Almost three-quarters of students starting university this year are clueless about their career after graduating, according to new research.
A significant proportion was heading for low-paid casual work after graduation, said researcher Zena Melki, founder of graduate networking website UnisUnited. com, which surveyed the aspirations of 2,000 school-leavers.
"We must ask ourselves if we're failing our future workforce by letting them undertake costly study without proper regard for what profession is best suited to them at the end of it," she said.
"University is about much more than just getting a qualification, but it's a tough world out there. Students who don't think about what outlets their skills are best suited to during their time at university will miss out."
The research found that per cent of this year's undergraduate intake have a definite career in mind. Just over half are completely undecided, while 16 per cent say they have uncertain plans for the future.
Ms Melki said that the drive towards 50 per cent participation, coupled with an average drop of 3.4 per cent in graduate vacancies over the past year, meant students could increasingly expect to find themselves falling into low-paid administrative or other casual work after graduation.
"As the number of graduates rises, recruiters are becoming increasingly selective, expecting graduates to demonstrate a strong commitment to their chosen sector and to have undertaken related work experience before graduation," Ms Melki said.
"One of the biggest stumbling blocks to deciding on a career is getting good insights into what opportunities are out there. Traditionally, students have had to rely on pamphlets from the careers service, the advice of family and friends, and what the large recruiters have to say during the milkrounds. Most don't have a clue what else there is for them to do after university, let alone what's really right for them."
The research found that students' concern about the future increased during degree study.
Getting work experience was crucial, Ms Melki added. "Unless they are very well connected, even the most motivated students will struggle. Careers services can only do so much, and no computer program or amount of literature can possibly compare with talking to a real person when it comes to finding out what it's really like to work for a particular company or industry," she said.
The UnisUnited website offers students the opportunity to contact graduates, talk to them directly about their jobs and to arrange work experience.
"Direct communication between student and graduate communities across the country means that companies can now identify and nurture talented individuals from an early stage," Ms Melki said.
University conveyor belt leaves students in limbo
* Linda Zell, 21, studied law at Cambridge University and graduated last summer. She signed up with a temping agency and lives at home with her parents.
She said: "I realised during my studies that law was not going to be the right career for me, but I don't really know what I want to do.
"Most of my friends are in a similar position. Once you come off the university conveyor belt, you have no idea what's next.
"The only careers advice I got at university was to do with management consultancy. It really wasn't geared up to someone like me. Not having a direction feels like being in limbo and, to be honest, I'm a bit panicky."
* Neil Ramsay, 23, has been working in a call centre despite making some 50 job applications.
"I found the job market very tough indeed," said Mr Ramsay who studied electrical and electronic engineering at Glasgow University and has completed a postgraduate diploma in software development.
"But it was very difficult to get adequate help with job searching. As new graduates, we really can't be expected to understand what happens in the commercial world, and that often there are hundreds of applications for every job.
"I am only just realising how to make my CV stand out. If only I had been able to talk to someone working in the industry while I was at university I might not have wasted so much time."