By Eric Garneau
Move Back Home
It sounds unpleasant, maybe even unthinkable, but record numbers of graduates are doing it - according to The Huffington Post, 85% of them did last year. Your parents' house might provide a nice place to recoup financially after college, at least for a little while (since few graduates launch straight into high-paying careers). At times this return to your nest can cause tension for all parties involved, so try to remember that things likely won't be exactly the same as they were when you were growing up… and hopefully, your parents will remember that you're a little older, wiser and (at least a bit) more independent.
Work at Jobs That Are Less than Appealing
Hand-in-hand with moving back home, many graduates of 'Generation Limbo' find themselves taking less-than-ideal jobs. The truth is, though, that there comes a point when almost any job is better than none. One might imagine that mechanism operates on a sliding scale - the longer you spend looking for a job, the more likely you are to dip your qualifications for what counts as acceptable. Obviously it's frustrating to work at something for which you're far overqualified, but money's money. That said, don't go overboard on jobs you can't stand: perhaps work only part-time, which allows you to still spend time looking for a more desirable career.
Work for Free Doing Something You Love
Another alternative, especially for those in more creative fields, is to donate your time and effort for free, which can allow you to build a portfolio and gain experience that might make the job hunt a little easier. This could also include volunteering for charitable organizations whose work aligns with your interests. However, always be aware of the value of your contributions. There are individuals, especially when it comes to the arts, who won't really respect your product and think you should work for free because it's essentially valueless. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who value your contributions greatly but can't afford to pay you for them. It's important to distinguish between the two; one can foster an excellent professional relationship, while the other will only take advantage of your goodwill.
Consider Graduate School
In tough economic times, interest in graduate school tends to shoot up; a 2010 U.S.A. Today piece indicated an 8.3% rise in applications between 2008 and 2009. Many students seem to feel that a graduate degree will increase their career prospects by leaps and bounds, making it easier to pay down all their debt. Of course there's an obvious trade-off: grad school will also increase your debt substantially. Such a move, then, can be kind of a gamble, so it may not be best to undertake it just for financial reasons. However, if you feel that having a more complete education would give you a more fulfilling life in general, graduate school could be the option you're looking for.
It's a Matter of Perspective
All these tips have essentially dealt with the same fact: being an underemployed, in-debt college graduate puts you in a tricky position, and you're likely going to have to compromise to navigate those waters. How you react to that less-than-ideal situation is up to you. An August 2011 New York Times piece on the subject interviews a couple 20-somethings who're using their time in limbo to have some fun - they're joining bands, volunteering with animal rescue organizations and generally enjoying themselves with projects that full-time jobs might not allow. Others, of course, aren't so lucky, but you might take away the lesson that it's important to be as positive in that period as you can. Limbo could afford you some serious opportunities for personal growth, which will only help your professional growth down the line. If you try to focus on those positive aspects, as difficult as that may seem sometimes, your period of underemployment will probably be a lot easier on you psychologically if not financially, and your future employers would likely rather see a relatively happy, optimistic individual than one resigned to defeat.
Law school provides another popular option for career-seekers.