Thanksgiving break is a time for being with family, giving thanks, sharing holiday joy with the less fortunate and, of course, catching up with the friends who have come back home from college. I’m sure many students, especially freshmen, had a few peers to reconnect and swap stories with. By the time you head back to school, you may feel slightly overwhelmed, not only by the amount of information you’ve just taken in, but by just how many people are in the same situation as you.
It would seem that almost every young person goes to college in our current generation — even those who decide to stay home and work to make a profit are generally also in the process of paying for credit at a community college, or possibly taking online classes until they have saved enough money to transfer to the university they desire.
What we end up having is a classic example of the chicken or egg conundrum: did more people decide to go to college because the job market increased demand for a degree, or did the rise in teens attending college allow companies to narrow their application field to those who had graduated, and thus continue to search for aspirants with higher education?
Years ago, it was still considered a good idea when young people either went to trade school or straight into training for whatever career they planned to follow. Granted, that was at a time when either your career was chosen for you by your parents, or the choice was slightly easier because there were fewer options. Today, you have students switching majors anywhere from one to three times, if not more, merely because of the pressure of choosing a career when it may not even be hiring. Since 2002, 355+ academic programs have been added to the Department of Education. With all of these options, some students sincerely feel unable to choose.
Even though the market has allegedly returned to capacity since the economic downturn of 2008, the hiring pool seems to grow exponentially without much response from those making jobs available. With this flux in job availability, many students are afraid of holding a menial job, outside of their area of expertise, after graduation. This fear is magnified by the fact that almost every person in our generation is socially expected to get a degree. How are we supposed to fill out a résumé for an internship and list our former jobs when previous hiring opportunities were lost due to our lack of job experience, which we failed to obtain because of — you guessed it — a lack of previous experience?
America is making it difficult for people like fine artists or those who hold creative job titles. More people are choosing to forego their passions and go into majors like computer science, engineering and other technologically-based positions because of the job security. Even if someone had always wanted to be, say, a teacher, thinking about the benefit-to-cost ratio seems bleak. Becoming an elementary school teacher is increasingly harder to do, as fewer job positions are open, and in order to feel a sense of security in education, one would have to become a professor. However, in order to obtain that status, you are spending several more years in costly higher education, the price of which has increased greatly.
I believe in the gap year, the trade school and the entrepreneur, in forging your own paths, even if veering off the beaten one in front of you may seem foreboding and bleak. Obviously, I endorse higher education — why else would I be here? But I also believe in creating those jobs which we so desperately seek, finding new ways to mold our career-driven society and in breaking the norms to find happiness. Apply to that university, take a year and travel or start an art page on Etsy. Whatever you choose to do, do it well, so the next generation knows they can achieve greatness and a sense of stability merely from doing what they love, and not only from what they’ve been told they need to do.