You know the epiphanies that occur during the sometimes awkward transition from college to full adulthood? We call them Second Puberty.
To make some extra cash on the side, I tutor college students in writing. So, the other day this cocky looking bro walks into the Writing Center. You know, those dudes that strut around campus in pink Old Navy polos with the collars popped, cargo shorts, and white, canvas pop kicks without laces or socks? Right away I had this guy pegged as a business major. Or an anatomy major, if you catch my drift. All college boys have one of two things on their minds, and if it’s not that, then it’s money. What better way to make money in the future than to major in it, right? That type of thinking just attracts cocksure assholes like my spikey-haird friend here.
So, he hands me his Economics 319 paper and says, “Look, I just need the confirmation slip for extra credit, so just do what you do–read it, look over it, whatever.”
I don’t like this guy already.
As I start to “read it, look over it, whatever,” I notice that besides having a single, five-page-long paragraph riddled with punctuation and grammar errors, his paper, which is supposed to be about the plight of the middle class and the current state of the job market, is actually about how he doesn’t understand why people have to work to get into the middle class and how he knows that with his degree alone–he has no work experience, I might add–that he’ll be making over $130,000 per year as a “manager” (of what is left to be said) once he graduates, which he’s calculated as the amount necessary to be “upper class.” They say to never shake a child, and in this case I had to seriously restrain myself. Where does the entitlement come from? I’ve tutored so many college students that are simply oblivious to the real-world job market. The common denominator between them is putting their bachelor’s degrees high on a pedestal.
Wait, I felt this way before graduating three years ago. Then it hit me: I’ve transitioned.
Flash back to May 2009. I’m standing in a black robe, a gold cum laude rope around my next. The gold tassel hanging off my hat tickles my ear, and I’m thinking, “Dear, God, please let at least one person clap for me when I walk across the stage.” My friends and family pulled through for me, but it couldn’t ease the trembling in my stomach–I knew I wasn’t ready to greet the real world. It had been a year since the economy took a nosedive, so I wasn’t expecting to earn six figures right out of the gate. Though that was the goal, I applied for more modest job openings at first: a couple local newspapers, some jobs outside of my educational track (Psychology and Creative Writing), and Old Navy. I figured, hey, I graduated with honors, rarely partied, studied all the time–I did college the right way. Something awesome was bound to come my way. But I went months without a single callback from an employer. In the five months post-graduation, I only had one interview: Old Navy. Even then I figured, hey, I graduated cum laude, so I’m sure to land this job. It doesn’t even require a degree. Nope.
I slowly realized that what I had to offer just wasn’t applicable in the job market. Bachelor’s degrees are handed out like candy at Willy Wonka’s house these days, so to gain entrance to the working class I had to offer more. I needed work experience, or at least some intern experience. I wanted a graduate degree. After all, I was nervous graduating from undergrad because I knew deep down that my general liberal arts skills weren’t marketable. Graduate school would at least focus my work into a single subject, which could help me catch the attention of certain industries. Once enrolled, I hit the books again, this time taking on new internships every semester. I was landing interviews, nailing them, and even getting paid gigs that also qualified for college credit. Life was good, my resume was bulking up, and I figured the post-grad school job search would be just as easy. Nope.
After graduating with my master’s in 2011, it took 10 months to find a good job. I can’t even count the number of jobs I applied to on all my new coworkers’ fingers and toes combined. The kicker is, like the Old Navy situation, I only had six interviews in 10 month’s worth of active looking. Now, the new job I have is awesome and it pays very well, especially considering the field I’m in. But is it anywhere close to $130,000? Of course not, and I never expected it to be. That’s the difference between undergrad me and graduate school me. The first guy felt completely entitled to a good job. My parents and the public school system had groomed me to think that a bachelor’s was the key to success. What may have been true for their time just isn’t correct anymore. Now everyone has one, and unless you’re majoring in something like engineering with a solid job outlook, it’s possible to get overlooked by those already in the field with much more life and work experience than you.
Flash forward to the Writing Center. I can’t help but smile at Mr. GQ’s ambition. I’m thinking, “Maybe I should tell him about the importance of work experience so he doesn’t fall on his face like I did.” But no. I say nothing because arrogance at his level learns from nothing other than tough love; that, and he’s graduating in two weeks. He has to experience the real world for what it is: dog eat dog. Once he makes the connection that a piece of paper is not the key to success but rather communicable skills and experience that prove you can do a job, the sooner he’ll come to the same realization that I did and change his professional life for the better.