When I graduated the University of Maryland in 2009, I believed the world was my oyster. Armed with a bachelor degree in Political Science from a top 20 university, I had fulfilled my end of the bargain. I had obtained the coveted college education that teachers, parents, and mainstream media had ensured were the key to a bright future that did not involve the phrase, “Would you like fries with that?” With degree in hand and a strong theoretical background in the law, I forged ahead on the search for employment, unencumbered by doubts propelled by the recent recession. While unemployment statistics of laid off Americans began to dominate the news cycle, I felt secure in the strength of my degree to help me obtain a high paying job; a job that would at least pay for the $100,000 debt that had been the cost of my education. I scoured job sites for positions in the legal field applying to job after job. I attended career fairs, sent out dozens of emails a day for job applications only to be met with the same response. The company was looking for someone with more experience.
While in my undergraduate studies, I forgoed seeking employment in order to focus on my studies, believing a higher grade point average to be critical factor in capturing a lucrative career. Wrong! Like so many of my contemporaries, I was caught in a vicious cycle. I needed the experience to get the position, but could not gain said experience unless someone gave me a job. So I did as many do when needing to acquire work experience in order to build their resume. I began working as a temp. My critical understanding of Locke and Smith’s laissez faire economics had indeed equipped me with the skillset to work; as a receptionist, earning 12 dollars a hour. As I moved from assignment to assignment, the six month grace period began to come to a close. Soon, I would have to start repaying my student loan, a Goliath’s task the seemed nearly impossible given the girth of my debt and the meagerness of my pay.
The only option that seemed to provide a way out of my dilemma was to return to the institution of higher learning. In order to be competitive in this tough economy, I decided that I would meet my competitor’s experience with increased education, in the form of a master’s degree. Not only would a master’s degree fulfill this purpose, but it could provide me with a temporary reprieve from the stalking of my debt collectors, in the form of a deferment. It seemed I was not alone in this thinking as my Facebook newsfeed became filled with announcements of classmates going back to school for various masters programs.
While graduate school seemed to be the answers my prayers, I no longer had the rose-colored goggles when it came to the returns of higher education. I was determined to gain as much practical experience while investing as a little financially as possible. I searched for schools in state and contemplated on where my passion truly lied. While in college, I found the classes that truly inspired me were on international development. I would leave my third world politics class and Development in the Asia-Pacific fueled with a passion for international justice. When I came across a Global Development and Peace program in my home state that seemed custom fit for my interests, I knew I was home.
I applied for the program and was accepted. Once I entered the program I fell into old habits, opting to defer my employment search in order to focus on school. Once I began grad school, I flourished obtaining a 4.0 my first semester. During my second semester, I felt comfortable enough in the program to start temping again. I found a three month assignment for a processing position at a government agency. The starting pay was $20 and hour, and the position required only a high school diploma.
The pay was the highest I had received and I excelled at the route data entry easily. At the end of my assignment, I was invited to stay permanently. I had finally found full time employment. While I accepted the offer I was sure that this position would be yet another pit-stop on the way to my real career in foreign policy working for the UN. I used the money from the job to pay for school, gain financial independence, and move out of my parent’s home.
Three years later, with the successful completion of a master’s degree in international relations, an internship volunteering abroad for an NGO, and a published thesis, I find myself not far from where I began. I still work at the government agency earning the same pay, applying to fellowships and UN entry positions, all while negotiating with student loan debt collectors. Like many millennials, the pursuit of the American dream has left me overeducated and underemployed.