Let me start this off by first stating some truths. As a scientist will not conduct an experiment, test a theorem without first establishing a hypothesis, I too will not start a piece of writing without doing the same:

1.      All college graduates regardless of what they majored in want a job, that is the English major wants a job just as much as the Engineering major, the Art major wants to find work  as much as the Nursing major, the History major wants to be employed just as the Accounting major and etc…

2.      Nobody wants to spend 40-50k on a degree, 20k in debt to be unemployed, people don’t go to college only for “life experiences and well roundedness”-people want jobs, they want to work plain and simple

3.      Ideally the college graduate’s goal is to acquire a job better than what he could have acquired if he forsook college all together and settled on simply having a High School Diploma

4.      Employers want experience before hiring, yet finding that experience is incredibly difficult creating the all too common Catch 22: “I need experience to get hired yet no one will give me experience so how can I get hired?”

5.      Acquiring an internship whether paid or unpaid is just as difficult as finding a job. There seems to be some thought among the older/parental generation that getting an internship is easy and graduates are simply turning them down-No grads are not turning them down, they applying for internships like mad, they want the internships, the internships are not there

6.       Parents rest assured nobody enjoys moving back home after graduating college, and yes us grads like to think “oh this will only be short term…”

7.      It is not about holding out, waiting for the dream job, the ideal job, it is about finding a job, period.

8.      Tis better to study what is more marketable than what you love, are most passionate about

9.      It is bloody tough out there, there has to be a  change, there must be a change  

Throughout high school there is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man who attends and graduates college will have a good life. He will acquire a decent to well paying job, he will be able to move out of the parent’s house, he will be able to live his own life, to start his own family, to ultimately leave his own mark upon the world. I was feed this truth, this statement again and again, the meetings with guidance consolers, the discussions with parents- that college is key, you need a college degree. So you go to college you major in what you love because after all where you told that, “If you study what you love then the money will follow” or “College is about studying your passion, not what exactly degree is most marketable”.  And then you graduate, you graduate with a degree that reflects what you are most passionate about. And you believe that even though you did not major in one of the more “secure/real/hard” STEM majors, you believe your chances of acquiring employment are just as great. So there you are with your history degree, your psychology degree, your English degree, your Anthropology degree etc… ready to face the world. You apply to jobs, you look online, you look in the paper, you attend career fairs, you network, you send out dozens upon dozens of resumes. And then something happens, slowly, gradually at first, but it happens, you cannot deny that it is happening. You find out you cannot get a job, forget the dream job; the working at NBC, interning at a Museum, writing for a magazine- you cannot get ANY,A-N-Y job. You and about every other liberal arts grad are competing for that opening at Blockbuster and Starbucks. People laugh about “Office Space”, “The Office” and “Dilbert” but you would kill to have any type of office work. At one point you enjoyed “Scrubs” but watching it now only ****** you off because you only end up cursing yourself for not pursing some sort of health care degree whilst you where in University.

 I know the frustration, the outrage, the feeling of betrayal, I have lived it; I am living proof of it. Here I am 4 years removed from attaining my English degree, still at home, still looking for work and actually now back in  college pursing something else totally unrelated toward English because I need something that is you know… actually marketable. In the meantime your friend who majored in Accounting and graduated in 2009 has been working continually since in accounting type jobs. Your other friend who majored in health technologies and graduated in 2010, has a job that actually utilizes his degree, similarly that attractive girl you used to talk too between classes, yea she graduated in 2010 with a Nursing degree and has been working as a nurse since then. And you, perhaps you where just as passionate, perhaps you worked just as hard as your friends who majored in Accounting, Finance, Nursing, Engineering etc… but there was no job for you. So all that “college is the key to success, you need a degree, just study what you love and you will find work”- yea you learn that is not quite true. Four years later, thousands of dollars poured into the degree, thousands of dollars in debt- yea you learn that is not quite true.  

My guess is that you have probably reached the depths of desperation where military or teaching abroad became the only choice. My guess is that each time you have driven by that recruiting station the thought of joining becomes ever more attractive. My guess is you have probably walked in and talked to the recruiter. Maybe nothing serious, but you are exploring your options, you promise to think about it and give him a call. Never before have you, could you see yourself joining the military but the circumstances we have fallen into. That BA is not doing anything, you still have not heard back from Target or Shoprite and yes Nursing school is the next big thing, but dam you got a year of prerequisites to go and even after you complete them there is no guarantee you will actually get into a Nursing Program.

There is an error; there is a fault, a sort of systemic degradation existent. After all you followed the rules; you did what everyone told you to do. You studied hard, went to college, got that coveted degree and yet and yet when you come out you realize, “Well nuts Mr. Employer does not care about my insights regarding Hamlet and my amazing well roundedness, however my bud who graduated with a  degree in Accounting, he gets the interview-what the heck man?” 

The question then inevitably becomes who is at fault? Is it the students for not picking “real”, more technical STEM majors?- After all they chose to study these “fluff” majors, it is clearly the students who are fault. Or is it the employer at large? Perhaps there was a time when employers would hire liberal arts/ humanities grads just as eagerly as grads who studied more technical subjects, but for whatever reason they are not anymore. And if it is employer is at fault, why the switch from hiring liberal arts grads to not hiring liberal arts grads? What about society, should society be blamed? The guidance counselors for saturating our students, our high school grads our college students, of ancient ideal of a well rounded liberal arts education? Could we assume then that the whole idea of a liberal arts education is flawed?-Effective and necessary at one point, however it is now outdated and ineffective as the use of Napoleonic warfare during WW2.

