For most of us, senior year of high school was a huge transitional period. Our guidance counselors encouraged us to contemplate about what we wanted to be when we “grew up”,  set appropriate goals, and begin sketching out the blue prints to achieve it. If college was in your plans, I’m sure you recall the constant reminders about the importance of selecting the right school. Making sure it was a reputable institution that specialized in the field you were most interested in. Extra emphasis was placed on choosing a major and decisions then were based on what you actually aspired to do as a profession. Once in college, you’re told by faculty how much it will prepare you for adulthood and in joining the career world. Each class is spoken about, as a gateway to skills and tools that will assist you in gaining employment, becoming successful and ultimately achieving the “American dream”.

 What they didn’t tell us was that no class in the world could prepare one for the harsh reality check to come. A degree means nothing in an empty job market and steadily declining economy. Oh, and those student loans you took out, with the 1st payment seemingly so far away… Yeah, that just became your new deadline to find a job, in an already highly competitive market, with most of your opponents being peers from your graduating class. As your deadline approaches and the bills pile up; landing a job in your field seems harder to achieve than the degree itself and at this point, the thought of ‘anything will due’ doesn’t sound like too bad of a plan. Some, like myself, even begin to question- was it all worth it? Should I have invested all this money and time? Where is my payoff? It is a very stressful situation that no one expects, or is ever truly prepared for. If you graduated some 4-5 odd years ago, then chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you that have just graduated or will soon be graduating, here’s is some things to look forward to.

The average college graduate will be in debt from the moment they step off campus. Not only will it be difficult to land your dream job, but the positions that are available; you will more than likely be overqualified for it. The Economic Policy Institute reported that over the years, 19.1% of graduates fit that description[1]. 43% of graduates are finding employment doing nothing relatable to the 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears it took to learn and earn their specific degree. To add insult to injury, a Rutgers University study, released this past May, revealed that graduates since 2009 have had an average starting salary that amounts to less than their debt[2]. With the USA student loan debt surpassing $1 trillion and fewer jobs available, things aren’t looking to good. Last year, about 1.5 million of students that earned a B.A in 2008 and on, were either unemployed or underemployed. Those who majored in anthropology, philosophy, art history, and liberal arts or humanities made up the majority of this figure. As a result of this, internships are popping up more than ever. Companies are definitely up on the fact that the ball is in their court; with plenty of applicants to choose from (they can afford to be picky). In essence, they do not need you, YOU need them. Active students and graduates can agree that sometimes, an internship just isn’t in the stars for some of us. Especially those who just can not simply afford to work with out pay. Although the experience can be beneficial, at times (referring to the programs that make you refill coffee cups all day); the immediate need for cash tends to supersede the end goal.

Now, by no means is this post supposed to deter anyone from attending college and pursuing their dreams. By all means- you should do so! This is more of an attempt to simmer the hype institutions create in embellishing on what is in-store for you in the future. Over all, it is very true that attending college and obtaining a B.A or higher, will give you a higher priority in gaining an interview, being hired, and even determining pay rate. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics supports that statement.  The chart showed that  in July of this year,  for individuals that are 25 years and over, 33,838 were employed with only a  high school education, while 45,732 were employed college graduates. The numbers don’t lie!  There is clearly more opportunity for degree holders with only 1,965 being unemployed, compared to the  3,209 high school graduates. However, we must read in between the lines and factor in that those two figures are not far apart, considering tuition costs. While those with only a high school diploma overall earn less and have limited opportunities to obtain a position; they are not far behind and have one less obligation to worry about. The dreadful and expensive- student loans. In another Economic News Release I researched, it showed that the difference on average weekly earnings for high school graduates over 25 and college graduates was only $497.80. Not what you expected, right?

 So I say all that to say this… with the way our economy is, hard work and struggle can be in cards for anyone. The possibility of achieving all your hopes and dreams is very much alive though; just know it is not as easy or simple as some may have put it. But nothing in this world that is worth so much will ever be just that easy to get. The important thing is to identify what you really want out of life, where you are at in life, and what you need to accomplish to get where you really want to be. That’s where this post’s title comes into play; what is life about for you? Should you follow your passion and risk not being able to live a particular life style, or do you chase the money? Perhaps you will be able to have both and create a balance between obligation and desire. Whatever you decide, understand that each person is their own equation, with the need to calculate their own unique variables, to come to their own solution about what will be best for them. 

 *Side bar: if you’re still upset that there is no return policy to the dream you (and the rest of us) were sold, just remember… they called it the American dream for a reason, it’s ‘cause we’re all sleeping. Just wake up and smell the truth.*


[Numbers in thousands]

Table A-4. Employment status of the civilian population 25 years and over by educational attainment
Educational attainment Not seasonally adjusted Seasonally adjusted
Less than a high school diploma  
Civilian labor force 11,629 11,623 11,457 11,721 11,493 11,366 11,451 11,384 11,472
Participation rate 46.6 45.9 46.2 47.0 46.3 45.2 44.9 45.0 46.3
Employed 9,988 10,291 10,062 9,977 10,044 9,947 9,960 9,952 10,012
Employment-population ratio 40.0 40.6 40.6 40.0 40.4 39.6 39.1 39.3 40.4
Unemployed 1,641 1,332 1,395 1,744 1,449 1,419 1,491 1,431 1,460
Unemployment rate 14.1 11.5 12.2 14.9 12.6 12.5 13.0 12.6 12.7
High school graduates, no college(1)  
Civilian labor force 37,113 36,851 36,782 37,471 36,475 36,718 36,924 36,984 37,047
Participation rate 59.9 59.8 59.2 60.5 59.0 59.2 59.5 60.0 59.7
Employed 33,750 33,884 33,676 33,973 33,573 33,834 33,928 33,869 33,838
Employment-population ratio 54.5 55.0 54.2 54.9 54.3 54.5 54.7 55.0 54.5
Unemployed 3,364 2,967 3,105 3,498 2,902 2,884 2,996 3,116 3,209
Unemployment rate 9.1 8.1 8.4 9.3 8.0 7.9 8.1 8.4 8.7
Some college or associate degree  
Civilian labor force 36,706 37,194 37,299 36,782 37,405 37,168 37,079 37,451 37,398
Participation rate 68.9 68.4 68.1 69.1 69.3 69.0 68.8 68.9 68.3
Employed 33,579 34,446 34,546 33,748 34,613 34,344 34,155 34,639 34,729
Employment-population ratio 63.0 63.4 63.1 63.4 64.2 63.7 63.4 63.7 63.4
Unemployed 3,128 2,748 2,752 3,034 2,793 2,824 2,924 2,812 2,669
Unemployment rate 8.5 7.4 7.4 8.2 7.5 7.6 7.9 7.5 7.1
Bachelor’s degree and higher(2)  
Civilian labor force 46,621 47,631 47,517 46,665 48,191 47,977 48,232 47,923 47,697
Participation rate 76.0 75.5 75.5 76.1 76.2 76.2 76.8 76.0 75.8
Employed 44,435 45,674 45,381 44,665 46,189 46,062 46,355 45,949 45,732
Employment-population ratio 72.5 72.4 72.1 72.8 73.1 73.2 73.8 72.9 72.7
Unemployed 2,186 1,957 2,136 2,000 2,002 1,915 1,877 1,973 1,965
Unemployment rate 4.7 4.1 4.5 4.3 4.2 4.0 3.9 4.1 4.1
(1) Includes persons with a high school diploma or equivalent.
(2) Includes persons with bachelor’s, master’s, professional, and doctoral degrees.
NOTE: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

For more information and statistics on this topic , click here.

For a break down of average earning, by occupation, click here.