8 Insane Things You Will Encounter After College Graduation
Every year, new college grads or students starting their senior year of college are bombarded with lists of ways to cope with the economy, ways to succeed at life after college, and ways to maintain their sanity after graduation. In real life, however, there is very little sanity, nor is there a guaranteed path to success. In the spirit of admitting just how tough life after graduation can be, here are eight surreal scenarios that you may find yourself in after college.
As wonderful as it would be to pretend that every new grad is going to immediately land the job of their dreams, this is extremely unlikely to happen. According to the Economic Policy Institute, about 8.5 percent of grads aged 21 to 24 were unemployed from 2013-2014; 16.8 percent were found to be underemployed, which translates as job hunting, working part-time, or no longer even attempting to look. Forget helpful articles about how to navigate the sparkling new world of your first job — navigating unemployment is one of the most confounding, frustrating, and soul-sucking things a person can encounter. There will be endless job applications, many days of wearing the same sweatpants, and mindless panic regarding how long you will still be living in your parents’ house. This will undoubtedly suck, but keep in mind that it won’t last forever, and a large percentage of your fellow grads are in the same boat — plus, as you’ll soon see, employment doesn’t necessarily equate to success.
2. Student Loans
This one is very, very obvious: Student loans are insane. The U.S. alone has over $1 trillion in outstanding student loans; almost two-thirds of bachelor’s degree students borrow money to get their degree, and the average student loan debt in 2011 was around $23,000, according to Liberty Street Economics. Now it’s even affecting the housing market. If you have student loans, odds are you’ll end up wanting to crawl under a table and start weeping within three months of graduating from college, because once you graduate, everything is about money. Everything. Rent, food, heat, electricity, Internet, car insurance, cell phone bill — literally everything costs money, and you’ll probably spend hours calculating the percentage of your paycheck that goes toward just living versus the percentage of your paycheck that goes toward student loans versus the percentage of your paycheck that you actually get to keep. If you have enough money left over to save, then save it like it’s going out of style, because it pretty much is.
3. Service Industry Jobs
Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks… there’s no shame in it. And sadly, it may be necessary to pay off those student loans. Jobs in grocery stores, gas stations and other locations that were once considered the realm of the high school student are now part of the seething free-for-all that affects people of all ages who need to earn cash. In 2012, a survey found that millenials were most likely to be employed in service industry jobs, and Forbes reported that according to the Economic Policy Institute, over 30 percent of U.S. workers were expected to hold “low-wage jobs” in 2020. If you find yourself wiping down tables and cleaning toilets, however, don’t take this as a sign that your life is over before it’s even started — making money is never a bad thing, and if you can combine a paying job with an unpaid internship, you’ll be making a smart investment for the future.
4. Comparing Yourself to Others
This is one of the absolute worst traps you can set for yourself, and you’re going to do it anyway. This isn’t entirely the fault of your neurotic brain, however; it’s helping along immensely by well-meaning relatives and parents who think that you want updates on what your more successful cousins or high school friends or elementary school classmates are doing.
“Did you know your cousin is working on Wall Street now?” is not something any 22-year-old wants to hear, nor do they want to hear about how someone they went to fifth grade with is about to buy a house and have a child, which they can afford to do thanks to their successful small business. When you hear success stories about people going to grad school on a full scholarship or somehow magically being able to afford to live in New York while working at a non-profit and saving the world, remember that there is always another side to the story. The Wall Street worker might hate their job, while the world-saver might need their parents to subsidize their rent. There is no perfect formula for happiness, so focus on what you’re succeeding at rather than beating yourself up about other people’s imagined successes.
5. Seasonal Jobs
Similar to service industry jobs but perhaps not quite as soul-crushing, seasonal jobs occupy a uniquely torturous place in the catalogue of after-college experiences. These jobs, which usually last from May to September, are the type of jobs that most people have fond memories of: camp counselor, swimming teacher, park ranger, outdoor expedition leader, nature center guide… these kinds of jobs tend to be outdoorsy, since they take place during the summer, and therefore offer employees the opportunity to relive their childhoods, get some sun and briefly forget about all their past or future hours hunched over a computer filling out job applications and updating their resumes.
The downside to these jobs is that they only last through the summer, so after the glorious security of being paid to do something you mostly enjoy, you will find yourself on fall’s doorstep with, once again, no job. Your soon-to-be-over season job will taunt you with its unavailability; eventually, you’ll become so deluded and bitter from your job search that you’ll wish you could just give up and work at your seasonal job all year round, but even that modest goal will be out of your reach and you will fall to your knees, cursing the word “seasonal.”
6. Building Your “Brand”
Few things strike more fear into the hearts of job seekers than the phrase “You need to build your brand.” The concept of the personal brand is an ever more prevalent idea that basically means that to get a job, you need to make yourself look as awesome and proactive as possible while doing a bunch of vague, meaningless things that everyone else is already doing anyway. The personal brand involves being “authentic,” presenting yourself as a successful go-getter, and, usually, doing something like starting a blog. For a brand-new graduate with no experience under their belt and nothing going on in their life other than the aforementioned sweatpants-wearing and job applying, writing a blog is less appealing than going outside at 4 a.m. to dig for nightcrawlers and only slightly more appealing than updating a resume with action words and power verbs.
Those lucky enough to avoid unemployment after graduation may face another terrifying specter: a job that doesn’t pay enough. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, January of this year saw 44 percent of recent college grads aged 22 to 27 in jobs that did not require bachelor’s degrees. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if they were paid well, but apparently less than 40 percent of that group made at least $45,000 a year. Over a fifth were in jobs that paid $25,000 or less per year, which is classified as “low-wage.” It’s no secret that wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living; people are less financially secure than they used to be, most likely because the median household income isn’t any different now than it was in the 1980s. So if you find yourself in a part-time, low-paying or otherwise monetarily unsatisfactory job, take comfort in the fact that you’re part of the new middle class — you know, the one that’s slowly disappearing.
8. Entry-Level Jobs
Congratulations! You’ve finally landed your first full-time adult job, complete with benefits, yearly salary and carpeted cubicle. It’s going to be the worst.
Although getting your first job is, of course, a boon for many reasons (namely, money and experience), it is also the thing that will introduce you to things you never thought you’d experience, such as health benefits that cost so much you actually take home less money than you did at your summer job; cubicles without windows; an hour-long commute; bringing sneakers to work so you can walk at lunch; hiding snacks in your desk; strange bathroom rules that make you feel like you’re in high school again; and co-workers who make approximately five times your salary while doing seemingly nothing. As you spend your afternoons watching cat videos on YouTube and trying not to grimace and/or crawl under your desk when you’re handed your $650 paycheck every two weeks, remember that this only a stepping stone — hopefully, the first of many that will lead to a career you actually want. And if nothing else, your first job will provide you with a lifetime’s worth of crazy stories that no one will ever believe, so you might as well enjoy the insanity while it lasts.