Nobody, nobody wants to be told that there major is useless; not the student and certainly not the professor teaching it, the department governing it. Go to any English, Theatre, Fine Art department etc… and ask about job options with just a BA, I guarantee they will promise you heaven and earth that, “Don’t worry many of our grads are working in successful and rewarding careers”.   Nobody wants to find out those 4 years spent in school where a complete waste. Nobody wants to find out the 50 k spent and accumulation of 20k something in debt and the only vacant job is the Mc Donalds or Shop rite and yea even that job is not guaranteed.

Let us get something out in the clear right away: College is an intuition designed to prepare you for work, for entry level work into the real world, for work that requires more ability than that cashier job you held in high school. Make no mistake college is not learning for the sake of learning, the thrill of learning. If college is simply “learning for the sake the art of learning” there would be no tuition or the cost of tuition would be significantly less. One does not pay thousands of dollars and acquire thousands of dollars in debt for “well roundedness, to be a global citizen curious about the world”. Tell that to the unemployed/ malemployed grad working at Starbucks. Tell him that “Hey its ok you can’t find work at least you have a degree”. See what comfort he finds in working minimum wage trying to pay off his enormous student loans. See what comfort he finds in his four year liberal art/humanities degree that is doing nothing. See what comfort he finds in applying for nothing but minimum wage work and not finding work. See what comfort he finds in getting rejected from internship after internship.

 There must be a change right now, a shift in expectation of what a college is to produce. As one would not pay thousands of dollars to remodel his house and not expect good, competent results one would not pay thousands of dollars with the hope that maybe, just maybe my degree will be competitive.  University must not be as high rollers in a casino tossing around thousands of dollars and hoping it lands on black. Rather going to college means we are the house, it means the odds are distinctly in our favor, college is supposed to give me the edge, it is supposed to be an advantage in seeking employment. Yes the house does lose, sometimes the high rollers do indeed win, but there is supposed to be an edge an advantage in being the house.  When that edge does not materialize, when there are no tangible results to that degree, the college must be held accountable.

What exactly does a college grad want, expect after graduation? As with the rest of this piece I can only speak for myself and what I believe the majority of college grads are thinking. One expects a shot at a job, a chance to land that entry level work, that unpaid internship. One expects or one highly hopes to land a position relevant to what he studied whilst in University. One does not expect to be told “Sorry this entry level position requires 2-3 years of experience”. One does not expect to find that even the unpaid internships will not take him. One does not expect to be made CEO or vice president upon graduation. One expects to start at the bottom, to do the grunt work and to learn to love the graveyard shift. But when one cannot find anyone willing to give him a chance, to give him a shot- that is quite unexpected and against his expectations.

We must ask ourselves then what is the solution? We have acknowledged that there is a problem concerning Universities in America. There is a gap of what is expected and what actually happens. As a scientist does not sit idly by as a disease goes uncured we too must not sit idly by as college fails us. Should we do as China does and eliminate the degrees that are not producing results? Should student loans be given out based on the employability of a degree? So an Accounting major will get more money for loans than an English major because Accounting is more marketable. Should guidance consolers, academic advisors, professors, department heads be more honest with students and the real expectations of pursing that degree in Art, Comparative Literature and Women’s Studies? No more fluff of “the degree is very adaptable and employers will appreciate your well roundedness”, truth, statistics; we want actual answers, not the Hallmark response that ensures your department receives more funding.

I believe we must start at the most basic level, there must be honest discussion between student and advisor regarding employability of pursing major A, B,C. The student must be made relevant of what the job market is actually like. It is far too easy to get lost in the 4 year academic bubble, to insulate, isolate and pay no attention to the real world. As to the more extreme get rid of  A,B,C degree, change how student loans are giving out etc… perhaps those are the solutions and perhaps we do indeed need a more radical solution, but at the moment let us start with discourse. Let us be honest with the students let us be honest with ourselves. These times they are a changing; gone is the learned country gentleman, gone are the days of learning simply for the sake of learning. Gone too are the days of a college degree (even if that degree is not within STEM) simply being enough. There is change, we must acknowledge that change, we must be honest with students and honest with ourselves.

hereweare99 hereweare99
22-25, M
2 Responses May 15, 2012

Agreed STEM is no guartnee, but I still think one's chances are much better if they go STEM as opposed to liberal art. And yea the catch 22 is .... everyone wants expereince but god forbid if they have be the one giving you the expereince. The main point of this long winded post is to wake up those in school/going to school. Gone are the days where you can major in general humanites and get some entry level work, business can afford to be selective. Addtionally people with expereince who got laid off are willing to work the entry level the internships just to stay in the industry, thus you must really plan ahead when chosing what to major in. Ty and good luck on your job transtion. As for me, assuming I pass my summer class I will succesfully start a nursing program in the fall-I can't wait.

You have a lot of good points in your post. I especially like point number 4, the one about the Catch -22. Truer words have never been spoken. <br />
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I'm in a similar situation. In my case, I want to change careers from being a blue collar technician to something in IT focusing on databa<x>se systems. I'm even three credit hours shy of a nice, shiny new degree. In spite of having done some volunteer databa<x>se and web development in the past, I fall under that whole "need experience to get a job" Catch-22.<br />
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The whole STEM fallacy is just that. I'm in one of those STEM majors. I'm not going anywhere with it. My wife and I recently ran into a young kid who graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering last December. He's still working at the local Rite Aid. <br />
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I wish you the best of luck in your job search. It's tough out there. I know. Just as my wife does.