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What a Waste of a College Education?

Oct 10, 2011

It's hard out there for a job-seeking, college-educated 20-something. Pressure to follow a traditional 'degree, then career' path is still out there, but current economic strain is making that an impossible choice for many. Some might see it as a waste of time to pursue nontraditional interests, but is it really all that bad?

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By Sarah Wright

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I'm A Grownup. What Am I Going to Be?

As children, we're encouraged to think about what we might want to be when we grow up. Often, these answers are fanciful, and tend to focus on hard-to-attain positions like astronaut or princess. High school kids tend to attempt more realistic answers, and those heading for college usually try to get on a career track as soon as they can. But many well-prepared college graduates in their mid-to-late 20s are finding that there just aren't many jobs available to them right now, no matter how hard they look.

Some prior generations might have felt uneasy given the choice of following a traditional path or taking an alternative route. But today's crop of 20-somethings seem uniquely placed to have no problems cutting their own path. Raised in a time when social conventions often took a backseat to doing your own thing, there are plenty of people in this age group who are more concerned with what they want than with what they're supposed to do. The lack of conventional options only makes a trailblazing life choice look more enticing.

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Making the Best of It

Not everyone is jumping at the chance to step off into their own direction. A lot of young college graduates are still looking for jobs in offices and organizations across the country. Some are having to work in positions that are lower on the totem pole than they might have hoped, but are nonetheless glad to have a job at all. Many 20-somethings are looking for something relevant to add to their resumes wherever they can get it, even if that means turning to volunteer positions or internships that are theoretically designed for much younger individuals.

But some young adults would rather go it on their own. Some may see the lack of job opportunities as a blessing in disguise, something that has allowed them to pursue their true calling rather than shuffle into a dull position out of a sense of obligation. Many are making use of the Internet and other new technologies to take advantage of new markets and sidestep the necessity of applying for jobs with established companies. Whatever the specific activity, this generation is handling career setbacks with resiliency and dedication that may come as a surprise to older critics of a supposedly self-absorbed age group.

Which Path to Choose?

Though many young adults are choosing to do what they can to be happy and productive while supporting themselves, that is by no means the only option available for those who have entered the workforce in the recession's aftermath. Jobs are not impossible to come by, especially for those who have degrees in technical, mathematic and science fields. Plus, graduate school is an option for many. Though the job market is tough, those who persist are likely to find something.

But not everyone needs to be doing the same thing, and many people are making peace with what's available. At a certain point, those who have chosen, or been forced to, forestall entry into career-track jobs are likely to have enough experience to carve a stable niche for themselves somewhere. And the fact that the baby-boomer dominated workforce is soon to retire means that there will be job openings available if the road less traveled takes a turn for the conventional.

One aspect of an uncertain job market is embracing career change.

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