According to the What do graduates do? 2018/19 report, approximately 22% of graduates began their careers in London. This means that around one in five graduates secure their first job in the capital, with a significant number of those needing to relocate.
The prospect of moving to London can be daunting for recent graduates: they might worry about affordability, making new friends and adjusting to the city’s fast-paced lifestyle.
To what extent are these fears legitimate? We’ve interviewed recent graduates who have moved to London for various job opportunities and asked them to bust some of the myths surrounding ‘The Big Smoke’.
1. Fact: living in London is expensive
You might be able to find free museum exhibitions and cheap picnics in the park, but there is no hiding that the rent and public transport costs can be crippling. Catherine, who is on the Civil Service Fast Stream, hates ‘how expensive it is! The accommodation is pricey, so you have to be savvy when looking for places to live.’
According to data published by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), the mean rent for a room, studio and one-bedroom house in London is £630, £1,034 and £1,350 respectively. While there is no escaping expensive rent in the capital, you can find cheaper places to live that are a bit further out but still well-connected to the centre by public transport. Catherine recommends Southfields, Morden, New Malden, Raynes Park and Motspur Park. North London is also a popular choice for graduates moving to the city; Wembley in particular is ideally suited to young professionals as rent is relatively cheap – a room costs £602 a month according to the VOA – and the Metropolitan line provides quick access to the city centre.
The silver lining is that, while rent is higher than other areas in the UK, people in London tend to earn higher wages, which helps balance out the costs. Also, if you decide to move closer to the centre, your rent might be higher but it is likely that you will save money on transport.
2. Fiction: you can’t afford to do anything in London
There’s no denying that London is expensive. The most basic coffee can cost up to three pounds in some places, and you can forget your student days of getting a pint for £2.00 – the average pint in London costs more than double that, and a single vodka and coke in some clubs in Shoreditch will set you back £13.00! Look out for happy hours in bars and pubs and avoid drinking too much on a night out. Buy your own alcohol and drink beforehand; it might be less classy, but it will save you a pretty penny.
According to Aimee, a content marketing manager who now lives in Wimbledon, ‘there are always free or cheap activities going on if you look in the right places.’ Aimee advises that ‘if you’re sensible and do your research you shouldn’t struggle too much. Time Out, Design My Night, Funzing and DoJo are my go-to apps and websites when looking for activities, places to socialise and people to meet on a budget!’ She says that, it you’re looking to spend absolutely nothing, ‘visiting one of the parks is always a win – Primrose Hill has beautiful views over London, and you can detour through Regent’s Park and by the canals to get home.’
3. Fiction: Londoners are horrible
Catherine grew up in the Midlands and studied in York before moving to London. Initially, she was worried that she wouldn’t like living in the capital. ‘A lot of people had told me Londoners are massively rude,’ she says. However, she adds: ‘what people had told me was untrue – in my experience, Londoners are lovely, although they do tend to be in a rush.’
4. Fiction: if you live in London, you're bound to be lonely
London, despite being a thriving urban metropolis, is viewed by many as being an extremely lonely and isolating place to live. Londoners apparently do not talk to each other and look the other way when someone is in need. According to Aimee and Emily, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Aimee is aware that ‘a lot of people see London as quite a busy but lonely city,’ although she found that ‘if you’re willing to put yourself out there, you absolutely reap the benefits.’ Emily, who moved to London from Oxfordshire and now works as a brand assistant at a wine agency, also expected to feel lonely in the capital: ‘I made sure I lived near friends thinking I wouldn’t make new ones in London. This was really wrong – there are so many ways to meet young people in London and I have unintentionally made lots of great friends here.’
5. Fact: living in London can be hectic
London is home to 13% of the UK’s total population and is one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. It is therefore no surprise that living in London can be hectic.
Emily sometimes feels overwhelmed by the fast pace of the city. She describes how ‘every now and then I suddenly realise I’m feeling super tense and manic and I just need to escape the madness.’
If you find that London’s fast pace is too much for you at times, you can always indulge in a bit of self-care. This doesn’t have to break the bank. Groupon and Treatwell offer good deals on relaxing spa weekends, and a quiet night at home watching a film is free. Some graduate employers also offer free wellness vouchers as part of their benefits package. This could include: a free gym membership, yoga classes and acupuncture sessions.
6. Fiction: London is unsafe
Whenever London is mentioned on the news nowadays, it seems to be to criticise the rising crime rate and street violence. This blanket coverage has led to the perception that London is a hub of violence and disorder, putting people off moving there. But crime is not exclusive to London, and Catherine, Emily and Aimee have all felt safe while living in the capital.
During the two years that Catherine has lived in London, she has ‘never felt unsafe’ and Emily even says that ‘I personally feel much more comfortable walking around London alone at night than I did when living in Paris.’ For Aimee, the fact that there are always lots of people around adds another layer of security.
Nevertheless, you should still be careful; some areas might be safer than others. Catherine advises that ‘when searching for flats, always make sure you take a look in person so you can check out the surrounding area.’
Ultimately, moving to London will be a massive change – but a change that could pay off if you’re willing to take the risk. Catherine, much to the despair of her parents, now can’t imagine living anywhere else. Emily urges, ‘don’t be afraid of London. It is the ultimate playground for graduates and the possibilities are endless.’