First published in The Independent 29th July 2013
After three years of (hopefully) hard work, graduation day will be upon you. It’s nice to leave on a high note, with a day of celebration and moments shared with family and friends while dressed like you’ve stepped out of Goodbye, Mr Chips. However, the reality is that graduation turns out to be just another university expense that doesn’t take into account the fact that graduates will at this time be struggling to pay off overdrafts, saving for postgraduate qualifications or attempting to break into the job market. The hike in tuition fees makes these added expenses seem increasingly unmanageable, particularly for students from less privileged backgrounds.
At Warwick, our gown and mortarboard suppliers were Ede and Ravenscroft, a suitably archaic company who do very brisk business in graduation season. Gown hire for 2013 is £45 for Bachelors degrees and climbs steadily for those graduating with Masters, dEDs, DPhils and higher Doctorates. Hiring costs £5 more if you do so over the phone. Why is hiring a black cape so pricey? It’s not like anyone wants to steal something that looks suspiciously like a shroud. You’ll wear the thing for a couple of hours and then hand it back with a certain sense of relief if the weather is particularly warm. A July graduation can often make you wish you’d never bothered with that new dress or suit underneath the gown. Buying the gown isn’t a particularly practical option either because if you go on to do a Masters or Doctorate at another university, you have to wear their robes and colours. How much wear are you actually going to get out of the gown? Unless of course, you go as Professor Snape for every fancy dress party henceforth.
Ede and Ravenscroft also provide official graduation photographs, because your grandparents don’t want to hang a snap taken on your dad’s phone on their living room wall. A ‘standard pack’ alone costs £40, which seems pretty excessive for an awkward shot against the standard backdrop that you probably had for school photos. The charges are also higher on the day of the ceremony.
The other thing to consider about graduation is the cost to your family, who will inevitably want to be there on the day and tweak your cap straight at every possible opportunity. Think of the petrol money or train fares (which won’t be cheap) plus the celebratory drinks that will be bought or the meal you’ll probably want to go out for, and you’ve got an expensive day out. The Williamson clan, including my grandparents, brought their own sandwiches. I was so scared that we would look out of place next to my posh university friends’ parents that I nagged everyone rotten about their outfits and being on ‘best behaviour’. Unfortunately, it ended up being me who lowered the tone by falling over during my walk out of the hall where graduation was held, and badly grazing both knees. Note to self: six inch Kurt Geigers are not appropriate for graduation and the added expensive of buying new shoes was completely unnecessary.
My graduation passed in a sweaty, stressful blur. The graduates were shunted about from queue to queue in a surprisingly regimented manner. Although I loved the traditional drama of the gown and the ‘don’t worry that you’re not an Oxbridge graduate’ speech from the university’s Chancellor, the day seemed like a huge cash-in on the part of the academic outfitters. Even though I hadn’t shelled out for the graduation ball (£69 for a glorified version of Year 13 prom), graduation day itself left me with a hole in my pocket. My friend Alex’s dad decided to total up the money they both would’ve spent on graduation and send her to Denmark instead…perhaps an option worth considering!