What is my college degree really worth?
April 28, 2013 5:25 AM   Subscribe

I saw this comment on a post yesterday, and I'm baffled. The idea that even a recent liberal arts grad averages $36,000 a year seems inconceivable to me. I got curious: is there any job that I'm qualified for that pays anywhere near that much?

I'm guessing this applies more to people who majored in something that directly relates to their job, but I really don't know many people who made this kind of money right out of college. My major was completely useless (Classical Studies). I knew by the time I graduated that I wasn't cut out for an academic life, and by now I'm not even qualified to teach basic Latin or Greek.

I graduated in '07 and I have worked mostly at various office jobs since then, with three years in the Peace Corps teaching ESL. The highest paid jobs I can find now are ESL jobs, but the pay is well under $30,000 a year because I can't get that many hours. I also freelance write, which pays great but also doesn't give a lot of hours. I'm planning to get a masters in social work in 2014, and it seems that once I have that I may be able to find a job with decent pay, but I would like to be able to save up before grad school makes me poor again. Are there any jobs I should look into that would pay more than $30,000 a year?
posted by chaiminda to Work & Money (35 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Key phrase of that article: Salaries for the class of 2012 who found employment in their fields of study.

They're not talking about waiting tables or retail.

Forbes is full of rah-rah capitalism tricksiness like that.
posted by cairdeas at 6:05 AM on April 28, 2013 [21 favorites]

Hello classics major! I did classics in college too thinking I would be some great professor when I was done. Or an archeologist....cause I'm realistic like that.

I ended up doing teach for America and have been teaching for eight years now. I've always made more than 30,000.

I guess if you are also doing the social work route that isn't what you are looking for though.
posted by aetg at 6:08 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I graduated in 2009 with a bachelors in biology and my first long term position paid $11/hour as a temp worker and when I was hired full time I started making 13.5/hour. Which would be significantly under the average of the lowest-paid major and I would think that Biology should not be in the "lowest-paid" Major category. I work with many people who are similar to me and I feel like my company pays poorly, but I also graduated at a bad time for the job market and economy. I have since then and recently been given raises and promoted so that I make more than 36k per year now, but under the 44k for the other average.

Really it is hard to judge yourself based on the averages. I know I do all the time and was upset when I realized a few years ago that I was making in the 10th percentile for college degrees.

That being said...I think you can expect to get more than 30k especially long term if you have 5 years of experience. I expect in 5 years that I can become a supervisor and take on more responsibility and I hope one day to make 60k/year with a bachelors degree. With a classical studies degree I think you can look for generic business jobs if you find that interesting. My mother always told me that the degree itself means a lot no mater what it is in. She had a degree in parks & recreation and she is an insurance agent which is completely unrelated. So I think you could look for full time jobs working in business that you feel your personality fits for from billing to client managing to various other areas with your classical studies. I think the job market is still tough and you may earn low money at first but I think you can make more than 30k starting.
posted by Jaelma24 at 6:09 AM on April 28, 2013


I'm planning to get a masters in social work in 2014, and it seems that once I have that I may be able to find a job with decent pay

I mean, go if you have a passion for social work, but not with the idea that it's a way to make good money.
posted by cairdeas at 6:10 AM on April 28, 2013 [30 favorites]

I think a Bachelor's degree doesn't really qualify you to do much (or get paid much) immediately, but pays off in the long run. That's even more true for a Master's degree.
posted by loveyallaround at 6:12 AM on April 28, 2013

Instead of a master's in social work, which would qualify you for a lifetime of low-paying high-stress work, you might consider starting over and learning a trade at a community college. The skilled positions in the trades are often begging due to lack of qualified applicants.
posted by megatherium at 6:18 AM on April 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

You could learn a trade or... you could start slowly taking any pre-reqs you need, then get a MS in applied mathematics and go make a fuckload of money for the rest of your life. Implausible thought? If you think so, let me ask you this: why?
posted by cairdeas at 6:22 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're hoping to make more than $30K/year now, and you have some language skills in Greek, consider checking out Greek-immigrant social service work if that's available in your region. Sometimes agencies have program manager positions that could have a salary of around $30K. If that's not an option, you may want to consider your knowledge of basic Latin an asset and start trying to hire yourself out as a medical writer or editor of medical textbooks.

All things being equal, go be a social worker if you want to be a social worker, but if you're looking for something that's more likely to earn you some money post-grad-school, leverage your language skills. There are jobs to be had in the foreign service for someone with fluency in Greek and Peace Corps experience, and having a basic background in it will make it easier for you to pick up the language fluently.
posted by juniperesque at 6:26 AM on April 28, 2013

and you have some language skills in Greek, consider checking out Greek-immigrant social service work if that's available in your region.

