Just Six Months

By Sean Sanbeg
SC Sports Editor

I sat nervously in a room of twenty complete strangers. Some chatted among themselves while others, like myself, sat in silence. I barely knew where I was or why I was even there. There were no windows to prove the world still existed outside the white concrete walls around us. Artificial light thrown from florescent bulbs drizzled down on us. I didn’t want to occupy the small, decaying seat I sat in, but I had no choice. It was the last day of freshman orientation, and the first day of my college experience.

The entire orientation ordeal led up to this point—a final meeting with a professor from our chosen major. Apparently, this would guide us along the path to success, giving us tips and advice relevant to the field we chose. Perhaps some of these students didn’t yet know what they wanted to do with their lives. I thought I did.

A thin, middle aged man with glasses took a few clumsy steps through the double doors and took us all in with one scan of the room. He introduced himself as Professor Wagaman.

As he passed out papers about potential business majors and rambled on about the importance of a business degree, I couldn’t help but feel like the man before me reflected only a fraction of my future. Not that I ever planned to make teaching a profession, but he carried himself in a way that proved he truly enjoyed his job.
I don’t remember much else from that meeting. I must have slipped out of time and space into a void of complete mental absence, thinking of summer days that were now long gone. But then he said something so compelling that it not only brought me out of my daydream, it bored its way into my skin:

“I can talk about business until I’m blue in the face, but if you’re going to remember anything I say here today, make sure it’s this: College is a business. Think about what that means.

This University is a business. They are providing a service, and you are paying for it in return. Your professors here might care about your goals, future, or whatever, but the university as an entity? It cares about your money. They know you could have given your money to another college, but you chose to give it to them. Make sure you take as much out of them as they’re going to take out of you. You’re paying to be here, now make them earn it.”

So fast-forward four years.

I took the professor’s advice. I drained my college experience dry. I switched majors and schools halfway through my junior year, a feat that many figured a waste. But now I’m educated in a field I’m passionate about. Everyone who knows my work has praised me on my accomplishments. I’m finally nearing the end. Starting a life of my own never seemed so real, and I’m intoxicated with the idea of landing that all-important first job. Good thing I have six months to find one.

Did you hear the record skip?

Cue the sitcom laughter.

Six months. That’s how long college graduates have to find a job. Within six months of our graduation date, loan companies reach out their hands and poke us hard between the shoulder blades to remind us they’re still there. Some students get to avoid this problem, but for those of us who needed loans, that poke can feel more like a gun shot.

I remember having college pushed on me as early as the 7th grade. We are taught to follow a template. Various levels of schooling add up like pieces of a math problem, all equating to having a good job. Finish high school, get accepted to college, and then you’ll be ready for the working world. What they didn’t teach me was how I’d pay for college.

A quick Google search can tell you that close to 20 million Americans attend college every year. Furthermore, 12 million of these individuals borrow money to help cover their costs. As of 2008, national outstanding student loan debt was somewhere between $902 billion and one trillion dollars. In the first quarter of 2012, the average borrower owed $24,301, with one quarter of borrowers owing anywhere from $28,000 to over $200,000.

Don’t close your jaw yet.

American Student Assistance reports that two out of five student loan borrowers are delinquent (more than 90 days past due) at some point in the first five years after entering repayment. Forty-eight percent of 25-34 year-olds claim they’re under-employed or unemployed entirely. According to “The Economic State of Young America,” a study done by Demos, average tuition tripled over the course of a generation (1980-2010). All of this impossibility occurs at a time where jobs aren’t just hard to come by—they’re almost impossible.

If I need a great job to afford a college education, but I need a college education to earn a great job, exactly how the hell do we start? Politicians keep describing the many short comings of each other and how they know the best path to take forward, but what I haven’t heard anyone explain, is how a piece of paper can be so expensive. After a little over four years, I’m three months away from holding a $70,000 piece of paper.

Students get charged everything from tuition to processing fees. Hell, they charge fees for paying fees. Looking at my own bill tends to hurt my brain. I pay $2,412 in tuition for the three classes I’m enrolled in. However, the remaining fees (almost entirely made up of things I don’t use) total $919.28. In an article from Time, author Kate Pickert writes that, “in addition to getting around tuition caps, fees are also a way for universities to keep money they collect from being absorbed into overall state budgets. Tuition is often treated like tax revenue and goes directly into state coffers.”

Colleges seem to offer a surplus of ways for students to get involved with the campus community. There’s a shuttle bus available when you don’t feel like walking. Computer labs litter campus for anyone looking to work outside of their dorm.

Student clubs hang banners everywhere trying to bolster their numbers. All of this is available without paying money to enter. How many times do students need to hear that getting involved is a great way to make friends and get the most out of a college experience before they take advantage of it?

But students should be doing this for financial reasons too. There are plenty of things that students can do on campus that appear to be free when in reality they pay fees for them whether they participate or not. We all pay technology fees, general activity fees, transportation fees, and even instructor support fees. Wagaman was right. They sure enjoy their profits.

So now that I’m close to graduating, I should probably flood the market with my resume, right? It’ll maximize the chances of hearing back from a potential employer. Fun fact: there’s an average of 1,750,000 college graduates per year. If even half of them use the same strategy, we’d be buried in paper.

It all comes back to me changing majors. I picked accounting in the first place because of the average annual salary and the market for jobs. According to an article from USA Today, only three out of thirty jobs with the highest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher—teachers, college professors, and accountants. As great as this sounds, I hated it. It took me almost three years to figure out that filling out balance sheets wasn’t the thing for me, and my decision to change didn’t go over very well. My parents were skeptical, friends doubted me, and some people even saw it as a weakness.

“You’re switching majors? Why?” my aunt asked me, stopping dead in the middle of her kitchen.

“I can’t handle forty years of accounting. I like writing more, and I’m better at it,” I responded.

“I didn’t know my nephew was a quitter. You’re not supposed to quit when things get difficult. You’re supposed to work through them.”

“I’m not quitting. I’m just changing my major.”

“No, you’re quitting. Accounting would have been a great job for you. You’ll never get a job with an English degree.”

My aunt was right. I traded one difficulty for another. Instead of dealing with a job I don’t like, I’ll just have to deal with the seemingly impossible odds of finding the one I do. I just have to find a job capable of making both myself and the loan collectors happy in a market where jobs are incredibly hard to come by.

Six months should be plenty of time.

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