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Post-college slump


Some of the problems faced by new college grads

Column by Kathleen Herring

You’ve just graduated from a major public university with a bachelor’s degree in your chosen field. Finally, you have the time, energy and ability earn your own wages, pay your own rent, and work towards an ideal job in your field while living modestly… and best of all, no more homework! This is everything you’ve been working towards your whole life; the world is full of possibilities – right?

Wrong. Not to be a pessimist, but we’ve forgotten about the Big Bad Recession – the reason there are no jobs, the reason people buy butter by the gallon but skimp on fruit and veggies, the reason a tank of gas costs more than a nice dinner out and a “nice” dinner out might come from McDonald’s. Economic times are tough, but no one seems more unexpectedly affected than the recent college grad.

Speaking as an experienced member of the JMU class of 2009, I can say with certainty that finding a job has been harder than I ever expected it would be. Not only are there no ideal jobs in my field (I studied English literature – it’s not exactly an obscure field!), there are NO jobs in my field. I have looked everywhere from the JMU campus to the newspaper want ads to local retail establishments, and the only job I could find during the long summer months was as a canine assistant at the SPCA animal shelter.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my work at the shelter. The amazingly dedicated people I’ve met, the lonely, sick and abused animals I’ve helped, and the feeling of accomplishment when a lost pet finds a new home almost make the grueling hours of unappreciated poop-scooping and the cuts, bruises, bite-marks and filthy, destroyed clothing worth the frustration and exhaustion I feel at the conclusion of each day. Almost. However, there’s one glaring flaw in my minimum-wage lifestyle: I need to start repaying my student loans next month!

You see, like so many of my fellow graduates, I had to rely on student loans in order to pay for my college education. And, like many of my fellow graduates, I am now in the uncomfortable position of being required to pay off those loans and having no means by which to do so. The thing about student loans is that a college education is supposed to help you get a job so that you can pay back the loans and wind up better off, financially, then when you started. My minimum-wage job at a nonprofit organization only earns me enough to pay my rent, electric bill, and the occasional treat like food or shampoo. There is no money left over to pay off loans, let alone save any for later.

I continue to apply for English-related jobs, from the prestigious Rosetta Stone to the common bookstore cashier, but with less and less motivation as time presses onward and the rejections keep filing in. Many companies don’t bother to reply at all, leaving me with the option of calling repeatedly until I lose hope, or asking to be rejected in person. Even run-of-the-mill retail stores and restaurants are turning me away in favor of the part-time student employees they usually hire during the school year.

This seemingly hopeless situation leaves me wondering a great many things, such as: Why did I go to college in the first place? What is the benefit of a college degree, if not even the companies which don’t require it will hire me? Where are my student-loan payments going to come from? Do I really need food, and shampoo, and a house to live in? Is the only remaining option to move back in with my parents and admit defeat, only a few months since my triumphant graduation celebration?

I must find a solution to this mess, if only to escape admitting to my parents that I need help. I just got hired at a second job, where I will cashier part-time to start earning more money. My roommate and I are moving to a cheaper apartment with two other friends in order to save enough money to pay for our food. We both continue to submit applications to various higher-paying jobs in the area, though with no success as of yet.

It is painful to realize that so many of my plans, my goals, have fallen under the rule of the dollar sign. I always wanted to be a writer; however, in the interests of financial stability I’ve wisely put that dream aside in favor of the work-60-hours-a-week-for-not-enough-money plan. Under this plan, I’ll work myself to exhaustion, bravely trying to stave off illness and starvation while dreaming that someday I’ll have enough extra time to try and fulfill my dreams. If I have the energy, of course.

Putting the sarcasm aside for a moment, let me just ask the question: would I be better off if I had skipped college in favor of working and saving my money? Is my bachelor’s degree in English useful for something other than being able to correct the misspelled “Laundary Room” sign at the animal shelter? The simple act of asking goes against everything I was ever taught, and seems to discredit all the effort spent and real Knowledge that I’ve acquired during my life-altering four years at James Madison University. However… the question still seems to want to be asked.



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