A degree in Classics is going to mean the OP studied ancient Greek, not modern. This would be like trying to do social service work with, say, Spanish- or Romanian-speaking immigrants by talking to them in Latin.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:40 AM on April 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Actually, if you do private counseling with an LCSW you might make pretty good money. I live in an expensive part of the country - LCSW around here make 125k + (pre-tax, but after expenses) if they are willing to work 35 hours a week. And actually, I know some who make considerably more than that. Also, I know many therapists of various sorts in private practice, and I only know ONE that is concerned about income. The one thing about therapists is, many of them are not particularly skilled marketers. If you are a skilled therapist with good marketing skills you can be like my neighbor who grosses well over 150K (and rather maddeningly writes off expenses like massage, witch camp, eating out, etc)

Social work doing for someone else I have no idea, judging from comments above does not sound so great income wise. If you want to make real money and have the skill set private practice would do it. The standard rate in my area is around $120 per 50 minute session. You can certainly find cheaper, but you can find higher too.

Couple of other nice benefits - choose your own hours, workload, vacation, etc. Best of all, you can do it well into retirement age, and it is not the kind of job where being older is a liablity. For better or worse, age is to some degree associated with wisdom. If I had it do again I believe I would have taken that career path actually, I am somewhat envious of the many people I know that do it.

Finally, almost all careers involve a considerable amount of complaining by the people who do it. I always think the true test is how many people abandon their career voluntarily to do something different. Tenured professors and successful private practice counselors almost never leave what they do for something else. I realize it is anecdotal, but I know upwards of 100 tenured professors and successful private practice counselors and I do not know one who has changed careers.

OK, I am bracing now for the responses that tell me how bad these jobs are. Anyway, good luck, I hope you have a super fantastic life!

posted by jcworth at 6:41 AM on April 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

Classics major here too. A lot of my friends went into some kind of business, or into law school. That was a while ago and people were not yet advising so strongly against law school.

If I wanted to do ESL and bank more money, I'd probably look for work as a bartender.
posted by BibiRose at 6:42 AM on April 28, 2013

People I know who returned from the Peace Corps ended up getting jobs in the government or international development (selection bias: I live in DC). A lot of my non-techy friends when I lived elsewhere worked in teaching (working for a tutoring agency--even better) or non-profits (I do not recommend this). Outside of "teaching", directly, there are a whole host of companies that provide a wide range of academic-support services with things like curriculum and educational consulting. Also: mass market publishing (poor paying at first, but improves), academic publishing (less glamorous, better paying), sales/marketing-type jobs at the sort of companies that make it a point not to recruit "business" majors; then there's the ubiquitous "consulting."

I harp this point a lot in these sorts of questions, but it helps to look into what your college classmates do for a living and what did your fellow Peace Corps alumni do after finishing. And I harp the point because when I come up with answers to these questions, I tend to come up with answers by thinking about, "Hm. How did my friends who were in the identical position as the asker solve these problems?"

Also helps to live in a city with a vibrant job market where companies are willing to and interested in hiring entry-level people with "potential."
posted by deanc at 6:45 AM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a 2008 grad who's never made more than 30k (including those two years I spent supervising six people, several of whom were...well). Honestly that $36k number sounds crazy to me - I went to a well known, highly ranked school, and loooots of my friends are still working part time, or full time in badly paid jobs. My friends with fancy-looking college degrees do the following things: work at Subway, work at Target, work at the grocery store, bartend, waitress, work part time at various nonprofits, work as a receptionist. I know people who are still unpaid interns. Also lots of them just gave up and went to grad school (or wanted that anyway). I know a handful of people who make real money in consulting, finance, etc., but if that's not your gig, it's hard to find middle ground right now.

So I mean...you're not alone. Lots of people are saying "teaching" - if the place you live is a major metro, teaching might actually pay really decently. In the Chicago area, teachers usually start around $45-50k, which seems like a crazy huge sum of money to me. It'll require that you do some kind of alternative certification unless you want to go back to school, but that may be worth it. If you did ESL, some tutoring companies pay crazy well per hour (like $20+) - you don't usually get tons of hours, but it's a great second (or third) job in the evenings and on weekends. You might have to piece together a few jobs to make it work, but just pretend it's a big party where everyone under 30 gets to do this thing that we'll complain about when we're old.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:08 AM on April 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your salary also depends on your location.

