It was March 2010 and I was sitting in one of the uncomfortable, steel chairs of my college’s study hall, looking at the decomposing scraps of snow on the sidewalks below and tapping my finger like a metronome against the mouse. Every now and then, I would gaze at the cover letter on the screen in front of me.
Why did I want to work at Company X? Well, since infancy, I had dreamed of selling whatever Company X made, or doing whatever Company X wanted me to do. Right. And I vastly admired that Company X did whatever Company X’s website said it did.
After slapping on a custom-tailored resume to my heartfelt letter, I emailed it, straight down to the bottomless wishing well where all my applications seemed to go – dropping down without even a splash.
It was on to the next project – a fellowship application to a political magazine. It included my resume, a cover letter, multiple essays, critiques, and I think I even included a drawing I did in MS Paint. I had started it in early February and worked on it two hours a day, five days a week, for three months. A month after I sent it, I finally heard back – I got the gig!
No, just kidding. It went to a balding “student” who had a PhD in journalism. He, myself, and thousands of others were waging this intense melee for the prestigious opportunity to work for a magazine I hadn’t heard of before I was applying. For one year. At a salary that was sternly described as “Under $30,000.”
But I did end up lucking out in April. After the morgue-silence from so many “employers,” I finally stumbled upon a responsive company through Craigslist. So, yes, I was one Craigslist ad away from taking an unpaid internship.
I happily took the offer of “Under $30,000,” because I knew I was one of the lucky ones – one poll found that 52% of the class of 2010 moved back home with their parents. The boomerang generation, we’re called. Composed of nasty, embarrassing, pathetic creatures that have to be “avoided” like rabid animals.
Welcome to the world of the new Bachelor’s degree, which will get you in front of doors but not open them anymore. We’re supposed to be the “most educated generation in history,” but that’s the problem. Everyone’seducated these days. The market is saturated. To employers, Bachelor’s degrees are worth about a dime a dozen. To students, they’re worth $24,000. To parents, the cost is much, much more.
I also hope that, if you majored in any kind of humanities, you had time to rigorously practice HTML, Photoshop (retail price: $649.99), Dreamweaver, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, Micrsoft Excel and Word and Powerpoint, and dabble in at least a few Content Management Systems.
Sound like too much to do while you’re taking classes and doing homework? Too bad. You should have majored in Engineering or Economics if you wanted to start off with a salary above $30,000 a year. Employers aren’t going to train recent grads. There’s such a bountiful river of people looking for jobs right now that they can dredge better experience, skills, and educational degrees with the same entry-level net.
It seems that Bachelor’s degrees are becoming – or have already become – the new high school degrees. These often $100,000+ investments now elicit a “Oh college, okay, what else ya got?” from companies. So, this Educational Product is in very high demand, even if college grad salaries are stagnating while tuition is rising. And, consequently. the pyrmaid of higher education starts to get fatter in the bottom.
So, really, Bachelor’s degrees are the biggest product affected by peer pressure. You don’t earn one to be cool, you earn one because it’s “the next step.” Because that’s the route to success, even if everyone is taking the same road now and making the journey is far less impressive than it used to be.
I would suggest that a liberal arts education or a humanities degree isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in this job market, but I did learn a lot. It’s just information that no one wants to know. But I think in the near future more people will start to get a little less elitist when it comes to the next crop of liberal arts majors and a little more realistic.
It’s possible to combine some real-world training with a liberal arts education, but it seems like – currently – most colleges are too afraid to sully the pristine and completely intangible knowledge gained from this degree with some hands-on experience in anything. And preferably stuff that isn’t rigged.