Life after Scripps: What I would have done differently.

Oct 7, 2008 • Karen

As my job search slags on and the economy tanks and making my student loan payments starting next month becomes a very real concern, I've been concerned that I blew my parents' money and got myself into a whole heap of debt for nothing. They gave us that whole spiel about how you can use a liberal arts degree everywhere (and nowhere) because employers like critical minds (have yet to see THAT on a job listing). I mean, I guess there's something to it--in this country, it is very hard to get a well-paying job *without* a bachelor's degree. But a Scripps BA? A liberal artsy BA? There's a reason the most common job title for first-year-out psych majors is "administrative assistant"...

So what might I have done differently?

Consider state schools, but if they're not a good fit, that's okay. I still think I would have gone to Scripps (or rather, if I didn't, it would be for reasons unrelated to money and I'd replace it with Swarthmore or another liberal arts college). I wouldn't've done well at a big school and Morris just didn't appeal to me. As much as the handwave-y "don't worry--of course you'll be able to find a job with a liberal arts degree!" bullshit annoys me, there is something to the critical thinking skills, discussion-based coursework, and intellectual immersion that for me are part and parcel with college. Further in your career, or if you apply to law or grad school, those will be very real skills. But if a state school is your cup of tea, jump on it and get all the scholarship money you can handle.

If you really don't know where you'll be after college, try to go somewhere nationally known. Most Scripps graduates stay in California. California is basically the only place the Career Planning and Services office is at all useful. Here in DC, while people have heard of some of the other Claremont Colleges (particularly CMC), Scripps is a nonstarter. This is not something I considered at all when I was thinking about colleges. Part of it was I hadn't done all the internship-hopping around the country that I did during school. But I knew I didn't want to settle in LA, and the signs were there. Oh well.

Major in something useful, if at all possible. I convinced myself that I was doing this with Media Studies. Web design skills are skills, right? But a.) "media studies" sounds like a slacker major to outsiders and b.) the Claremont program really doesn't teach a marketable set of hard skills. I came out of Scripps not knowing Illustrator, not knowing InDesign, not knowing anything about color theory or wireframing or search engine optimization, and having only a rudimentary sense of PHP (which I taught myself outside of class). I gained some skills, but not a sufficient number to actually get hired by somebody. If I'd majored in CS instead, I would almost certainly had a worse GPA (CS 60 kicked my butt) but what employer looks at your GPA?* Then I'd have the credential to go after all the web development/programming/backend jobs which so far as I can tell are a.) more numerous and b.) pay significantly more than the positions I'm qualified for. Sure, I wouldn't be doing as much of the pretty stuff (though you'd be surprised how many positions expect candidates to do both design and low-level coding), but at least I'd have a full-time job in my chosen field.

Right now CS and engineering are the big "getting jobs with actual paychecks" majors. Math, stats, chemistry/physics, economics, and accounting folks tend to do well also. From what I've seen, even an English major can be a powerful tool if you take classes in or otherwise learn a bit of marketing--think PR, think communications. If you wouldn't mind working abroad (or even if not--think Spanish), a minor in a foreign language can set you apart. If you are absolutely completely not interested in any of the successful disciplines, don't do it. But consider them, at least. You have PLENTY of non-major credits to minor or double-major in your liberal artsy loves. And hopefully the currency of your practical major will make it possible to find the job that combines your interests.

Networking is apparently good luck, chump. I'm finding it's virtually impossible to find a job that you don't have an "in" for. This sucks when you don't have very many connections. Dad knows people in various tech companies...all of which are in MN or CA. My aunt apparently knows some people in DC, but I haven't heard anything more from her so I guess none of them need a webmonkey. SPARC has connections with a number of organizations, none of which are hiring. I signed up with a paralegal temp agency in July and never heard another thing from them. I'm already working part-time at Nelson's former employer. All the rest of my friends are entry-level employees on the other side of the continent. My network is looking pretty depleted. I guess the lesson is, make more rich, geographically-distributed friends than I have. :p

Avoid pairing off early? It would be dishonest to say that being in a relationship hasn't limited my options. The previous two summers, while my internships were generally enjoyable and provided some useful experience, neither was at a place I would have been likely to work in the future. Part of this was due to the job market, my need to have a paid internship, and so forth. But part of it also may have been because my internship search was less directed based on what would open the most doors career-wise and more based on being in the same geographical location as Nelson. I couldn't (and still can't) consider job opportunities elsewhere in the country or abroad due to being tied down. I decided to not attend law school immediately after college in part because I wanted to pay down my student loans a bit and do something different (given my difficulties finding sufficient work, I am now questioning this). But I also made that decision in an effort to time my schedule to Nelson's law school completion.

Of course, being in a committed relationship can also have financial and career benefits. Not only do I have a built-in roommate, Nelson's parents have been allowing me to forgo paying rent until I can afford it. Nelson got so tired of me worrying about how much fresh/organic fruits and veggies cost that he buys all our produce. Being non-single means I don't spend as much money to be social as I might otherwise--I'm not cruising bars and clubs, going to concerts, or going on fancy dinner dates. Nelson and I generally watch movies at home, go berrypicking, or play low-stakes poker with Nelson's friends. Nelson's internship at SPARC got me an "in" here, which thus far is my most enjoyable and successful gig and is probably responsible for most of the interviews I've had. And when I periodically freak out over how I'm never going to get a real job and I'm going to go bankrupt and live in a cardboard box, at least I've got a free source of snuggles and backrubs.

As it stands, my relationship is one of only a few things in my life that is really going well right now. And if I hadn't been in a relationship, there's no guarantee that I would've gotten a dream internship or that I'd be set in a dream job. There's just too many variables. So I don't think I would've done this differently. But just something to consider.

In any case, I've made the decisions I've made. I'm here now. What do I do?

All I can do is keep doing my work, keep racking up back rent, keep applying for relevant jobs (with the economic downturn, employers seem to be demanding more experience--more than I have--so this is getting more difficult), and hope and pray that something works out before December. Everything else is out of my control.

Still, I wish I could decide what to cheer for--that the dumbass pork-laden bailout actually works and the economy turns around so there's plenty of jobs...

...or that the financial establishment craters, America as we know it ends, and my student loans just don't matter anymore.

* Because the legal profession is snobbish, most law firms do. I get lots of compliments from them. Of course, they still don't hire me.