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UCLA study: Bad job market makes overly anxious students, but is there more?

A UCLA study is buzzing around the net and media claiming “college kids are more stressed out and anxious than ever before” (Slate.com’s Clarke, 2011). Studies said this was due to the job market. According to a rebuttal article on Slate, college students aren’t worried about the job market, they’re just living in an age in which anxiety ranks higher than depression in common detrimental mental conditions.

As a university student, I feel that neither Slate’s article nor the UCLA study are wrong their reasoning. However I’d like to add my own personal tidbit to the argument. Witnessing the stress of students firsthand, I’d say the most stressful aspect of today’s post-secondary education is that simply having a degree isn’t enough anymore. You can’t just graduate with a Bachelor’s and expect a wonderful 40k job, the job market simply expects better than that. You must be better than the competition to land your dream career, and that’s where the stress comes from; the competition.

As a Biomedical Sciences student, I know for a fact that almost everyone in my program is aiming for some sort of professional/graduate school program, be it pharmacy, medical school, dentistry, or optometry. Albeit it’s not surprising, seeing as how my program, here at the University of Waterloo, was previously called “pre-optometry/pre-med,” or something along those lines.

An interesting point though is that I was having a conversation earlier in the year with a woman working for the career centre at the university about potential jobs for science undergraduates. She said career advisors were finding that time and time again, many students in the life sciences programs were aiming for professional schools, especially medical school. However, the reality is that very few of them actually make the cut. For those who don’t, they become depressed and don’t know what else to do.

The feeling of not knowing where your life is taking you or where you want to take your own life will create a lot of anxiety in any student. We spend all this time, effort, and stamina toward getting the best grades in the false illusion that “my plan may not work out, but as long as I have really good grades I’ll get somewhere…. right?”

I think the best thing any student can do now is to research.  Get an idea of what jobs are out there that you’ve never heard of, something your parents never told you about. An example is a medical illustrator (http://www.universityaffairs.ca/so-you-want-to-be-a-medical-illustrator.aspx). There are tons of jobs out there that just aren’t prestigious enough to get the attention they deserve, but can be just as, if not more, satisfying than whatever career path mom and dad set for you.

Never wait until the last minute. Don’t wait until your last year of undergrad or high school to figure out “you know… I’ve been taking all these math courses… but I really don’t like math.” The courses you take in your earlier years will determine which ones you can qualify for in later years. So choose wisely.

Most importantly, ask for help. Never be afraid to ask a guidance counsellor or academic advisor for some words of guidance, some references, some key resources.

Be true to your desires; be open-minded; keep your options open. But for goodness’s sake, calm down. There is no such thing as “I don’t have time.” There is only “I don’t make time.” Unless you’re a double-degree student who’s also the executive officer of 4 clubs, in which case may you have my blessing to be prosperous and hopefully not addicted to caffeine.

But seriously, whther you are a student or not, time management is key. You will indeed run out of time if you don’t manage it wisely. Just make sure your schedule includes a relaxation and some fun stuff to do.

(Slate.com’s article on the UCLA anxiety study and responses to it, http://www.slate.com/id/2283221/)

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