Almost 10 months ago I, along with 1.7 million of my peers, donned a cap and gown and received my college diploma, representing four years of hard-earned education (National Association of Colleges and Employers). Graduation was both exhilarating and frightening.
Few of us had full-time employment lined up, and bitter jokes about living in cardboard boxes and our parents’ basements were common. A few of my friends joined service organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach For America; others enrolled in grad school because they weren’t sure what else to do. Most ended up with part-time jobs at cafes, restaurants or retail outlets.
The New York Times recently conducted a survey of 226 recent graduates from Drew University’s class of 2011 to find clues to the state of the job market. The Times found statistics similar to what I have observed:
74% of graduates who intern are unpaid
39% have full-time jobs
35% of graduates who have part-time jobs work two or more jobs
34% of jobs involve food service, retail, customer service, clerical, or unskilled work
22% of students are in grad school
17% are unemployed
You can read accounts of individual students’ after-graduation journeys here. Overall, there is a lot of frustration, wasted effort and wasted time for students who graduate with bachelors degrees in the liberal arts. Our professors always told us that our diverse education would give us an edge, that we would have more sophisticated communication skills and so rise to the top of whatever profession we chose. But when getting an entry-level job seems about as likely as winning the lottery, it is hard to look back fondly on the days spent reading Aristotle and taking ballet classes.
My own post-graduation experience has been fairly eventful and has involved jobs such as driving tractors, waitressing and an unpaid internship. I worked an average of 60 hours a week and was making minimum wage. My degree in English and Norwegian finally paid off when I landed an editorial position at an independent publishing house. I don’t make a lot of money, but I work regular hours and get benefits. I am one of the lucky ones.
Clearly the job market (and the economy) is far from stable. How can college kids best prepare themselves for the tough “real world” after graduation? Do you know any struggling graduates? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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