Advice for lost youngsters?
September 8, 2009 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Ideas for a young couple in a crux to figure out their future?

We both attended a small, super expensive liberal arts school that we both became dissatisfied with. I completed the first year, then withdrew, but she re-enrolled this year and then quickly decided she wants to withdraw now. Now we're stuck trying to figure out what we can do next. Neither of us want to go back to our parents' houses or hometowns. She wants to take a break from school. I want to transfer as soon as possible and keep going to school, though it's not a big deal if I have to take a break or go part-time for a short while.

Our biggest priority is to move somewhere appealing and financially establish ourselves. Last summer, we lived together and planned to find full time jobs, but we only managed to find sparse temporary work through the college. Demoralized, we thought it would be extremely hard to just move somewhere and assume we'll find jobs immediately. We would prefer to arrange something beforehand. We've been applying to jobs off the Caretaker's Gazette, we're looking into work that provides room and board, like “wwoofing,” and I've been working hard to learn Ruby and some other programming languages to gain a job skill.

So, does anybody have any ideas for opportunities we could pursue? Should we just load everything up in the car and venture blindly out into the world? Should I just pick a university to go to and treat all our money concerns as secondary?
posted by aesacus to Work & Money (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You two are sophmores then? You really, really need to be in school right now. The job market is pretty awful, and without a college education or real marketable skills, you're going to be fighting over scraps with a lot of people who have more experience than you do. If you don't like the school you're in, that's fine, but "blindly venturing out into the world" is an awful idea.
posted by Oktober at 12:34 PM on September 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

Should we just load everything up in the car and venture blindly out into the world?

If you can, and while you can, and until it doesn't seem like a good idea anymore, yes.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:41 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you in debt now? Why don't you want to go home? Are your parents helping you out financially now? Do you really understand how expensive it is to support yourself?

Oktober's right. I just graduated from one of those expensive, elite schools, and I consider myself really, really lucky to have a well-paying job, even if it's not at all what I want to do with my life. I have plenty of friends who graduated with good GPAs and plenty of internship experience who are stuck doing things they hate for very little money. It took some of them months to find a job at all.

Are you okay with food service for (probably) years? Because without a BA or experience in this market, that's about all you could do (and you'd have to fight to get hired).
posted by oinopaponton at 12:43 PM on September 8, 2009

Don't treat your money concerns as secondary, for one. Your money = your degree of freedom. And for two, don't just pick a university, or will inevitable end up dissatisfied again. I wish I had taken some time off before going to college to figure my shit out before I got myself into insane amounts of debt. So gold star for that. I graduated with no plan and bills coming fast - and I ventured blindly into the world, just packed up my '93 camry and let the peregrination begin. I had to work some strange and 'character building' (ahem) jobs, but it worked out. Given the economy now, however, this might be trickier.

Do you have a tent? Do you any savings? If you do, then do some crazy shit. Seriously - having no responsibilities and no plans is not exactly a bad problem to have. Get a plane ticket to Europe and couch surf. Spend some time in an Ashram. Move to a small dessert town in Nevada where you can live for nothing and make some crazy art. Camp in every national park you can. Whatever.

If you need a job right away, well, that's trickier. Jobs are scarce right now - even manual labor - especially in urban centers and other places you might want to go. No, it's not a good idea to move somewhere and expect to get a job because there's a good chance it might not happen. Caretaker's gazette is a good start, though I bet the pickings are a bit slimmer these days.

So my advice? Take some time off and scour every place you might want to go for a job. And keep in mind that, while humbling and a little lame, there's nothing wrong with going back to rents house for a little while. Hey, it's free!
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:44 PM on September 8, 2009

Should we just load everything up in the car and venture blindly out into the world?

You could, and I certainly know folks who have done just that. (I dropped out of school, before going back, and eventually getting an MFA.) But as my (poor kid - night school college + night school GI Bill grad school - turned professional engineer) dad used to say...

