How a college senior and her classmates are dealing with the stress of graduating during the biggest economic downturn in decades
The following article is part of BustedHalo.com’s ongoing series The College Grad Survival Guide.
“What are you doing after graduation?”
There are few questions that will send a college senior like me running for the hills, but that is certainly one of them. The dreaded question lurks at family holiday parties, hides in professors’ offices, and creeps out of corners at the most inopportune moments. Those caught off-guard by this seemingly harmless inquiry face a brutal reality check. The glory days of college are coming to a close, the economy is in the toilet, and it’s finally time to enter the real world. So what do college students do when forced to leave the comforts of campus? Well, we panic.
While society may paint senior year as a time of parties, easy classes, and relaxed attitudes, today’s college seniors are finding the experience to be just the opposite. We’re freaking out — and why shouldn’t we be?
There are so many things to worry about. Our final days at school are filled with applications, apartment searches, parental pressures, and the harsh reality that all that we’ve known for four years — our activities, our relationships, and our daily routines — is suddenly changing. Though opportunities after graduation may vary, they have one thing in common: uncertainty.
Senior Denise Ngo thought she was one of the lucky ones. She spent over seven months interning at a popular social networking website in Manhattan. She fit in well with the other employees and excelled in her work; and before long, there was talk of a full-time position after her graduation. But as things began to fall into place, the company started to struggle with serious money issues and had to reconsider. ‘They basically said ‘sorry, we can’t have you’ and rescinded their offer,” Ngo says, though she resists the temptation to be bitter. ‘They were a good company, but the circumstances were really bad,” she says. ‘It’s not their fault, but it’s unfortunate.”
In addition to losing a job she never really had in the first place, Ngo has a bigger stress looming over her. If she doesn’t find work within three months of graduation, her student visa will expire and she will be forced to return home to her native Taiwan — where she would face a miniscule pool of job opportunities. ‘Since then I’ve really been nowhere,” Ngo says. ‘I really like New York, but I’m not even sure if I want to work in America anymore .”
Those who have been successful in the job hunt are envied, but not all worries disappear with employment. Senior Mike Visaggio threw himself into on- and off-campus recruiting events and went through multiple interviews before signing a contract with auditor giant KPMG in their fraud investigations department. Despite his success, Visaggio is still nervous about the transition. ‘It’s refreshing to know I don’t have to keep searching,” he says, ‘but my ultimate fear is that I won’t like what I’m doing. And I won’t have any more school breaks.”
Putting off the job market
For those who are not quite ready to leave academia, grad school seems like a wonderful opportunity in a souring job market. US News & World Report claims applications to graduate schools are expected to surge this year because of the economy. Senior William Moccia is one of those grad school aspirants. In the past few months, Moccia, who hopes to get into government work, has filled out eleven applications to different law schools. Fortunately for Moccia, the economy didn’t have a huge role in his decision. ‘Law school was always something I wanted to do,” he says, ‘but I do feel fortunate now that this was my plan all along.”
Michael Devon Powell also feels fortunate in knowing she will not have to go through the stress of a job hunt, but she feels a different sort of pressure. In September, the Virginia native will travel overseas to spend two years teaching English as part of the Peace Corps. Powell says she’s always been interested in volunteering after college, so a few months ago she began working on her application to the Corps. ‘It just seemed like the logical next step for me,” Powell says.
Powell will be stationed in the Caucasus region — most likely Azerbaijan. She knows she made the right choice, but can’t help being anxious. ‘I’m feeling really good about it, but it changes day to day,” Powell says. ‘My biggest worry is being away from home for such a long time and missing out on holidays or family events — and being so immersed in a different culture is always a little scary.”
Coping with change
Whatever path graduating seniors choose, they are forced to come face to face with one of the most empowering, yet frightening, things that can happen to a 21-year-old: change. So how do students deal? Ngo is trying not to let the stress consume her last few months in college, though her coping method may not be the most practical: ‘I’m dealing with it by not thinking about it,” she shrugs. ‘I’m just kind-of in a funk right now, and I think that’s how it is with a lot of others too. So I’m putting it off, going out and having fun while I still can.”
The urge to ‘live it up” is certainly there, but some find it difficult to completely forget about their anxiety over upcoming changes. ‘I’m trying to appreciate the time that I have now,” Moccia says, ‘but it’s weird how it will hit you all of a sudden… We’re graduating.”
For some students, it all comes down to surrendering control and believing that things will ultimately work out. Powell looks to her faith when things start to get overwhelming. ‘I’m just trusting in God that this is the best thing for me.” Perhaps the most consoling thought is to admit that you have no way of controlling what the future will hold, and a whole lot of people are going through the same panic. ‘Honestly,” Ngo shrugs, ‘I think everyone is just kind-of lost right now.”
Despite feeling lost, many seniors are encouraged by the expectation of transition to find joy in small moments. Visaggio is counting down, but tries to savor each day until May.
‘Right now,” he says, ‘I’m enjoying every waking second of my 87 days left.”