According to a survey undertaken in the spring by the career website Monster.com, this year no less than 61 percent of college graduates plan to move back in with their parents. Considering what they’re up against in the job market it makes sense: a study just released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicates that this year 42 percent of employers plan to hire fewer new college graduates than they did last year.
Even highly qualified twenty-something post-graduates are finding the moribund economy a considerable challenge, and for many a return to post-graduate study is looking like a better option, at least until the market picks up. But considering the increasingly prohibitive cost of a college education in the U.S. — beginning at $100,000 and rising — many parents are openly wondering if their investment will ever be worth the expense.
Jonathan Sullivan, 22, is 2003 graduate of Iona College in New Rochelle. A scholar athlete and a marketing major, he belongs to several national honors societies and graduated cum laude in May. Since leaving Iona he has sent out 15 resumes, attended five interviews and received one only call back — for a telemarketing job that did not in fact require a degree and that would have paid him so little it was not worth his time.
“When I entered college in 1999 I remember people were still talking about their signing bonuses and their interesting career options,” he said. “But all of that has changed completely in the past three years. Right now I’m living at home — and I honestly feel as if my life’s on hold.”
Emily Ryan, 22, a recent graduate from Fordham University with a B.A. in history, smiles at the memory of her recent tribulations: “The very morning after the graduation ceremony it hit me — I have to get a job. I had my whole family help me write a resume.”
Like Sullivan, Ryan immediately began sending resumes to potential employers. But the only reply she received was an automatic-response email from a CEO on vacation.
Undaunted, she began to consider other options. “I started making phone calls to people I knew from my high school [Loyola High on 83rd and Park Avenue] and through connections things actually worked out for me,” she said. “I found a position as a paralegal in a well-known law firm. I couldn’t imagine not being from the city and trying to find a job here right now. Kids from the city are doing so much better. In Manhattan, more than ever now, it’s so much what you know so much as who you know.”
For good economic reasons, Ryan has decided to live at home with her parents while she saves for her future. But having found her independence at college, this unexpected return to the family nest necessitates some unforeseen compromises.
“Supervision is definitely an issue, but other than that I really don’t share the stigma that some students have about moving back home right now,” she said. “I just think it’s smart. I can’t afford a Manhattan rent on my own. And for me health insurance is a huge issue — there’s just no way you can be without it here, and the thought of not having any is quite terrifying. So that was another motivating factor to find a job right away.”
Although Ryan is fortunate enough not to have had to rely on financial aid or student loans to pay for her tuition, some of her friends are already intimately familiar with the pressure to repay student loans — even though they have yet to find paid employment.
“I have many friends who attended college on a combination of financial aid, scholarships and student loans,” she said. “And for one of them it’s gotten to the point now that she’s actually seriously considering selling her ova to infertile couples. She was actually trying to explain to me how it was a good thing. That completely blew my mind.”
Describing what it feels like to be so young and negotiating the uncertain job market of 2003, she said: “We’re little fish in an ocean. We’re not even that, we’re like amoebas. I’m not sure that most parents grasp the anxiety that we’re experiencing right now. When I finally got that job offer I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me. Because I didn’t want my parents have to pay for me. The relief was enormous.”
Daniel Reilly, 22, is also a recent Fordham graduate. Hailing from New Jersey, his father is Irish American and his mother is from the Philippines.
“Most people when they hear my name expect a red headed kid with freckles,” he said, smiling.
Like Ryan, he understood the power of networking in the city and he started in earnest from day one.
“The internship opportunities offered by Fordham allowed me to network and to go down to Wall Street, so I got a lot of useful experience and I got to meet a lot of people,” he said.
Reilly landed a good job right out of college.
“It was a combination of Fordham’s job placement program and my own persistence,” he said. “Trading equities interested me, so I wrote a cover letter to AMR Capital, who had a position on offer. I made sure to arrive on time. Right after the interview I dropped a thank you card and then I placed a follow up phone call. I am very competitive by nature — and finance is obviously a competitive field — so I landed the job and right now I’m trading equities.”
Although he’s already working full time, Railly still makes sure to maintain a competitive advantage.
“I am always looking at the options ahead of me,” he said. “I’m always interested in learning — right now I’m taking a new language, for example. When I see someone who’s successful, I make a point of studying them to find out how they did it.”
Reilly’s classmates have been doing the same thing to him. This year they approached him en masse to request that he revise their individual resumes.
“Five years from now I’d like to be very comfortable,” he said. “I plan to start to a business on the side. Then I plan to get a MBA and make the move to corporate America. My day trading will help me to build up capital. Five years from now I want to be in a management position. Ten years from now in a higher management position. I see opportunities ahead, and I’ll act on them.”
No wonder he’s found his niche so quickly. But his story stands in stark contrast to the experiences of the majority of his classmates.
To that end Jonathan Sullivan has an urgent word of advice for the class of 2004: “Start an internship right away — in your sophomore year, if you can. And work hard at it. Make an impression. You really haven’t a moment to lose.”