Graduating is a huge relief, but also absolutely terrifying. I’ve been through the university system in the Netherlands. For 4 years of that time I actively promoted it. Now I’ve managed to come out the other side and luckily for me, directly into work. This isn’t the case for all graduates anywhere in the world. I’m definitely not a career counsellor, and I don’t secretly work for an employment agency. I tried for an entire year to get work in the Randstad area and it just didn’t work out for me so my boyfriend and I moved back south (THE south….Limburg), back to where I’d graduated from, Maastricht University. I’ve picked up a few things in my time studying here, so here are some lessons for life after graduating from a Dutch university:
1. Forget everything you thought you knew about job hunting
Most of it anyway. Graduating is the first step towards the job market, a step I postponed for some time. I’ve made a point of working throughout my studies, always. Don’t take free jobs unless you’re getting something out of it. But saying that, I didn’t get an LLB or study medicine. Internships have their place, for sure. But throughout my whole student life I worked, and made sure I got small jobs (even at the university newspaper) that paid something and put my work out there. Build up your resume before graduating and it will help when you finally go out into the wide world of work.
2. Dutch universities aren’t like the UK at all
My first year was the most important. I couldn’t spend the whole year partying and if I didn’t pass the first year I wasn’t allowed to go into the second year and get this…I couldn’t study the same subject at another Dutch university either. So the focus was on education, with partying and lifestyle coming second.
The university I went to was a research university, there are technical universities, Hogeschools and other schools which all cater to different levels of study and specialisation. It was completely different to the UK where any given university will offer hundreds of courses in different subjects, and where rankings are everything. I could take my time when it came to graduating too! This meant there was more room to work during my studies. Taking a year out wasn’t a big deal at all! Seeing a different perspective on higher education was a huge eye-opener and one that helped me understand the Dutch job market even more.
3, Chill Out!
The Dutch have a much more laid back approach to life. This also applies to their education….somewhat. The workload is more intense, comparable to my A Levels. I had exams every 8 weeks and was expected to attend 11 out of 14 classes per term (if I didn’t that would be an automatic fail even if I got 100% in the exam). So whenever there was some time off the Dutch sure knew how to make the most of their spare time either with holidays here there and everywhere, going away to visit family…generally doing something for themselves.
This is something that took me years to figure out, and it’s helped massively in my work-life balance now I’m out of university. I find that I’m more focused on issues at hand at work, then I know as soon as I walk out of the office at the end of the day my work doesn’t come home with me. Learning to keep study/work and my social life separate was something I can completely put down to being in mandatory classes and intense study.
Better time management = better lifestyle.
4.Graduating from a Dutch university: Master’s degrees are the norm here
I have absolutely no plans to do a master’s degree this year. That will change though, as I can imagine myself taking a Master’s course at some point in the not so distant future (who knows maybe two or three more). Just over a decade ago the Dutch higher education system was a 4-year system which meant you graduated with the equivalent of a Master’s degree. This all changed to become more streamlined with other major countries. It’s normal here to add that extra year to your studies (there’s even a law which says your university must provide you with access to a masters course which follows on from your bachelor degree, should you graduate) so if you’re struggling to find work, it might be worth exploring that as an option (the tuition fees and funding are readily available for this too, so you can expect to pay the same amount).
5. It’s much more about the student than the degree
I’ve always believed this. I know people who studied my course who are still looking for work 2 years later. I know the kind of students who expected to be spoon-fed everything at university and didn’t think they would have to work while studying to get a degree, only to realise they’ve graduated with an arts and social science degree with no job opportunities in their area. It’s really about what you put into it, and how you network while you’re studying. Congratulations on getting a place at university, but don’t relax because the work doesn’t stop there.
Age is really against you when you come out the other side with a nice bit of paper to hang on your wall. There are some companies which have graduate schemes, or might even appreciate having young talent around. But unless you managed to found your own company and become a billionaire (in which case why would you bother applying for their internship anyway) in that time the chances are you won’t be seen as someone with skills the company can utilise, but more as someone the company will have to invest time in and train up. I couldn’t find work in the Randstad area despite speaking basic Dutch, having written professionally and spent the last 4 years in marketing & communications organising conferences, events and so on and so forth, every time the company took someone with 10 years experience or more (despite only saying 3 years experience necessary on the application form). You don’t have to get a student job in the field you want to work in for the rest of your life, but make good contacts for when you leave. These will be the people you will message about jobs (and who can put in a good word for you!).
As I said before, I’m no job counsellor. I’ve been through the Dutch university system and managed to work and support myself this entire time, so graduating isn’t too terrifying right now. Big yourself up, make good connections and don’t get disheartened, and perhaps most importantly remember that it’s perfectly ok to not know what you want to do for the rest of your life right after graduating!