An Essay on the Unpreparedness of the Average College Graduate

“You don’t seem to have any real work experience, I’m having trouble placing you.” These were the words spoken to me by a career placement counselor. At that point I began questioning the value of the previous five years of my life. I was a college graduate, for goodness sakes, wasn’t that supposed to put me in a class above the rest?

No. Not anymore. Because that ideology was pumped into my generation (yes I put myself into a different generation than today’s college freshmen, the end of a generation but a separate generation all the same) from childhood on, my sad little Bachelor’s degree comes a dime a dozen. Having a college degree isn’t what it was when my parents were my age. Today, even a Master’s degrees is teetering on the edge of not nearly enough. This world desires Doctors, PhDs. Are we looking at an impending design of an even higher level of education in the near future?

The story here is not so much the devaluation of the Bachelor’s degree as it is about my apparent lack of work experience. In college, I had two jobs. By “job” I mean somewhere I went on a regular basis and performed a function for which I was given monetary compensation. For four years I worked as a tutor in my school’s Writing Room. People who have not either tutored in a subject or received tutoring may not comprehend what I say when I say that was possibly the hardest job I have had thus far. Nevermind the time spent on my feet in the retail business or the insane regulations placed on the employees of the call center world, tutoring is mentally, and sometimes, emotionally taxing. I can’t speak for tutors of math or science, fields with definite right and wrong answers with right and wrong methods of finding said answers; their job may or may not be as taxing as that of a writing tutor. But to me, maintaining this mentally and emotionally taxing job for all but one year of my college career, is one of my more highly prided accomplishments. I am proud of the work I did there, proud of the experiences I gained there, and proud of the amount of time I spent there.

I also held the position of Parliamentarian in our Students’ Government. I no longer include that in my resume, for a couple of reasons, neither of which are important or relevant to this conversation. Today, I find myself, once again searching for employment. As I scan the employment section of the local newspaper, I am constantly reminded that I may have made a poor choice. Starting with my initial thoughts of attending college, as a freshman in high school, I knew what I was going to do. I was going to major in English and minor in Creative Writing.

That changed slightly once I got into college, but not a lot. Instead of Creative Writing, I minored in Professional Writing, something which sounded more substantial and more employable in the field that I wanted to go into, publishing and editing. Somewhere along the way I realized that writing was not going to pay the bills (I believe that was when I got my first rejection letter for my novel) and that I should do that as a supplement to something more lucrative, editing. I even at one point toyed with the idea with being an agent but that sounded like it was going to require math classes and I reside solely in my right brain; I am sometimes not completely sure that the left half even functions.

Even as I made my way through college, I continued to be fed the implication that a degree was all I needed to make it in the world. Once there was an suggestion that in order to be an editor, I might have to start out at the bottom, in the mailroom, but it was never anything said with gusto, it was simply a maybe this might happen if you are among the unlucky. Work experience was never imparted upon me, or any of my classmates. The only people who had to gain experience in order to graduate were the aspiring nurses (which included sports trainer and physical therapist wannabes as well), mechanics, teachers, social workers, and those working for the newspaper or radio and television station.

In speaking with people, both graduates from the same school I graduated, as well as from other institutions of higher learning, I have learned that I am not alone. I am not the only person who thought the parchment paper and embossed seal would be enough to get any job we could possibly want. I knew some work would be involved in getting where I wanted to be in the end but I never in a million years would have imagined that two years after graduating I’d still be struggling paycheck to paycheck at minimum wage jobs that have nothing to do with my degree.

Kids today are not prepared for life. There is great deal of debate going on today over George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and the validity of Standardized Testing in schools. The side of the debate relevant to this discussion is that which claims teachers and schools are too concerned with standards and getting their students to pass the tests that the students are not learning important lessons needed for life after academia (for more information on this debate, please visit Yulia Geikhman’s AC article “The Truth About Teaching to Standardized Tests: I am inclined to agree with this thinking. I graduated high school before all of this went into effect but that’s not to say that even without the teaching philosophy of passing standardized tests, I don’t feel that my high school is primarily to blame for the inadequacy I feel now, seven years later. They hold every bit as much of the blame as my college professors.

I shoulder some of the blame myself, partly because I didn’t work for the school’s newspaper or do something else that would give me work experience in the writing world, and partly because I chose my major and degree based on what I had been doing with my life since I was six years old and not based on something I could seriously make a living doing. I earned a Bachelor’s of Art in English with a minor in Professional Writing. In my mind, that combination would get me into the editing/publishing field with no problems and no one took the stride to tell me that it wouldn’t. I had considered other career fields but writing is in my blood. I had been doing it for 60% of my life when I started college and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I still can’t but I sometimes wonder if I should have considered something else and kept writing as a hobby until it started to become lucrative.

I believe that every student, no matter what their major, should be required one year of related work experience in order to graduate. This can come from jobs on campus, although, as I discovered, those jobs aren’t always seen as legitimate experience, or off-campus with companies willing to employ students for a specified period of time or number of hours. I’m not talking about an internship, I’m talking about a real, 40 hours per week, earn a paycheck job.

I also believe that three classes should be required, as part of the major or as part of the general education requirements: a resume writing, job searching class; a class where people with each specific degree comes and talks to students about their careers, giving students a broader view of what career paths are available to them based on their studies; and a general finance management class, based on the statistics that some 75 to 90% of all college graduates have $10,000 or more in consumer debt, because no one told them how to manage their money. And nothing less than a B (80%) in these classes will be acceptable for graduation. Maybe with if these two ideas could be implemented, nationwide, fewer college graduates would feel as inadequate and useless as I do. Either would, without a doubt, better prepare students for the “real world.”

To bring this all together, I, and others like me, feel as though we have were mislead through the Halls of Academia. A Bachelor’s degree isn’t what it was when our parents were our age; today all that matters is work experience, and a Doctorate degree appears to be the only degree that impresses anyone anymore.

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