College graduates enter competitive market, some staying in school longer

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Putting your degree to good use after graduating and entering the real world might not be completely dependent on your desire to work.

According the New York Times, students just out of college are struggling more than ever to find jobs that require a degree — and the situation is getting worse.

“Employment rates for new college graduates have fallen sharply in the last two years, as have starting salaries for those who can find work,” Catherine Rampell wrote for the Times in an article with the headline “Many With New College Degree Find the Job Market Humbling.” “What’s more, only half of the jobs landed by these new graduates even require a college degree, reviving debates about whether higher education is ‘worth it’ after all.”

According to the same article there was a study released by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in May 2011, showing the median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who entered the work force in 2006 to 2008. Even before the effects of inflation, that is a decline of nearly 10 percent.

“Among the members of the class of 2010, just 56 percent had held at least one job by this spring, when the survey was conducted.” Rampell said. “That compares with 90 percent of graduates from the classes of 2006 and 2007.”

Students know the job market is shrinking and becoming ever more competitive. That’s why some are deciding the best option is to wait it out while in school.

“I knew there weren’t going to be many job prospects for me until I got my Ph.D.,” said Travis Patterson, 23, a 2010 graduate of California State University, Fullerton.

Patterson works as an administrative assistant for a property management company while continuing to study psychology in graduate school. His current job may not have anything to do with his degree, but he said it pays the bills.

“It helps pay my rent and tuition,” he said, “and that’s what matters.”

For those students who are unsure where their degree will take them and if it will yield a substantial enough return on investment after the debt they might accrue, there are always two sides to a story.

Damon Pullman, 34, a 2001 graduate in Russian with a business minor from BYU, is a prime example that not all students use their degree in their professional career, but rather to initially get their foot in the door.

Following graduation, Pullman had some great opportunities present themselves, one of which potentially involved using his expertise in Russian to help aid the FBI for a very minimal government salary. This opportunity, although aligning perfectly with his major, was not substantial enough to support his financial goals and was not where he felt like he could make the greatest impact.

There was something greater out there for Damon to be a part of.  While he searched for his niche, he settled on selling computers for Lenovo. The experience and knowledge he gained while working for Lenovo gave him what he needed to propel himself into a career in pharmaceuticals.

“A degree should be looked at as a tool,” Pullman said. “You can use it or toss it in the corner to rust. I was excited about pharmaceuticals from the beginning. I knew I needed a degree to even qualify to get in. I needed some experience in sales, which I did, and tried hard to stand apart from everyone else. Through preparation and focus I was able to obtain what I wanted and get into a very competitive industry.”

Damon is now a District Manager of Sales for Mylan Specialty Pharmaceuticals and has been with the company for more than six years. He attributes his success to using his degree obtained at BYU as the cornerstone, but not the foundation, of his career.

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