A college degree was once considered a smart financial investment and a secure path to steady employment. Millennials were raised to believe that their bachelor or graduate degrees were necessary foundations to build careers, as it was for previous generations. But that belief is beginning to falter, as more young people find themselves suffering from debt and job insecurity. Although college graduates generally fare better than individuals without degrees, they are still struggling to find steady employment in today’s deficient job market.
Rather than ignore the burden of student loan debt and disregard how our economy is failing graduates, we as a nation need to re-evaluate our overly optimistic and confident convictions about the economic advantages of a college education. We need to accept and admit that higher education is not a sure means to a career. Students should be aware of the financial risks involved in investing in higher education so that they can shape their academic courses more insightfully and prepare for the possibility of being underpaid after graduation.
While financial security and upward economic mobility are definitely important factors to consider when making academic decisions, they should not be the sole reasons for attending college. Since we live in an era where there is little job security for even those with career-focused degrees—like lawyers, professors, or engineers—students should be encouraged to major in subjects that truly matter to them. It’s misguided to believe in the intrinsic or monetary value of one major over another when so many graduates, regardless of their chosen field, are facing financial hardship. Now, majoring in the arts and humanities is not any more precarious of a choice than pursuing a degree in business, so if you’re a creative or socially-minded student, then you shouldn’t feel pressured to study something once considered more practical.
You’ll have a more substantial education if you pick majors that align with your ideals and overall life goals. It’s actually more pragmatic and productive to study things you value than worrying about how valuable your degree will be upon graduation. Money and job placement are important, but so is your intellectual, social, and emotional growth. Valuing those things during college will give you the skills to navigate adulthood. If you’re a young student with no dependents or difficult circumstances holding you back in pursuing a higher education, then take the opportunity to study something that’ll let you grow personally and help you become a self-respecting individual.
Major in something you love, do work study or intern in fields that matter to you, and consider how your education will not only benefit your personal growth, but also how it can help you serve your community or country. It’s not just important to make authentic academic choices; it’s also necessary to consider how you can be a productive citizen with your degree. Invest in interdisciplinary studies, be open to new ideas, and network while you’re in college rather than waiting to make connections once you’ve graduated. When you’re competing with older, experienced employees and skilled technical workers for employment in this contentious job market, you’ll definitely have a more compelling resume if you’ve worked during your college years.
Professional experience is crucial to your post-graduate success, so invest in extra-curricular activities—like volunteering or interning—while you’re in college. Consider doing a semester abroad or volunteer work in another state to help you increase your cultural awareness. Learning to be true to yourself and honing in on your passions, while also striving to be conscious of the world around you, will help you strengthen your character and have the fortitude to face the uncertainties of adulthood.
“Overeducated and underemployed” is a term often used to describe young graduates who are dealing with student loan debt and employment issues. Once you earn your degree, you’re likely to face a period of under/unemployment. Have patience and remember that you’re not alone—many graduates are struggling to find work. For your emotional health alone, it helps to stay in touch with your graduating class. It’s oddly comforting to know that other people are struggling with similar post-college issues. But don’t let your shared circumstance get you down—reach out to your classmates and alumni community to seek out advice from individuals who have found success despite the aftermath of the recession.
Think less about your marketability after college and more about what you personally have to offer as an educated individual. Put stock in your precious, individual abilities and don’t let yourself become a commodity. Part-time and freelance jobs are on the rise but don’t get stuck doing mediocre work or let the fear of unemployment rule all your decisions. Since there’s no economic guarantee after graduating, it’s a great time to take entrepreneurial risks or invest in passion projects. You may have to keep a day job you’re not crazy about, take out a loan/depend on credit cards, or move back into your parent’s home for a while in order to fund your genuine professional goals, but it’s better than wasting your time looking for conventional career paths that don’t exist anymore.
Investing in your intellect and character while in school will give you the confidence, resilience, and wisdom to cope with financial instability after graduation. If we as a culture can adapt to a more comprehensive view about the benefits of receiving a higher education, then we can help students have fuller college experiences and help graduates better prepare for dealing with this difficult economy.