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Ready to Graduate... Now what?

DEREKH FROUDE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Jack Perry, UA Career Counselor, talks to 2002 graduate Justin Ground in the Career Counseling Center in the Student Union Memorial Center yesterday afternoon.
By Jessica Suarez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday April 22, 2003

Graduation brings home the realization that students may not know what they want for their futures

From the time you were a baby, your parents wanted you to be a doctor. They bought you a little doctor's coat when you were a kid, encouraged you to dissect animals through middle school, and insisted you take AP biology in high school.

So here you are, a senior, with a near-perfect GPA, a solid pre-med background, and a MCAT score that will get you into any medical school you want. The problem is, the only thing you enjoy doing is working your $7 an hour retail job. In fact, you could see yourself working in fashion for · the rest of your life. Now you've got a crisis.

As the end of the semester approaches, many students at the end of their college careers all face the same question: What the hell am I going to do?

Though many students are graduating without a clue about what they want to do with their lives, each seems to feel like they must be the only one. Some recent books, however, on the topic of the Îquarterlife crisis,' have let students know they aren't the only ones going through these emotions.

Stephen Thrush, a computer science senior, is one of these students.

"I'm not in my 20s yet, but I might be going through the same thing. I'm graduating with a good GPA and a computer science degree this semester, and hell, I'm going to go work for minimum wage in England," he said.

"I just can't stand the thought of the track I was originally planning: grad school, then decent job."

According to books like "Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties" and "Twenties Talk: The Unpaved Road of Life After College," lots of things can contribute to feelings of restlessness about post-collegiate life. These concerns include leaving the highly-structured college atmosphere, having trouble finding a first job and facing the sheer number of decisions they have to make on everything from where to live and work to insurance to buy and how to do laundry.

A shaky economy has also made the quarterlife crisis more common for students, said UA Career Counselor Jack Perry. It's made students who might have otherwise been confident with their career choices take a second look at what to do with the rest of their lives.

"When the economy was booming, many students took it for granted that they would find a great job upon graduation. I don't think they were any surer of what they wanted to do, but they were more confident that "something" would be there after graduation," said Perry, who has been a career counselor at the university for seven years.

"In the past two to three years, as the economy has faltered, I think students have become more aware and concerned about the difficulties they will be facing in the job market."

He said that students react in different ways to this change in the job market. Some have begun their career search earlier, or have tried internships to get a feel for what's out there. Others take a second major to delay entry into the job market or go on to pursue graduate degrees.

Lisa Knisely will enter UA this fall to start a graduate program in women's studies. After speeding through her high school and undergraduate degrees in six years, she took a year off to make sure graduate school was the right decision.

"Everybody I know started freaking out around the beginning of their senior year of undergrad. It seems like you're supposed to have such a clear idea of where you're going and what you're doing, because you know as soon as you graduate there's not going to be time to mess around figuring it out," she said.

"Of course, that's a false feeling, because when do you ever know for certain what you'll be doing in the future?"

Perry, however, sees graduation as a better time to change one's mind about what to do with their lives- better than, say, in your 40s when a real midlife crisis sets in.

"Changing minds is what college is all about. Many, if not most, students change their minds as they learn of new possibilities, take different classes, and experience new things," he said.

"Does it happen just before graduation? Sometimes, but I would rather see it happen then as opposed to after 10 years in a job they hate."

So while the thought of abandoning previous career goals and experimenting with new ones might send recent graduates headfirst into a quarterlife crisis, it may also save them from a midlife crisis further down the line.

Thrush sees postponing a solid career as a computer scientist for the less secure position of professional musician well worth the risk.

"I think my personal philosophy has changed from when I started college. I'm now trying to do what I love and what is going to make me happy. That's making music and traveling. Of course, long term, will I be happy? I don't know," said Thrush.

"But I guess, you sometimes feel as though you are spending too much of your life preparing for the future, and not enough living in the present. Or maybe I'm just scared of becoming one of the boring drones of the workforce who don't realize how short life is ... if I was to die tomorrow, do I really want to be studying for my operating systems test tonight?"

Tips from career counselor Jack Perry:

· Try not to despair if you don't see any professional-level jobs in your career field.

"While the overall economy is struggling, there are some bright spots as well. I help students investigate which parts of the economy, and which geographic areas, are doing relatively well. I think students have good reason to be concerned, but with planning and effort they can definitely succeed with their career."

· Whether you stick to original career goals or not, be realistic, but don't be pessimistic.

"Many people believe students have over-inflated ideas about salaries and company cars and so on. I think students in 2003 are much more realistic about those things than a few years ago. Probably because they have seen the layoffs and the realities of the struggling economy. Career-wise I think it is better to be confident and set high goals for yourself, than to lack confidence and set your sights too low."

· Talk to people who are already doing what you want to do. The UA Alumni Career Connection can get you in touch with graduates who are in your desired field: http://www.uagrad.org/Services/Careers/alum_cc.html

"There are several things that students can do to clarify their career goals. Talking to people about what they do is an excellent way to get the real story about a potential career. The UA Alumni Career Connection was designed with this in mind. UA students can get in contact with UA alums to learn about what they do professionally. There are over 1000 UA alums, in hundreds of different careers in that database."

· Don't settle for a job you dislike, just because you don't think your major is in demand.

"Over half of the employers recruiting UA students through Career Services are looking for any major. I wish more liberal arts, social science, and fine arts students realized that."

Get free help from the UA Career Services Center. Call 621-2588 for more information.

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