Degreef! I Have My Degree, But I Can’t Find Work in My Field!
CEE Standard: Earning Income
As students prepare to go to college, they need to consider the realities of actually getting a job in their field. Many do, but not every degree leads to great job prospects and it’s important to keep that in mind when looking for opportunities.
Going to school and taking on student loan debt can seem like a good investment in your future. You go to school, work hard, and get a job, right? That’s what I thought, at least.
But what if you’re saddled with serious student loan debt and can’t find a job in your field after you graduate? Unfortunately, that’s a common reality for many people, and another reality for many new graduates is that of being underemployed. A whopping 43 percent of college grads are working in jobs that don’t even require a degree.
Student Loan Debt: My Story
I ended up pursuing my dreams and getting a master’s degree in performance studies from New York University. I knew that I was taking on a lot of debt, but I was convinced that I’d find a fabulous career to help pay back my loans.
After graduating and still owing $68,000 in student loans, I spent six months trying to find my dream arts job in New York. It didn’t happen. I ended up moving to Portland, to lower my cost of living and share expenses with a roommate. Portland had next to nothing in terms of full-time arts jobs, so I took on whatever temp work I could find. Not only was I stressed about debt and finding a job, but I felt ashamed. I got myself into so much debt for this very specific thing, only to veer off course.
Sometimes I do feel pangs of regret for having spent so much money on a degree that I don’t technically use, but my journey into debt has led to my current career writing about money. Silver linings!
A Common Reality — Underemployment
Many others have invested a lot of money into their education only to end up not working in their field, either because they can’t find a job in their particular industry, or because their interest shifts by necessity or change.
For 27-year-old Danielle Burger, who lives in Alberta, Canada, pursuing a master’s degree in neuroscience didn’t end well. She worked hard in school, even obtaining a 4.0 GPA. But as she was released into the real world with approximately $80,000 in student loan debt, she struggled not just to find work in her field, but to find any work at all.
“I’ve been struggling to find employment ever since, despite targeted résumés, working with employment agencies, and really positive interview feedback,” she says. Burger notes that employers either feel she has little “real world” experience or they think she is overqualified for the job.
Since then, she’s cobbled together work, but has faced challenges paying back her student loans and finding full-time employment. While Burger is grateful for her education, she says that if she had to do it all over again, she’d focus on becoming more well-rounded as a professional, rather than focusing only on grades.
Still, it seems that the message that many graduates have heard and the reality that we are faced with are starkly misaligned.
“Many of us blindly took out student loans because we were told over and over that we would leave college with all these employers just begging us to work for them and all these successful careers at our fingertips,” Burger explains.
What to Do If You Can’t Find a Job in Your Field
If you are saddled with student loans and can’t find work in your field, you are not alone. While it is not an ideal situation, there are proactive steps that you can take to use your degree in any job. The first step is to evaluate your transferable skills. What did your degree teach you that you can transfer to job fields?
Athena Lent, a personal finance blogger, majored in criminal justice but ended up working in the nonprofit sector after assessing the opportunities in her area. “I think my degree helped me become a manager and actually made me more suited for my position,” she says. “I am able to come into nonprofit work with social capital and a socialization point of view because of my criminology courses, which is something my employers have never even thought of.”
If you can’t use what you learned at school, see how you can apply some of those related skills in your new job. Though I am no longer working in theater, my intensive, philosophy-based master’s degree helped hone my abilities as a writer.
Secondly, connect with people in your field and find a mentor. After all, getting your foot in the door is often about who you know, not what you know. Additionally, you may want to see how you can use your skills and degree to start your own business. If the jobs won’t come to you, why not create a position for yourself?
Lastly, realize that, whatever you do in life, you aren’t solely defined by your job or your student loan debt. Our young adult lives may have built us up to believe that, but you are so much more than that.