"I think you should finish school first. Trust me."
posted by R. Mutt at 12:54 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

How are you supporting yourselves right now? If you are depending on your parents then you may have no choice but to return to them. Financial troubles have wrecked more than one previously healthy relationship so the two of you should be on the same page about how you are going to support yourselves. The job market is really tight right now but if you live cheaply (and somewhere that is probably not a lot of fun) you can get by with multiple part-time jobs paying minimum wage.
posted by saucysault at 12:56 PM on September 8, 2009

Stay in school. My sister dropped out with only a year left. She got married, and neither of them can find full-time employment. (Turns out with 'most' of a degree, the best job you ca n get is folding sweaters at the mall, or serving coffee, which doesn't pay much.) Oh, and even if you don't finish your degree, you still have to pay off the loans for the years you were in school. Go check out some state schools. They are usually more reasonable than the 'tiny, elite liberal arts' colleges.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:01 PM on September 8, 2009

Best answer: Are you okay with food service for (probably) years? Because without a BA or experience in this market, that's about all you could do (and you'd have to fight to get hired).

Scaremongering; completely inaccurate. You said you are learning programming, and that's a field where if you're good, you're good. I know a guy who makes six figures doing computer stuff, and he didn't finish high school.

If you're not sure what you want out of school or even if you want to go to school, you could enroll in junior college to try to figure it out. It's cheap, at least.

But otherwise, traveling and working on WWOOF farms or whatever sounds great. School doesn't go away- I remember seeing people in their 70s in my college classes. Explore the world, find yourselves. You may have to struggle for money at times, but you're only young once, and anything beats listening to people who are trying to "scare you straight."
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:26 PM on September 8, 2009

It's hard enough to find a job with a degree right now; the unemployment rate is even higher among people who don't have one. (Currently the overall unemployment is around ~5% of people with bachelor's degrees, ~15% of those without.) Keep that firmly in mind when making your plans.

However, if completing school at the expensive liberal-arts institution you both attended would put you into debt, then I could see how it might be worse than switching to a less-expensive school where you'd get a more salable degree.

Maybe look at less expensive state schools where you could both enroll and get a degree that would lead to a job in a few years (or at least job prospects), without the huge debt load or necessity of graduate school that would accompany finishing your education at your current college.

But as to your question of "Should we just load everything up in the car and venture blindly out into the world?" I would say no, you should not. That idea may seem romantic right now, but you need to think very hard about exactly what you're going to do to provide food, shelter, medical care, and other necessities for yourself. The economy is not in a state right now where a young person with nothing but a high-school education can just strike out on their own and expect to waltz into a new city, land a living-wage job, and start over. I'm not saying it's totally impossible but it strikes me as a fairly stupid—in the sense of involving wholly unnecessary levels of misery for no particularly good reason—thing to do.

Right now is probably the worst time in a generation or more for a young person to try to do what you're contemplating. I think a lot of caution is advised. If you have a situation right now where you have three square meals a day and health coverage, I think you should think really hard about what your life might be like without them before you jump out of the frying pan and into the fire because of a bad bout of ennui.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:28 PM on September 8, 2009

Should I just pick a university to go to and treat all our money concerns as secondary?

You're not going to establish yourself financially by working minimum wages jobs, or working for room and board. Be smart in choosing a university and you will be treating your money concerns as primary.

Look at the state school (or schools) where you would qualify for in-state tuition. Plan a course of study with the goal of finishing early. Then, with your degree in hand, you can move to someplace appealing and establish yourself financially.

There should be plenty of employment opportunities through whatever university you choose to attend. If you're a student, you should qualify for work-study positions, which makes students more desirable employees than non-students. Make an appointment with the career services center. Call around to departments, labs, and on-campus organizations. Sometimes these types of jobs are filled before anyone bothers to put up an ad, so ask around. Sometimes these jobs are made up or expanded simply because a department or supervisor likes you and wants to keep you around.

If you want the experience of taking a semester off and wwoofing or volunteering or working minimum wage jobs, do it--but plan for it, and call it what it is rather than thinking of it as establishing yourself financially. Decide what you want to get out of that semester, where you'll go afterward, and what you'll study. See if you can apply to your next university but defer enrollment for a semester: keep yourself on track.

It would also help us come up with advice if you commented a little on why you were dissatisfied with your former college.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:34 PM on September 8, 2009

If you can't deal with 4-year-school right now, this is what community college is for.

