So you’ve graduated college? Congratulations! What now?
Final grades are posted, hats have been tossed and many graduating college seniors have packed their apartments only to wonder what the next chapter of life will bring. Unfortunately, these days the next chapter often involves returning home, right up the same front steps that were optimistically descended only four or so years before. It’s a humbling, somewhat discouraging walk of shame, that all too many 2014 college graduates are making this summer.
As a fairly recent graduate myself, and one that certainly had to traverse my own walk of shame a time or two following graduation. I would like to share a bit of what I have observed and learned (during my 5 years post graduation) with the countless number of students that may be finding themselves on the “lonely” road of post college life in a job market that does not come close to resembling the smorgasbord of prospects that presented graduating classes prior to 2008.
I’d like to address concerns or questions in a ‘myth vs. fact’ format that will hopefully aid recent graduates better navigate their post college dilemmas.
Myth: I need to hurry and get into grad school since my undergraduate degree is worthless.
Fact: Grad school is often very expensive and may not necessarily increase your job prospects by all that much. You have to ask yourself, “Am I applying to get a master’s in Psychology because I truly want to study psychology more? Or am I simply following the (all too common) path of least resistance and filling time? I decided to attend graduate school only after I’d worked for two companies following graduation and did extensive shadowing within the graduate subject I decided to pursue. One of my friends from undergrad, who also received her BA in English, chose a different route than me and has already begun a successful career in writing while I am still toiling in the land of loans and comprehensive exams. She put in the time following graduation by taking an entry-level ($10/hour) position that was not her “dream job” by any means. Eventually the job amounted to an improved resume that allowed her to change companies and receive increased responsibility. After one more job change, she now works in the field of her choice doing what she loves each day (writing), for a company that many authors would love to write for. I tell you this so that you’ll consider the power of building a resume and weigh it against the desire (or pressure) you feel to attend grad school. If you’re truly passionate about your undergraduate major (or another area of study), then I urge you to look into grad school and see if it’s something you’d like to do. But, please don’t take the GRE, LSAT, MCAT or whatever other gatekeeper exam you might be planning on taking, simply for the sake of looking productive.
Myth: A college degree does not carry the same weight it once did.
Fact: College degrees are becoming more common. The USA has never had such a high percentage of persons with bachelor’s degrees. Ever. Is that bad? No. It simply means that we’re a more educated country and workforce, and that if you choose not to get one you are (by definition) less formally educated. In fact, I’d argue that the value of a bachelor’s degree is only increasing as more individuals with degrees are in positions of management and hiring. Your ability to find common ground is amplified as you and the interviewer have both been through the rigors of higher education. Granted, there are a lot of recent grads entering the work force which can feel a bit competitive when you’re bouncing around at job fairs. But, if you’re patient and diligent, your degree will eventually land you a better opportunity than you would have received otherwise.
Myth: I should wait to get a job that specifically fits my degree’s focus or special skills.
Fact: Whether your degree is in Political Science or Mathematics, don’t feel limited by the words on your diploma. I decided (after about a year of working as enrollment advisor for an online university) that I wanted to become a physical therapist. If I had a dollar for everyone that asked (in one form or another), “Can you do that after you graduated in English?” I’d be a wealthy man. The world is full of successful men and women who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in [insert degree name here] and never went on to do much related to their major. A college education is more than just a set of instructions to guide you through a specific job. It has prepared you to analyze, study, think critically, write (hopefully), problem solve and more.
Follow-up myth: I can’t take a job that doesn’t fully utilize my college education…it’s below me.
Fact: This is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of recent grads, especially after they’ve seen some of their fraternity brothers or sorority sisters take off for exciting jobs in New York or L.A. But really, there’s nothing wrong with waiting tables, cleaning pools, mowing lawns, etc. while you figure out your next step. It’s not what you want to do forever, but it provides you with a little income and a feeling of self-worth while you sort things out. Grads that just “veg-out” and “chill” while surfing the web for the next awesome opportunity to fall into their laps are doing themselves a disservice. Waking up and getting into some sort of routine will keep your mind and body sharp, while also increasing your devotion to the “job hunt.”
Myth: I deserve a big break. School was hard and I’ll figure things out after the summer is over.
Fact: Staying busy will allow you to meet people, see places and create ideas that cannot happen while you’re sitting on your parents’ couch watching Netflix. Does your “busyness” need to be manual labor? No. Writing, learning a new skill (like writing code) or shadowing a professional, are all great ways to stay busy and build your future. Is a planned “graduation trip” or maybe some other weekend trips or camping excursions fun and well-deserved? Absolutely. But, don’t get caught up in the fun-seeking carousel of post-college life or you’ll just end up penniless and frustrated.
Myth: You’ve got to “know someone” to get any job worth taking.
Fact: It’s undoubtedly beneficial to have connections and “know someone.” However, in this day and age it isn’t too daunting of a task to connect with someone near to a position or within a company you desire to work for. Think about it. You’ve been connecting and socializing with other students, faculty and the random hot girl/guy from Psychology 101 for years. This concept should not be new to you. Utilize social media to connect and inquire about jobs. Literally, the world has never had such far reaching tools to find jobs as it has now. Along that same vein, with the internet, there have never been so many opportunities to display your skills and worth. This is also the avenue that may allow you to have a leg up on other, more experienced job seekers. You have just left some of the most tech-savvy and social environments in the world. Don’t let your experience and knowledge sit idle.
The myths and facts of life after graduation could likely run on forever. Remember as you embark on this next chapter that no matter if you have landed a job or not, you have accomplished a great thing by earning your degree and no one in their right mind should fault you for that. Right? Almost right. You’re certainly not guaranteed anything by earning your degree and many of the “school of hard knocks” crowd will love to point that out to you. What you choose to do following graduation is really what will determine whether or not it was worth it to spend four (or more) grueling years earning your degree. Be proactive, communicative and inquisitive as you head out into the world. Utilize skills like critical thinking that you’ve hopefully honed throughout your studies. Most importantly, don’t lose hope in the face of a challenging job market. With patience and hard work you will prevail.