I graduated with a degree in English and made ~50,000 in my first job out of college. But I was also living in New York City, where incomes skew higher. I also graduated just as the first dot-com boom was starting, so there were tons of jobs available.

Statistics such as the one you give generally are averages that refer to the population overall. They may or may not be relevant to your personal situation.
posted by dfriedman at 7:20 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, as others have commented some jobs like social work are thankless and cause a lot of stress, but we need people to do those jobs and if you feel a passion for it, don't let people who aren't passionate about it talk you out of it. Honestly, you will never make a lot of money in social work. You may not feed your pocketbook, but you will feed your soul in the work you will be able to accomplish and the differences you may be able to make in people's lives.

Two points I want to make here, they don't necessarily answer your question but are things I have learned and things you may consider as you make your choices:

1. A person needs to weigh the options of more money vs. more experience. I left college in 1988 with a BSED, hoping to become a suburban elementary school teacher and hoping to start around $30,000. The only job I could find at the time was teaching Catholic school. The salary - mind you this was 1988 - was $13,400.

I had wanted to be a teacher forever, and I always knew there was not much money in it, but geez that was low. A friend offered me a position managing a retail store for more than that, but I knew I had to suck it up to stay in my field. I knew as soon as I took a position outside of Elementary Ed for more money, it would make going back to teaching that much harder. (Think of Tyler Durdan's quote from Fight Club - "the things you own end up owning you".) I had to realize that the Catholic school pay was indeed crap in terms of money, but that I was being paid in "experience" in my field. Also, while the pay was crap, I did get healthcare and even as a 22 year old saw the benefits in that. I had lots of part time jobs and did private tutoring to pay the bills. Those were some crazy lean years, but I survived.

My advice to you, especially if you are still into social work, is to rock the hell outta that ESL gig. (well, now the term is ELL - English Language Learners, because it is not always their "second" language). Anyway, as you gain a reputation for being a good ELL coach, more hours will come your way. ELL experience will be a huge plus for you when applying for social work positions. It may also allow you to network more.

2. Find a place to work that you enjoy and stay there and work your way up into decent pay. Pay your dues, if you will. It is much better to have one job for 10 years with the yearly raises accruing rather than getting a new job every few years and always having to start at the bottom of the pay scale. It is tough sometimes as a young person to see the big picture over the course of years. You won't always make this little, you have to hang in there and "do your time".

Once I did find a job in public school, all those years of teaching Catholic school did pay off for me and made me a better teacher than working at a retail store would have. This is a challenge in today's economy where most people will hold up to 7 different jobs in their lifetime, it is hard to find one place and stick it out for the pay raises. I've stayed where I am now for 12 years and because they have tuition reimbursement, I was able to get my Masters and now am at "Step 12 (years), Masters" on the pay scale and make double what I was hired for 12 years ago.

It has been a very long journey to finally be able to make what I consider a "good" salary; slow and steady wins the race. Good luck to you!

Oh and PS: If you have to get another part time job, the more bearable ones for me have been jobs that are either really fun (one of my best part time jobs was at Blockbuster - because Movies!) or something rather mindless what won't add to your stresses (I would stay out of any type of commission or sales work).
posted by NoraCharles at 7:24 AM on April 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

How do you feel about civil service? Check out your state or local government. I started out as a college (and high school!) dropout making $32k doing clerical work. I've since promoted and do more interesting stuff now -- and I get paid a lot more. Also the benefits are great.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:42 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a friend with a classics degree who now works in professional wrestling, and who had before worked in comic books. He loves epic storytelling and tales of derring-do, no matter the language or time period.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:46 AM on April 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I also freelance write, which pays great but also doesn't give a lot of hours.

This is the thing with freelancing. If you look at it in terms of dollars-per-hour-billed, it looks great. If you look at it in terms of dollars-per-hour-worked — where things like "looking for gigs" and "talking to potential clients" and "sending invoices" and whatever all count as work — it's not always so great.

But. Still. It's worth doing the calculation to figure out what you're earning per hour of actual work as a freelancer. It may turn out that, even factoring in the time it takes you to find new clients, you still come out with a nice hourly return — in which case, awesome! Spend more time finding new clients! It turns out it's worth it! Or it may be that when you factor in looking-for-clients time, you're earning like three dollars an hour as a freelancer — in which case, okay, that's part of the problem, you're sinking a lot of time into something unprofitable; quit freelancing and use that time for something else.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:02 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yay, these were some great answers!

cairdeas, thanks for finding those weasel words. That was driving me crazy.