Seriously, dropping out of school now is a really, really stupid idea.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:37 PM on September 8, 2009

College, especially at a small school, isn't for everyone. Some folks don't need it, and find their own way. Usually, these people are especially talented at something that they can devote themselves to and find their professional niche.
With no way of knowing if that's really you, though, I can't recommend not going back to school--a different school, if necessary--and toughing it out. Not finishing college is a hard road; most of my friends who took that road ended up wishing they hadn't. A very few of them, though, flourished and never looked back. These few are mostly artists/musicians or programmers/DBAs/other IT types. Mind you, the vast majority of the artists/musicians I know do not fall into this category of successful, happy people who left college or didn't go in the first place.
I think the geographic change of scenery is a good idea. Sometimes, you just need to see something else every day. But I'd recommend finding a school wherever it is you end up and attending it.
posted by willpie at 1:40 PM on September 8, 2009

What is your state of legal residence? Every state has public universities, and most communities have community colleges. You could do worse than attending one (the community college if the public four year options are very expensive) for your degree. I don't think money concerns should be secondary, but attending a public college or university would go a long ways towards reducing your education expenses.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:41 PM on September 8, 2009

yes for community or tech college. get something on paper. how economically independent are the two of you? moving, anywhere, is SO EXPENSIVE that it would probably prohibit most people without much money or income.
posted by Think_Long at 1:43 PM on September 8, 2009

I think as a sophomore you can totally get away with taking time off. Almost everyone I know took time off in school, and when they went back had much more fulfilling experience. But yea, if you're broke, it's going to be harder. If you want secure jobs, probably not going to happen. But, there are other ways. Woofing is a great option, or trying to find jobs at national parks, camps, farms, caretakers, as housesitters, nannies, etc. Also I know waiters/waitresses/bartenders that still make more than me, and it's a great feeling to have money every night in your pocket. Those jobs can also be hard to get in a difficult economy, but I'm serious, even if you work at a Waffle House, you could probably pay the bills for awhile if you hustle and pick up enough shift and have enough to have some adventures. Try it for 6 months or a year- who knows?
posted by Rocket26 at 1:56 PM on September 8, 2009

If your families have money enough for expensive school, and are not the disowning type, I say fuck it. You aren't going to starve to death. The family take you back if you can't make it on your own. Get a cheap car and drive west (or east, north or south). Get some catastrophic health insurance (cheap enough at your age) and go see the world and be poor for a while. Suffer a little bit, do some menial work, and college will seem a WHOLE lot less important and stressful when you go back to it in a couple of years.

You're going to need that education some day, but you'll never have the freedom to drop in and out of the 9-5 world at will when you're an adult.

Oh, and a warning: exposure to reality will make you hate undergrads when you return to school.
posted by paanta at 1:59 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

College is often wasted on the young. Going out into the world and learning from experience will help you to decide what you really want to study, should you choose to return to college.

Yes, I know the economy sucks right now, but there are jobs out there that will support a minimal lifestyle. You shouldn't count on any of those caretaking jobs, they're all looking for mature folks with lots of skills and references.
posted by mareli at 5:58 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

One word: Americorps.
posted by rzperllian at 7:51 PM on September 8, 2009

Response by poster: That was an unexpected amount of replies; thank you all for the answers. It was mostly a bit demoralizing and condescending, to be honest, but to those helpful answers: thanks very much.
posted by aesacus at 4:12 PM on September 9, 2009

Good luck, and have a wonderful adventure.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:31 PM on September 9, 2009

Scaremongering; completely inaccurate. You said you are learning programming, and that's a field where if you're good, you're good. I know a guy who makes six figures doing computer stuff, and he didn't finish high school.

I'm in the field of 'doing computer stuff' and I feel quite uneasy to see this comment being marked as a best answer. It should be emphasized that the case of making six figures doing computer stuff without having a formal education is the exception, rather than the norm.

Of course we all know that you can self-learn many of the essential skills that make a good programmer, but due to the HR barrier, you'd find that your opportunity is severely limited simply by the fact that you don't have a college degree.

A good compromise would be to spend some time off in the real world (while exploring what you want) and at the same time, pursue part-time education. The choice doesn't have to be mutually exclusive, and if you find that US education is too expensive, you can go for cheaper (although perhaps less well regarded in the States) options such as the UK Open University or The University of London External Programme.
posted by joewandy at 2:53 AM on September 14, 2009

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