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What Happens to You Immediately After You Graduate from College

SPOILER: "Getting a good job" is not on the list.

by Joel Golby
Feb 24 2015, 5:45pm

Hulk just checked the starting salary for sports-science students. Photo by Jake Lewis

Post-college life isn't working out for you, is it? I don't mean this as an insult, but look at you: You're sitting at work and reading this on the down-low, alt-tabbing to a spreadsheet your boss asked you to do four days ago whenever he walks by. It doesn't take four days to do a spreadsheet. You know this. Your boss knows this. Nobody even wants the spreadsheet you are pretending to make. You will go home and your roommate will ask you what you did today and you won't be able to remember.

It wasn't supposed to go like this. You imagined walking out straight from the graduation ceremony into a good job—OK, maybe you didn't have this pictured so clearly in your head, but you imagined an interview at some hip office, a boss lauding your 3.5 GPA, your film studies degree, your semester spent DJing a bluegrass show on college radio. Health insurance! A bank account that's never empty! Parents who don't lie to their friends about what you do!

Thing is, that's usually not the case, is it? Here are the three things that happen to you post-college:

1) Great success—you're a fresh-out-of-Stanford startup entrepreneur or a hotshot graphic-design prodigy or you get scooped up by an intelligence agency thanks to your preternatural language and crypto skills. If this was going to happen to you, you'd know already.

2) A return home—those four parent-subsidized years in the gleaming metropolis of Boston were fun, but now it's back to Dayton, where you will work a service-industry job and probably have a kid extremely quickly.

3) Pure aimlessness—you want to go to grad school (or even law school, maybe?), but your lack of salable skills and the great expanse of life stretching before you is terrifying, so for now you drink too much and fritter your nights away on a series of fleeting relationships until you feel hollowed-out and blurry and you start to hear the sound of your own desperation keening away inside of you like a earsplitting siren audible only to you.

Anyway, that last one is how I assume you're currently living, or what you can expect in a couple of months, once you've picked up your degree. Here's everything else you can look forward to.

These are Cambridge students, so that dead guy with the odd socks is probably running HSBC by now. Photo by Nicholas Pomeroy

YOU WILL GO LIVE BACK AT HOME AGAIN

Your high-school vow to move away forever at 18 will be forgotten pretty quickly once you realize you can't pay rent. But when you slink back to the zip code of your upbringing, you'll find a few differences.

For example: Your bedroom is now called the "spare room" and you have to wedge your stuff around an elliptical machine from that one week your dad tried to fend off a heart attack with exercise. When you wake up with a hangover your mom doesn't preach to you anymore, she just makes breakfast by dropping every single pan she owns really loudly on the floor.

Your parents are more tired of you than you are of them; they're supposed to be semi-retired and on a cruise, fucking like a pair of tanned, slightly wrinkled bunny rabbits. Your moping around on their sofa and complaining about the food in the fridge is wrecking that. Just by existing, you are destroying someone else's dream.

SOMEONE IN YOUR FAMILY WILL TELL YOU WHAT A BIG WASTE OF TIME COLLEGE WAS

"You did what?" your uncle is saying. "Theater design? What's that?" His favorite film is "any Bond movie." His life revolves around smoking, being upset about property taxes, and getting into a car so clumsily the whole vehicle shakes.

"That stuff's a waste of fucking time," he's saying. "Your cousin's a plumber." Your cousin is his son, the one who started those fires when you were six. "He just bought a van." You do not have a van. "Can't pay for a van with a philosophy degree, can you?" He has a point. "CAN YOU? HUH?" He's holding your chin now. Six people are holding him back. "CAN'T THINK YOURSELF OUT OF A HEADLOCK, CAN YOU?"

For some reason, there is something about the concept of spending four years on a degree that really rubs some people the wrong way, and they will kick you with boots made of hindsight for having the temerity—the nerve—for trying to better yourself with knowledge. For some men (and it's mostly men here), the only honorable jobs involve working with your hands, and getting any sort of liberal arts degree amounts to an admission that you can't live in the real world any more than you can change a tire.

There's not any real way you can deal with this, by the way. Everyone has his journey, and yours just happens to include a four-year detour where you got really into at least one daytime TV program and drank away all your spending money. If you are wondering why certain branches of your family don't respect you, just think back to how you spent the last four years.

ONE OF YOUR MOM'S FRIEND'S KIDS WILL BE DOING BETTER THAN YOU

"You know Linda," your mom is saying on the phone. "You do know Linda. She used to come over and cut your hair when you were a kid. She fell off that chair at mine and your stepfather's wedding, and you started crying because she wasn't wearing underwear and you were staring right into the eye of the storm."

"Oh yeah," you say. "Linda."

"Well, anyway, that daughter of hers who was always too young for you to really have anything in common with, but who I made you hang out with all the time anyway, just got into Harvard Medical School. She's going to be a doctor, she says—although she could probably be anything she wants. We're going to a party for her, later. Your dad's got his suit on."

"HE'S NOT MY DAD!" you scream, slamming the phone down.

