Great, We Graduated: Now What?

Great, We Graduated: Now What? (New graduates in caps and gowns pose for photos on the steps of Columbia University on May 21, 2020. (Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images))

Dallas, TXFor a split-second moment in March, as Washington, D.C. essentially shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis, and her courses at George Washington University were moved entirely online, Beatrice Mount briefly considered moving to Oregon to live with her parents after graduation. Her family had only recently relocated from the San Francisco Bay Area, and during her visits to their new place, she had been sleeping on an air mattress. 

The political science and women’s studies major pictured setting aside her dreams of working on policy issues like reproductive rights, gentrification or urban planning. Could she afford to stay in Washington and wait to get a public policy job or work at a local retailer? For now, Mount decided, the answer was yes. 

“COVID is probably going to upset my plans a little bit and, obviously, it already has,” Mount said. “I’ve been trying to keep perspective on it — that I’m only 22 and there’s people who don’t even start their current careers until they’re 40. I am really lucky to have my parents financially supporting me, and it doesn’t make sense for me to move back and waste basically the last four years that I’ve had focusing on this dream and throw it all away. I’m still holding out.” 

Mount’s cautious optimism reflects the mindset of many recent college graduates across the U.S. Most of whom are weighing the possibility of not finding a job in their desired field and having to seek other work to pay bills during an unprecedented economic downturn. Other young people are considering returning to graduate school earlier than expected to postpone their entrance into the tumultuous job market. 

While the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been compared to the financial crisis of the late 2000s, career coach and entrepreneur Ariel Lopez — who entered her freshman year at East Carolina University during the height of the crisis in 2008 — said there are some distinctions. 

“2008 was rough, but this is ridiculous,” Lopez said. “This is unprecedented, and no one has ever seen it before, from what’s happening within our society, our government, the economy and the pandemic itself. My advice to the grads of 2020 or the people who are going into college in the fall is don’t feel like you have to have everything figured out right now. No one does.”

Grads in Hard-Hit Industries Endure Tough Job Search

Some graduates seeking positions in particularly hard-hit industries are feeling the brunt of the pandemic’s impact. Tianna Woodford, who graduated from Miami University in Ohio in May with a degree in sports leadership and management, is looking to break into collegiate or professional sports operations or event planning for a stadium. 

Since virtually all professional sports seasons were shut down or postponed in March, Woodford is trying to stay positive and continues to apply for positions posted on LinkedIn or TeamWork Online, a popular platform for sports hiring. 

“Corona is one thing stopping it, but also being a woman and a minority woman at that makes it a lot harder as well,” Woodford said. “I’ve just been continuing to apply, and it’s tough because there’s so much uncertainty, but I keep telling myself: ‘Keep applying just in case, because just as fast as things started getting closed down, they may just do the same with hiring again.’ ” 

Young professionals seeking positions in the oil and gas industry have grappled with similarly bleak prospects due to the ongoing collapse of oil prices. This reality hit home for Prapti Ghiya, who recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.

Last November, Ghiya accepted a full-time offer at Schlumberger, an international oilfield services company. She was excited to start in the company’s sustaining engineer program this July, having chosen the job among six other offers. But by the end of March, Schlumberger broke the news: her offer was rescinded due to the pandemic. 

“The oil and gas industry has taken a huge hit, and looking back, I am grateful that they let me know early on,” Ghiya said. “Personally, I’m not so worried that it’s going to affect my career in the long run, but I definitely see how it’s going to affect many other people’s careers. Engineering is kind of different in that way, you can use your degree in many different ways.” 

Even sectors that have gained new importance in the wake of the coronavirus crisis are not immune to new economic challenges. Caleb Peart, who is interested in a career in healthcare management after earning a master’s in medicine, health and society from Vanderbilt University, is wondering if he will be able to obtain a job in health research this year. He is applying for jobs at think tanks and public health organizations but believes he may have to expand his search in the coming weeks. 

“It’s a battle that a lot of people are going through right now, whether or not to take the job that is available to you now or wait for something that you are truly passionate about,” Peart said. “Some people are in a position financially where they can wait it out, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.” 

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