She’s 23, working full time with two kids under the age of three years old.
He’s 28. He owns his own company and sets his own schedule. He never graduated college.
I’m 21, a full-time student with a part-time gig as an office assistant.
I’m following the mold set by generations before us. Theoretically, I’m being smart and practical. Making good choices for my future.
I’m earning an undergraduate degree in language and linguistics that could cost me around $120,000. As an in-state student. Before interest. And I’m not even pursuing a career in either of those fields.
Life choices for our generation have become a classic game of “would you rather.” Would you rather:
1) make your family proud in the predictable way,
2) party for four years straight before entering the real world,
3) have a shot at a possible high-paying career with benefits and security
and 4) suffer from eternal, crippling, soul-crushing debt
1) be forced to be an adult and live on your own right out of high school (or have to live with your parents)
2) watch your Facebook friends go off to college while you get a real job
and 3) potentially go broke with a low paying job
but 4) Hey! Look! No student debt!
Those are literally our choices in this era. The number of students getting hired for good positions in their field right out of college is insanely small. The number of students drowning in their debt post-graduation is practically 100%. Even if you manage to graduate on time, there is no guarantee that the job you eventually get will require a degree. You could potentially save yourself the student loans and be four full years ahead in your career.
We are raised on the expectation that we need a degree to get a good job. What we fail to consider is that employers out there don’t need us like we need them.
There is very little that a fresh out of college student can bring to the table. Employers require 2 to 5 years of experience before we can get an “entry-level position.” Yet, we need an entry-level position to get experience.
Older generations preach about college being worth it without considering the consequences. Then they blame us for killing their department stores. What they fail to grasp is that we are doing our best with the formula that has been instilled in us since birth. Get a high school job, make some money. Work summers. Go to college, work summers again. Get a job right out of college. The disconnect is not just with getting a post-grad job (even though it is true that it’s a practically impossible step). High school and summer jobs pay almost the same number as they did in the 80s when our parents were in school. Unfortunately for us, inflation exists. So that $7.00/hour job Mom had as a lifeguard would have to be $16.18/hour today. On top of that, the cost of college has risen exponentially since then. No more paying it off with four summers of hard work.
This broken-down formula needs to be rewritten in order for us to be successful in this day and age. Sadly for us, the change must start with employers. Employers requiring degrees and experience and enough financial stability to afford low pay are simply not letting us succeed. We no longer have a choice between working hard and succeeding or not working hard and failing. It’s just not that simple anymore.
This summer I had the unique experience of working two jobs that each had the potential to be full time positions. However, I only worked at each job part-time. It allowed me to directly compare corporate and blue-collar, and I learned just how far apart they are.
Monday through Wednesday I drove an hour and a half through traffic to sit through a nine-hour workday at an unpaid internship in my field, only to drive an hour and a half back home. A twelve hour day, with nothing to show for it. There, I saw the women I worked with doing their best and getting paid next to nothing for it. All were college graduates. All had student debt. All were getting paid under $30,000 a year.
Thursday through Sunday I lived with my mom and worked as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant in walking distance from the house. I worked hard and had long hours, but I made good money and got to know some of the best people I’ve ever met. Even with a job that doesn’t take a degree, they all seemed pretty happy to me. I got to know a 29-year-old woman who is a career waitress, making her nest egg and paying off debt. She’s still sitting on student debt from a degree that did her no good. I met the aforementioned 23-year-old with two kids who are her whole world. She does what she can to make the best life for them, and she had no student debt to pay off. I also met a 28-year-old man who owns his own company, his own house, two trucks, an ATV, a freshly-modified motorcycle and countless other toys. He sets his own hours and controls his own life. He dropped out of college and now his college-graduate brother is working for him.
Ask yourself, who is the real winner here? From my time in the “real world,” I would be hard pressed to say that the college grads are coming out on top.