The stories are sadly familiar – the psychology major answering telephones, the history major sweeping department store aisles and the communications major tending bar.
Earning a college degree typically is a reason to celebrate but with the current economy floundering and jobs hard to come by, some students are turning to graduate school as an alternative to going straight into the job market.
Portage resident Ashley Davis found the job search humbling after she earned her undergraduate degree from Chicago’s Loyola University.
“It’s really a degrading and belittling experience,” said Davis, 24, now a grad student at Indiana University’s Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis.
“After awhile I just gave up. It’s really a depressing process to apply for hundreds and hundreds of jobs, When you finally get an interview, you don’t even get a follow-up email after spending endless hours researching a company and creating a resume and cover letter.”
A sour economy used to mean more workers turned to graduate school, but that’s not currently the case. Nationally, there has been a slight decline in enrollment, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Locally, enrollments also are flat.
Since 2004, graduate enrollment at Purdue University Calumet has increased about 15 percent, but this semester the numbers have leveled off, said Joy Colwell, director of graduate studies.
David Malik, of Indiana University Northwest, also reports an overall flattening, although declining enrollment is not uniform across disciplines. Its liberal studies as well as clinical counseling programs are up 20 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Education is down an estimated 6 percent.
Shelly Robinson, director of career services at PUC, said around 2010 students stopped even trying to find a job and began going directly into graduate schools. However, grad school isn’t an escape from a bad job market, she said.
“Students still have to pay attention to the extras and make themselves unique,” she said. “If they’re not taking advantage of internships, volunteer opportunities or part-time work in their field, it doesn’t matter if they have a graduate degree. “People become education heavy and experience light. Students have to be in a constant state of lifelong learning and you have to be the whole package.”
Davis and Chicago resident Cory Thames, 25, a student in IUN’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, wholeheartedly agree.
Thames said he earned a City of Chicago Mayoral Fellowship because of his outside activities.
“It gave me an edge,” he said. “Those opportunities have definitely opened up doors and made me more marketable for a doctoral program or a job in Chicago or Washington, D.C.”
While attending Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Thames interned for a national labor union, a state senator and a youth advocacy organization. As a graduate assistant, he was involved in a campus male minority mentoring program.
Davis agrees those experiences are crucial.
“I know graduates who are even facing troubles once they get a job because they are starting at entry level and so are people who have had 10 years of experience,” she said. “And then the managers are comparing the two and asking why the college graduate isn’t working at the same level. So it’s difficult not only to find a job but also retain that job.”
Thames also advises students to get to know their faculty.
“Many of the opportunities were because I was recommended by people that had taken me under their wing and mentored me,” he said.
Davis said career counseling and choice of major are critical.
“I think the real issue stems from not knowing what the job market is going to be like and what skills are going to be needed when you have to start looking for that job,” she said. “You know there are fireman, teachers and policemen but you don’t hear about sustainable engineering, for example.
“I didn’t have a lot of practical skills but it wasn’t just that. Looking at the job market there’s such competition. People have such high levels of experience that when you are starting out it’s hard to compete with that.”