On the plus side, you can probably use that as a scene for the screenplay you're writing, right?

These two quietly unfriended on Facebook today. Photo by Jake Lewis

YOU WILL READ A NEWS REPORT ABOUT AVERAGE GRADUATE SALARIES AND THE AVERAGE WILL BE $10,000 MORE THAN YOU CURRENTLY GET PAID

"And bad news for graduates," says an important person on CNN. "A new study today found the average graduate starting salary is a mere $37,000, which—reminder—is about $10,000 more than you are currently earning."

Seems a little niche, this news, a little targeted. But you can't really stay to argue because you have to catch the bus to that desolate out-of-town shopping complex, where you have to clean out all the puppy shit at a Pets-R-Us. The kind of job that makes you hate puppies. That's your job.

SOMEONE WILL ASK YOU A TRIVIA QUESTION UNRELATED TO YOUR DEGREE AND CLAIM SOME SORT OF VICTORY WHEN YOU CAN'T ANSWER IT

"English literature, huh? All right then, smartass: What's a cantilever? You don't know, do you? Hey, Dave. Dave! Come here and hear this—he doesn't know what a cantilever is! Four years and all that money later!"

Your dad can be a real prick sometimes.

SOMEONE YOU HATED WILL BE DOING BETTER THAN YOU

You know the one. Always used to turn up in comedy T-shirts. "KEEP CALM AND MAKE ME A SANDWICH"—that sort of thing. A Breaking Bad/Sonic the Hedgehog crossover T-shirt where Jesse calls Knuckles a "bitch." He sat in front of you that time and just scrolled through doge memes, snickering so hard saliva got all over his iPad. Now he's taking a year off from engineering to write a book that he already got a deal for. He has 70,000 Twitter followers. How's that screenplay coming?

I guarantee you that Tim Burton's idea of a schoolgirl doesn't talk to Thor any more. Photo by Jake Lewis

YOU WILL LOSE TOUCH WITH YOUR COLLEGE BUDDIES

"Friends forever!" you say, posing for one last selfie with the guys when you went out one last time for graduation. Then someone moves home, someone else goes on a long road trip to nowhere, and someone else is moving in with his girlfriend and is doing pretty well for himself at a bank.

And then, like the torn pieces of the terrible dissertation you should have shredded and scattered instead of submitting, they fade away. And then you remember: Actually, they were terrible anyway. John kept using your house's one good plate as an ashtray. Tim threw up on your couch. Steve hit on your ex a week after she dumped you. Fuck them.

BUT YOU'LL FIND PEOPLE YOU DIDN'T KNOW THAT WELL REALLY WANT TO "CATCH UP" WITH YOU

He's in town for a conference, he says. Want to go out for a couple beers? The old bar we always went to? And you're thinking: Where do I know this guy from, again? Is he the one who kept getting into fights at house parties? And wrote those emotional Facebook statuses? Yes, it is, and in ten years he will be your best man at your wedding, because he will stay in touch with you when no one else will.

YOU FINALLY OUTGROW THE IDEA OF TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH CLIQUES

Whatever way you spin it, university was a constant chase after the vapors of coolness in whatever way you could manage it—it's all about grasping onto anyone who vaguely shares a common interest with you and building your fort around them. Remember how you told that guy you DJ'd "a bit" and he actually booked you to play a Thursday night slot and it was so bad security escorted you home? Same.

Every skipped seminar, every band T-shirt, every time you read a meaty-looking philosophy book in public, every Tumblr you started and then abandoned—they were all your attempts at being in.

And then you're sent out into the world and you realize: Hold on, cliques don't really exist out here in the wastelands of real life. Nobody really cares how good you are at roller derby. Take off your festival wristbands and your team hoodies and start being normal.

Photo by Nicholas Pomeroy

SOME DUDE YOU HATED WILL HAVE A FEATURE WRITTEN ABOUT HIS NEW FOOD VAN

"Cory Davison, 22, graduated from the same university you did, but is doing way better. 'I sort of realized around my second year,' Corey mused. 'Like, people were partying loads, living it up, and I was like: I just want to stay home and make chicken enchiladas as good as I can possibly make them.'"

It was there, at the university you went to—at a graduate investment fair you didn't even know was happening, even though it was held in the quad of your own dorm—that Davison secured a $60,000 on-the-spot investment for his food van.

You read about this the day after you get rejected for the busboy job you used to do in high school because you are "overqualified."

YOU'RE GOING TO REALIZE HOW BAD YOU LOOKED

Wore Converse with your blazer? Curled your hair? Pierced your lip and your eyebrow? Wore sweatpants and flip-flops and socks while roaming around campus? It didn't work. It never worked.

This shouldn't be news: If you can look back at your Facebook photos and say, "Yes, I looked good and cool," then you are still a child and an idiot. As soon as you can't remember your college self without flinching, you have officially grown and improved as a person. You are on the journey toward being an Adult. An Adult who doesn't think eyebrow piercings with strange gray-green residue on them are an acceptable look.

YOU'LL THINK ABOUT GETTING A MASTER'S

Don't do it.

