Embracing an inevitable struggle

The New York Times recently ran an article including a sample of 2011 college graduates. Even for someone living in the sequestered bubble of academia, their findings come as no surprise: Jobs are scarce! Student loans are massive! Unemployment among graduates is high!

The economic climate is looming eternally over college students. We hear about the economy picking back up, only to watch as gas prices spike. The economy is an off-the-rails rollercoaster of hope and disappointment.

Undergraduates, in particular, suffer from having a no-man’s-land education. For the jobs students yearn for, a bachelor’s degree alone is not enough to stand out in the field of competitive candidates. On the flip side, a student with a bachelor’s and good credentials is overqualified for jobs that are available.

It’s a big mystery for those approaching graduation. Like a blind date, the economy is full of questions. Will she be attractive when I get there? Was I interesting enough to make an impression? Am I going to get a call tomorrow?

I thoroughly believe students should pursue the field that interests them. That being said, struggling in the job hunt in this economy after attending a liberal arts college and earning a Classical Studies degree is practically a given. The particularly cliched fields of philosophy, theatre and religious studies have never been exactly easy to get into. There’s always some jockeying for those precious few job opportunities — these days it’s just amplified. Other degrees offered at the College like psychology or education are practically worthless without a follow-up degree of some kind.

The Times article hammered home the same basic tenets of a successful job hunter that the College of William and Mary drills into students. Networking is vital and outweighs any fancy credentials a student may have earned during their four years of college.

I was surprised, however, at how short-sighted some of the graduates interviewed were. One interviewee turned down an internship at a law firm because it was unpaid. Her alternative? She’s currently listed as unemployed.

I’m not expecting to get my dream job the second I walk through the Sir Christopher Wren Building. Even after graduate school, there will be many, many job applications, as well as a frustrating workplace or two, but this is only to be expected. Do students really graduate with a bachelor’s and expect to snag their dream career instantaneously? I’m an optimist, but that attitude seems to go beyond idealistic dreaming and end in the realm of narcissistic entitlement.

Beyond the fears and failures of the first year in the “real” world, there are ultimately three career paths a college graduate can take. The first is the dream: Work your way up whatever career ladder is directly related to your field, culminating in the acquisition of your dream job and eternal happiness. The second is equally fulfilling: Work and discover an unexpected job or career that you love doing. The third and final possibility is to end up doing something you hate. These are the people who wake up every day with a sense of dread and have a certain ambivalence toward the world. The only possible way to reach that unhappy ending is to give up on trying again or trying something new.

The demanding, self-aggrandizing attitude of the aforementioned unemployed woman is exactly the type of thinking that lands someone in the dreary monotony of the third path, unwilling to explore or actually work for a living.

Midterms and papers may be hard, but life beyond the College is even harder. Especially these days, it’s inevitably a struggle for students fresh out of school, but, in the end, the people who struggle are the ones who simply aren’t flexible and willing to learn. Clearly, these are the type of people who have learned nothing: A liberal arts education is about broadening both horizons and the mind. Attitude is key.


  1. Elliott, I like your analogy about the economy and not knowing what it is going to look like when you graduate. For that reason, it’s important for future job seekers to use their time at the College to develop a set of broad-based skills- strong writing, critical thinking, team work, and leadership are examples- as well as skills specific to their desired career fields. Be attentive to the tools you’re developing through your in-class and extracurricular experiences. Further, job seekers need to know how to clearly articulate their strengths and skills to potential employers, both in interviews and in the required professional documents that help you get your foot in the door.

    If you need help thinking about your career options, preparing for the job search, or are just looking for somewhere to start, please visit us in the Career Center. We’re happy to help!


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