University of Minnesota marketing student Nick Nobbe is in the middle of grinding out his final year of school. Like many other seniors, Nobbe has a lot on his mind in addition to finishing college on a positive note. Searching for jobs and planning his financial future have unseated schoolwork as his top priority. Reality is beginning to set in.
“When you’re in college, you’re not really in the real world yet,” Nobbe says. “That safety net is going to be coming out from underneath pretty soon.”
Nobbe has learned from the experiences of his older sister, Kaleigh, who graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science. She believes it is “much scarier” graduating from college than from high school. “Unless you know exactly what you want to do, it’s hard to jump into a career,” Kaleigh says.
Kaleigh is currently working as a medical scribe at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood, Minn., while she studies for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Kaleigh feels that her college experience was worth it because an undergraduate degree is necessary to pursue medical school.
However, others disagree about the value of a bachelor’s degree. “Some of my friends got jobs that don’t require a degree,” Kaleigh says.
Statistically speaking, obtaining a college degree is still worth the effort and the financial burdens that come with it. According to a study conducted by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, unemployment rates in 2010 and 2011 were nine to 10 percent for non-college graduates compared to 4.6 to 4.7 percent for college graduates 25 years of age or older.
Well, was it worth it?
Even with a diploma in hand, fresh college graduates still face a daunting job market. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce reports that the overall unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 7.9 percent.
The pressure to succeed in post-graduate life is amplified by the anticipation that comes with paying off student loans. According to a 2013 study by Young Invincibles, a national organization committed to expanding volunteer opportunities for young adults, the median private debt of the 9,523 respondents was between $25,000 and $35,000.
Student loan debt is only part of the problem; 15 percent of respondents said they had been denied a mortgage because of their debt, 28 percent of respondents had taken on credit card debt to keep up with loan payments, and 47 percent said they put off buying a house and/or a car to keep up with payments.
There are alternative, less expensive options other than the traditional university route. Trevor Barrett, who has an associate’s degree from Normandale Community College, is a strong advocate for the benefits a community college can provide.
“I basically have no debt,” says Barrett, now a mechanical engineering student at the University of Minnesota. “I saved a lot of money. It was worth it.”
The high cost of tuition at universities is just the tip of the iceberg. An increasing number of college students are finding themselves in trouble with their credit card usage. More than a third of University of Minnesota students enrolled in a masters, graduate, or professional program carry some amount of credit card debt, according to the University of Minnesota’s Boynton Health Service’s 2013 College Student Health Survey. Of those, approximately one in six report debt of $5,000 or more.
Dr. Katherine Lust, the director of research at Boynton, suggests that the increasing prevalence of student debt is changing the college lifestyle. The increase in debt-carrying students may mean students are more comfortable carrying higher levels of debt, or they feel going into debt is necessary in order to pay for the things they want.
“It might also mean students do not understand the implications of carrying that level of debt,” Lust says.
The 2009 Sallie Mae national study, “How Undergraduate Students Use Credit Cards,” reveals that 40 percent of students surveyed said they have charged items knowing they did not have the money to pay the bill. Furthermore, 60 percent of undergraduates were surprised at how high their balance had reached.
The study also reveals nearly half of the undergraduates in the survey have experienced high levels of anxiety about paying their credit card bills, with almost one-quarter saying they feel extremely anxious about their credit card usage.
Nick Nobbe’s primary concern about life after college is his financial situation. Yet, not all recent graduates share the same urgency. Kaleigh Nobbe says some of her friends used the summer after graduation to relax and think about what their next step should be.
Max Boran, who graduated in 2012 with an associate’s in applied science in sound design for visual media, disagrees with this approach and advises new graduates not to wait around after college.
“The longer you wait, the harder it is to get back in the swing of things,” he says.
Boran, a graduate from the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis, has not yet found a job that relates to his degree. He is currently working at his previous job at a daycare center in his hometown while he adjusts to a life that no longer revolves around school.
“It’s just weird,” Boran says.
Nobbe and Boran share a feeling of nostalgia for their college days that have slipped away all too quickly.
“This year is kind of my last hoorah,” Nobbe says, who admits he will be somewhat sad to end his college experience. “But life inevitably changes.”
The drastic change of lifestyle that comes in the months following college also adds to the stress for graduates. In addition to parting ways with close friends, college graduates find themselves facing the harsh realities of the job market. Graduates can be susceptible to frustration and anxiety once real life kicks into gear, regardless of how great they felt in college.
If Kaleigh Nobbe could offer one piece of advice to her brother and other graduating seniors, it is this: Have a plan.
“The earlier you figure out what you want to do, the better,” Kaleigh says.
Nick Nobbe has been exploring the job market and has a general idea of what he wants to do with his life, but he thinks it is important to be open to alternative options.
“There is no absolute certainty to anything,” Nobbe says. “Be open and accepting to the fact that things can change.”
Financial issues have been and will continue to be an unavoidable aspect of college life for many students. Members of the millennial generation can find optimism in the fact that the economy is rebounding—but they must remember that their own effort and planning determines their success.