Cool guys having a good time. Photo by Jake Lewis

YOU'LL SEE SOMEONE ON A LONG TRAIN JOURNEY WEARING A UNIVERSITY HOODIE WITH THEIR NICKNAME ON THE BACK AND YOU WILL BECOME REPULSED TO THE POINT OF NAUSEA

Nobody calls you "Shebs," Melanie. I don't know why you paid $15.99 extra to have it printed on your hoodie.

YOU WILL NOT READ A BOOK FOR FIVE YEARS

Unless you're paying $40,000 over the course of four years for the privilege of being told to read, you will not read.

More cool guys. Photo by Jake Lewis

YOU WILL START YOUR FIRST JOB AND YOUR BOSS WILL BE YOUNGER THAN YOU

It doesn't matter what your job is—you could be making coffee or you could be 3-D-printing parts for F1 engines; you could be doing data entry or you could be an actual astronaut going to the moon—at some point on your first day you will have to shake the hand of someone two rungs up the career ladder ahead of you who is, inexplicably, about ten years old.

Don't worry about this. It will only get worse.

YOU WILL TRY TO TRADE A TEXTBOOK YOU ONCE PAID $100 FOR SO YOU CAN ATTEMPT TO BUY SOME DINNER

Apparently that Norton Anthology of English Literature you've been using as a doorstop is worth about $5 now because there's a new edition with exactly one new poem in it.

University textbooks are kind of like new cars in that drive-them-off-the-lot-and-they-immediately-lose-value way. Only, imagine you drove the car off the lot and straight into a tree, at speed, and both the tree and the car then caught fire, and then the entire car lot caught fire, and the guy who just sold you your car is like, "There is so much damage happening right now! There is so much money on fire right now!" and you're slightly closer to an analogy that aptly explains the market economy of used textbooks.

YOU'LL REALIZE THAT ALL THE FREE TIME YOU WILL EVER HAVE TO TRULY ACHIEVE A CREATIVE ENDEAVOR IS FOREVER BEHIND YOU

How's your screenplay coming?

YOU'LL LEARN THAT being HUNGOVER AT WORK Is worse than being HUNGOVER IN A LECTURE

Being hungover in a lecture is fine: You drift in and out of the conversation while being huddled in a massive hoodie and occasionally sneaking yourself some salt-and-vinegar chips, and then you fuck off home and lie on the sofa watching Big Bang Theory reruns until you are fully recuperated. You're such a Sheldon!

Working on a hangover is different: an eight-hour slog, with a commute each way and a burrito in between. And people expect you to do stuff. And they don't have any sympathy for you. And the phone keeps ringing really loudly. There is no greater agony on earth.

"Hello, Mom? No, I fucking hate it. Get Dad to come pick me up." Photo by Jake Lewis

YOU REALIZE HOW POINTLESS YOUR DEGREE WAS

Unless you're a doctor (and if you are a doctor, what are you doing reading this? Shouldn't you be massaging someone's heart or something?) then your degree was pointless. It was pointless. This is the first thing you realize as soon as you graduate: Your degree is a meaningless waste of time.

Want to work in a creative industry? Roll up your art degree and burn it for fuel, because you're going to have to do at least six months of interning anyway. Want to work doing something STEM-y? Enjoy on-the-job graduate training, science nerd. Speak Spanish? Half the country speaks it better than you.

YOU'RE GOING TO LOSE A GOOD YEAR TO A SHITTY JOB THAT YOU HATE

You're almost certainly going to lose a year of your life to a terrible dead-end job. You will be that voice on the phone asking someone to sign up for cables. You will be that guy who asks whether the customer wants it grande or venti. You will have moments when you fantasize about being a bus driver with a pension plan.

If you are me, you will lose both your youth and your enthusiasm to a two-hole paper punch/three-prong-binder filing system that you have to work with for two and a half years. The final gasps of your salad days will be spent learning how to send a fax.

This is the reality of entry-level administration, a career into which you, a perky young graduate, are doomed. The danger, of course, is falling deeper into the endless admin sea: One half-promotion is like a manacle around your foot, tying you to a lifetime of anodyne paper sorting when you really wanted to be an illustrator. And there's no quick fix, either, beyond applying for those actual jobs you want and trying not to get stare-into-a-canal-by-yourself sad about it.

You will lose a year to a shitty job. Think of it as a sort of national service for people who know the names of more than one Roman emperor.

THINGS WILL GET BETTER, EVENTUALLY

Bulletproof theory: Everyone had a nemesis at college. If you didn't, that means you were someone else's. A crying girl in the dorms, that guy from your class who ran for student office, the girl who had loud, shrieking orgasms in the room next to yours.

Eventually something good will come for you, and when it does the absolute best thing you can do is go on Facebook or LinkedIn and see how shitty your nemesis's life is compared with yours, then do a victory dance. TAKE THAT, JOHN. PAY THE DEBT OFF ON THAT.

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BEST YEARS OF YOUR LIFE MATE
choking to death at a foam party
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nobody cares about your gap year