for interns and whether 'who you know, not what you know' is a valid step up the career ladder.
The truth is that, particularly within the creative industries, and fashion in particular, the whole machine fails to run without the handy assistance of the cost-free intern cogs. Interns do the menial work whilst gaining experience of how magazines/design houses etc run. You don't get paid firstly, because there is a mutual understanding that the experience (and contacts) you gain is worth more than gold dust and secondly, (and more importantly) there will ALWAYS be someone there to take your job should you choose to raise the issue of pay or working hours. Fashion has become such a lusted after employment sector that even gaining an internship is a battle in itself. The potential interns are fresh out of school and far more willing to do the work for free than us twenty-somethings with degrees who may feel over qualified and unable to work without pay with the constant burden of student debt looming on the horizon.
Thus, the debate begins again- to go to University or not to go?
I have been discussing this with many recent graduates and we all seem to be in a similar state of frustration and fatigue. Personally, I define my uni years as the best of my life. I partied, made friends and ran free for four years without a care until the exam period. The girls (and some boys) that I met are closer to me than some people I have known my whole life. I truly believe that we shall remain friends for life. This prosaic declaration aside, I also believe my University experience to be an almost total waste of time and money. I am about £17k in debt and four years behind many people in fashion who began working straight out of school. It is impossible to get a well-paid job at a magazine or retail head-office as I lack experience and I don't have the contacts, or the ability, to do an internship whilst balancing the costs of London living.
What to do, what to do?
Run away, or stick it out?