During this time of year, most universities are preparing for their graduation ceremonies. This is usually an exciting time for everyone. For the student, it is a time of great transition (especially for undergrads) and also a time to reflect on what's next. As faculty, it is (at least to me) equally as exciting to watch your students complete their undergraduate career and move into the next stage of their life. That being said, for many it is a scary time. The world economy isn't like it was 10 years ago, many people are unemployed or underemployed, and some are beginning to question the need for undergraduate education in light of our current circumstances.
Here are three basic things to keep in mind:
1. Degrees do not equal employment
If you've just completed an undergraduate degree or even a graduate degree, it doesn't mean that folks are going to be begging for you to join them in whatever occupation you're applying for. More likely, you will fit into one of a several categories.
You may be you become one of the many that find themselves in a sort of professional limbo where you learn the ropes at some menial job that has little or nothing to do with what you studied. I worked for the government for a while during college, but also at bed and breakfast. For the year after my undergrad Commencement I continued to work in the hotel industry until I "broke out" of it.
For others it may be that you do actually get to work in your field, although perhaps not at the level you were hoping. One complaint I've heard during this last decade about recent grads is that they expect to be running the place within a year. Usually what this means is that many expect to get significant raises or high level promotions without a proven track record with that company or ministry. Even if you're sure of what you can accomplish, you can't expect others to see the same potential if you haven't really done anything yet. My first non-hotel job after college had me surrounded by people that had been at that company since before I was born. It took me a while to get it through my head that I wasn't entitled a promotion or a significant bonus just because I thought I could do something great. I hadn't proven myself and even if I performed above average I still would have had to acknowledge that some of my colleagues had been doing the same job for a lot longer with equal (or was often the case) superior results.
All that being said, statistically, college graduates have a better chance at getting a job. I recently read that the "unemployment rate for college graduates is 8.9 percent; nearly three times lower than the unemployment rate for workers with only a high school degree, which is 22.9 percent, according to a new report" (Puget Sound Business Journal, Jan. 6 2012).
In the next post we'll be discussing the other two points, including "Graduation does not mean the end of work."
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.