Graduates Face Unreasonable Pressure for Success

By Rosie Alger
Opinion Editor

The fall 2017 Career Fair was held on Sept. 28, and many students eagerly attended, résumé  in hand and dressed in the best professional pieces they could scramble together. Preparation for this event has been long coming, and the Center for Career Development even held mandatory Senior Week sessions where seniors were given a crash course on interviewing, résumé  building, and other necessary steps to find work after graduation. These are all useful resources for job seekers, but when does the pressure to succeed — quickly — become too much? What options do seniors have outside of the fast-paced world of business?

When searching for information on college graduate employment rates, I found that some of the most commonly Googled phrases related to graduating were, “things to do after college besides work,” “don’t know what to do after college,” and “I just graduated college now what.” People coming out of the university system are lost. They have been working in a rigorous school setting for roughly 17 years and are worn out. For some people, moving directly to a fast paced job on their career track or entering immediately into graduate school is the most exciting option, but many are intimidated or frustrated by that expectation.

The recent Career Fair had students focused this intense expectation. For me, the Career Fair was not a valuable way to spend my time. As a theater and anthropology double major and an editor for The Elm, I am interested in careers in theater and the arts, museum work, non-profit activism work, and journalism. There were no organizations represented at the Career Fair that featured any related positions.

I felt like a failure or disappointment in some way for not attending the event, especially because of the Center for Career Development’s recent mandate that student employees attend at least one Career Services program in the fall and spring. (More information to come in the next issue.) In fact, not only does this mandate add to the mounting post-graduate pressure put on seniors, but it also forces students such as myself to sacrifice time that otherwise would be spent on their jobs or senior theses, which in some cases would be more beneficial to their future endeavors. I know that is the case for me. Am I really a failure for not wasting my time talking to businesses in which I have no interest? Shouldn’t I instead spend that time working on the play I am directing for my SCE, and that will add significantly to my theater experience which I can bring to the professional world?

As a society, we tend to value career-related success markers above all else. Can a person have other life goals that are more important to them than a raise or promotion? Personally, while I of course want to have a job that I find meaningful and that supports me, my life goals are much more centered around the people I surround myself with. I want to be able to spend time with my family and friends, and if that means choosing a local job over a more career-track-related job that is further away from those people, I will do that. At least in the year or two after graduation, I want to spend some time on the aspects of my life, such as those people, which I have not been able to prioritize during my time in college.

Furthermore, finding a job is hard. Fortunately, unemployment is down, and CNBC reporter Jessica Dickler said, “It’s the hottest job market in years for the expected 1.9 million students who will graduate. Employers are estimated to hire about 5 percent more graduates from the class of 2016 than last year, according to a recent report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.”

This does not mean that students graduating this spring will find it easy to get an entry-level job in the career field of their choice. Dickler also said, “The number of recent college graduates that are underemployed, or are accepting low-wage jobs or part-time work, is also increasing… To that point, 51 percent of graduates from the classes of 2014 and 2015 said they are working in jobs that do not require their college degree, up from the 49 percent of graduates who reported the same the year before that. As a result, salaries have suffered. While the average starting salary is just shy of $50,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 39 percent of graduates from the classes of 2014 and 2015 are making $25,000 or less, according to Accenture — even as student loan balances have climbed to an all-time high.”

This means that, despite all the prep work and nudging from parents and college mentors, graduates are still finding that the high-pressure goal of finding a job that pays decently and is leading them on their ultimate career path is hard to achieve. This means that we should be looking at our careers as a long-term journey, rather than a box to check off or something we need or jump right into immediately upon graduation.

Rather than deem ourselves failures for working in food service for a year or two after graduation, let’s remind ourselves of the goals that we can meet with success during that time. Rather than go to a career fair that does not have any employers that are of interest to you, spend some time researching other ways you can productively spend your time post-college. There are plenty of volunteer programs for young people that allow you to be productive and learn a lot about yourself in the process, such as Americorps. Rather than valuing career advancement and financial gain above all else, let’s consider what other life goals that we can accomplish along the way. Fulfillment can come from a lot of places, so let’s not put all our eggs in one basket. It is important to remember that personal health, wellbeing, and happiness are more important than yet another internship on your résumé.

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