For those of you who mentioned the social work thing: I'm not getting a social work degree to make lots of money. I just want to make a livable amount of money. I want to work one job and make like $35-40 a year. That's for starters. I don't actually want to be a social worker For All Time: as jcworth pointed out, a social work degree would allow me to become a private therapist which is actually pretty lucrative if you do it right.

All of these answers were encouraging and awesome in their own ways. Thank you guys! I would love to hear more ideas too!
posted by chaiminda at 8:09 AM on April 28, 2013

I was an English major who worked a variety of library and university admin jobs for under $30,000 a year (I think at my last one, I'd just gotten a raise to $31,000 when I decided I couldn't take it anymore and quit). I'm now a writer (YA sci-fi), which required several years unpaid upfront, but I finally make around $40,000. I graduated college in 2006, and have an MFA in poetry.

I wouldn't be so certain that the trades want you. My husband tried to get several apprenticeships last year, but because of the economy, many trade programs are flooded.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:17 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm almost in the same boat - graduated in 2009 with what basically boiled down to a double-degree in Creative Writing and "Ooh, that class looks interesting!" I've managed to be steadily employed since graduation, but always lower-paying stuff (the previous thread made me laugh, since the wage in question is less than my hourly). Interestingly enough, I've noticed that even for those low-level jobs - retail, for example - the fact that I had a degree in the first place was a sort of automatic check box that not only got me the job but also caused managers/HR/whathaveyou to file me into a different category than my fellow workers, a "possible low-level manager" category. That's definitely not the level of salary comfort you're looking for, but I think it holds true in most situations where the BA is actually helpful: since you are the sort of person with the wherewithal and dedication to spend four-ish years earning a degree, people assume that you'll show that same focus on any job, whether or not it's in the same field. Of course, this is only helpful if the other people applying for the position are in the same boat as you.

I actually think the Social Work MA is not a bad idea, for the same reason - those skills are hard earned and to some extent they transfer to situations other than social work (like your licensed therapist idea!) Personally, I'm applying for MFAs in 2014, but then I've always been at peace with living below the poverty line...
posted by theweasel at 8:39 AM on April 28, 2013

The first time I earned over $30K a year was in 1987 (I was 26 years old and that was considered to be pretty good money at the time), and the job was not even close to my field of study. In fact, it was at a small steel brokerage - I'd started out in a clerical position (my unemployment was just about to run out) and I eventually was given other duties as I learned about the industry. I had no plans to stay at that place very long, but I kept getting raises as I took on more responsibilities.

Over the years one fact about compensation has been a constant - there was always more earning potential and better money (for me, anyway) at small companies rather than large corporations. In companies where there was the boss and two or three other employees, I was given salary increases or bonuses when my work warranted it or the company was doing very well in sales. In a large corporation, huge sales figures benefited upper management/share holders only, and there was always a salary structure in place...at Level X, Y was the most you could earn, and raises were limited to once or twice per year. So that's something to consider in your job search if salary is a consideration....there is a lot more bureaucracy in place in larger companies and government jobs.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:54 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Where did you do Peace Corps / how proficient are you in that language?

International development jobs have entry-level salaries in the low 40s, with potential for fairly rapid advancement. Most are in DC where cost of living is high, but it's definitely doable. Peace Corps alums have an advantage in hiring.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:48 AM on April 28, 2013

I will say that when I posted that comment it "seemed" reasonable to me because when I was applying for jobs, there was a company known for hiring many entry level college grads but ALSO known for aggressively UNDERpaying its hires, and they offered in the mid-30s. I figured that given that this was almost 20 years ago (pre dot com era), the idea that humanities majors with a college degree could get an entry level job paying about that much, on average (some more, some less) seemed reasonable. Though possibly things are much different.

For those of you who mentioned the social work thing: I'm not getting a social work degree to make lots of money. I just want to make a livable amount of money

I think social work has an over-rated reputation which came from an era in which few people had jobs, and you had a surplus of smart people, and being a Social Worker became known as a "good job" because of the professional degree, steady (though low) salary, and the over-qualified people working at it. Maybe, economically, we are back at that point.

Of two people I know who became social workers because they wanted a "steady, dependable job", one quit to become a nurse, because she figured that work was more worth her time and effort, and the other ended up coming into an inheritance which allowed her to buy a house in the middle of rural Canada and decided that living there was preferable to being a social worker. Social work is one of those things that is highly necessary yet at the same time something we as a socity severely underinvest in. If it is a calling, great. If it is not your calling, then why choose a field that the public seems unwilling to pay for? It is fine to take a job like this as a desperation move, but evaluate your opportunity costs, as well as the possibility of getting a job at all.
posted by deanc at 10:57 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

When it comes to money (and work generally) the key thing is to work backwards. Ask yourself how much money you want to be making and what kind of things you might be willing to, and figure out how to get there.

In terms of jobs for young bachelor degree holders that pay well: financial analyst/strategy consultant, programmer/electrical engineer/tech consultant, engineering anywhere in the energy and chemical upstream or downstream, very high end creative, military officer (esp. once add-on benefits included), and high-end sales (IT, securities, business services).
posted by MattD at 12:06 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

What's this I keep hearing about people who went to elite schools working at subway/mcdonalds?

I know plenty of people who went to elite schools, and none of them are waiting tables, I can tell you that.
posted by Halogenhat at 12:49 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

One recommendation I have for a newly-minted BA with a semi-useless degree who wants to get above the $30-35k mark: take civil service exams (local, state, etc.,) and apply for any civil service job that requires the BA.

The HS diploma/GED minimum requirement jobs are hit-and-miss (in my local area, the "laborer" position pays about $27k while "office assistant I" employees get more like $30k even.) But the main job classifications that have a BA as the only minimum (management analyst, personnel analyst, community relations representative, etc.) all start at $35,000 or better.

The lists of people who are qualified for any given job, based on the lists, are, from shortest to largest:
  1. Things that require detailed technical knowledge of something relatively complicated (like welding,) regardless of any other educational requirements (these almost never require a BA)
  2. Things that require actual experience in something, plus a BA
  3. Things that require a BA
  4. Things that require actual experience in something but no BA
  5. Things that don't require anything beyond a GED or HS diploma
So if you don't have a BA already, go learn how to weld or install HVAC systems or something similar. There's one job classification we have that, last I saw, had exactly one person who'd managed to qualify. I have no idea if that guy got hired or not, but I'm guessing that anyone who tried to hire that position broke down in tears when they saw how limited their options were. Meanwhile, we never have any trouble finding folks who can answer phones; those jobs only require a diploma and maybe a year or two of experience.

(Remember, civil service systems mean that, for jobs that require testing, hiring managers can only hire from the list, which is comprised only of people who passed the most recent test.)
posted by SMPA at 1:22 PM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Peace Corps alums have an advantage in hiring.

The current market is generally crap, though, so that advantage doesn't get you far unless you're willing to look into overseas stuff. A number of folks from my cohort, which finished in 2010, eventually went back to school after finding that a bachelor's and PC service wasn't enough to get them much of anything. I'm seeing the same thing happening with the 2011 and 2012 folks I keep in touch with, too. Those of us who have stayed or returned overseas have made out a lot better. If that's an option, ESL jobs in China, Korea, and Japan can be had with salaries way better than the Peace Corps stipend.

It'll require that you do some kind of alternative certification unless you want to go back to school, but that may be worth it.

Just wanted to add that every state has an alternative certification program where you start drawing salary straight out of the gate, so this is a very doable idea. You can do it via Teach For America, but you can set it up on your own, too. Of course, private schools pay better and often don't require any certification….
posted by solotoro at 2:08 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Going back to school shouldn't be thought of as some kind of loser fall-back. Entrepreneurship in one form or another or graduate school are the routes to prosperity in this country for the vast majority of people who attain prosperity. It's not impossible to convert an undergraduate degree -- even an elite one -- into sustained upward mobility working for other people in some corporate or government role, but it is both hard and (more importantly) unlikely.

It's important to be savvy about graduate school of course (don't borrow for anything other than a top JD or MBA, and don't borrow for a PhD under any circumstances) and one should probably be worried about catching the inflection point of health care in the gut (borrow the $300k that medical schools charge for admission to pre-healthcare reform incomes, but actually realize much lower post-healthcare-reform income)
posted by MattD at 3:28 PM on April 28, 2013

I'd appreciate it if people commenting in this type of thread were upfront with how familiar they are with the current job market for recent grads (recent being since the 2008 crash)-- I'm not saying this to be snarky at all, I'm genuinely curious as to whether people are out of touch or I am just missing something (as a recent grad). I am a 2011 college grad, 36k average salary for 'low paid majors' seems quite high to me.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:32 PM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Of course, private schools pay better and often don't require any certification….

You can make a case that there's more variation in private school salaries (the high end can be very high, especially at "elite" independent schools competing for the cream of the crop) but in general your statement about private school pay is demonstrably false. Teachers in private schools earn less than 75% of what public school teachers do. Also, based on anecdotal evidence--I know a lot of teachers among both my peers and in my parents' generation, many of whom have worked at both--private school teachers are rarely if ever unionized and are offered relatively fewer benefits, and enjoy less job security, vs. employees at public schools.

...unless you are British?
posted by pullayup at 6:51 PM on April 28, 2013

Response by poster: geegollygosh, that's exactly why I asked this question. When I saw those numbers I thought, "wow, I'm a failure!" and then, "wow, everyone I know is a failure!" because nearly none of my peers are making that kind of money, either, even 5+ years out of school.

I do love the idea of getting alternative teaching certification--I'll probably ask about that next week!
posted by chaiminda at 2:27 AM on April 29, 2013

I have experience with the recent job market and a lot of broad friend-group experience: I recently (post 2008, anyway) left the military, and so did most of my friends. I also have some non-military friends who recently graduated college.

It tends to break down:

If you are older, and a recent college graduate, you're screwed. I don't know if it's age discrimination, they assume you want too much money/won't stay/ what have you, but every recent college grad over the age of 40 with minimal (few years) work experience has a really hard time finding employment.

If you are a recent graduate and have work experience under your belt with good recommendations:Go for gold, but don't look in your field. 30,000 - 35,000 is not a strange salary. You do want to look into civil service/government jobs.

The problem is that most of the people I know who are getting great jobs are doing so by networking in some form or another - to get great reccs, or to find out about open job positions. You need to start networking with everything you have at your disposal. Your friends, alumni at any school you've attended, any professional events, any events you think lots of people in the field you want to be in will be at. Mingle. Print out and give business cards. Socialize. It really does help a lot.
posted by corb at 3:30 AM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd appreciate it if people commenting in this type of thread were upfront with how familiar they are with the current job market for recent grads (recent being since the 2008 crash)-

I will cop to a certain amount of selection bias. The recent grads I know are the people who have jobs.

I have a friend who did all the things you're not supposed to do and did them at the wrong time: has a degree in library science, finished her program in 2008, etc. She has a job. But the reason I know her is because she has a job. If she didn't get a job, we wouldn't have met. So that influences my perspective. But I am answering the questions in terms of, "I clearly know a bunch of people in entry level positions that don't pay poverty wages. What are they doing for a living?" (she works in institutional/non-profit development/fundraising).
posted by deanc at 7:18 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your schooling and your career often have very little to do with each other.

I was an English Education Major at Arizona State Univeristy. It was a 4 year program and at the end of it, I would be qualified to teach High School English.

After 3 years, I dropped out and moved to California. I had to wait a year to be eligible for in-state tuition, so I got a job at a phone company.

It turned into my career. In the following 25 years, I finished my degree in English and got an MBA (all paid for by my employer).

I did leave the corporate world to teach high school English for two years, and ran back to the phone company like my hair was on fire because it was AWFUL!

The point being that although I enjoyed the hell out of my English classes, you're not really going to get a job "doing English."

I learned a lot at the phone company and made an indecent pile of money while doing it. I learned a lot about what the real sacrifices are to work in education, and decided that since I was getting no love from it, that making the most money for my skill-set seemed to be the best idea.

I'm very happy doing what I do. I still get to read as much as I like in my off hours.

Don't think that just because you majored in something, that you have to find work in that area. It may not make sense.

Also, my Dad was an LCSW and got his MSW from UC Berkeley. Social Work is NOT the road to riches. A fact that chapped my Mom's ass no end until she got HER Master's Degree and started making the money she wanted to have.

More education is usually NEVER the answer to "how can I make more money" often, it's being willing to take a job that suits your skill set, and to commit yourself to learning and growing in a specific enterprise.

I started at the phone company as a $6.00 per hour part-time customer service representative. I left 25 years later, as a Data Sales Engineer, making considerably more than that.

I stay relevant in my career, now as a Sales Operations Analyst, because I was willing to learn a specialized piece of software and to be a ninja at it.

So many folks graduating from college are taking jobs that keep body and soul together while looking for their "real" job. I'll cop to it, that's how I got my job, "This will do until something better comes along." Who knew I picked telecommunications at the absolute, perfect time to do so? It was a fluke.

So take that entry level customer service job. Be the person in a chair, on an ACD sorting out billing. You learn a shit-ton, then you can move to Sales, Finance, HR, Marketing, wherever the wind takes you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:06 AM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

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