Is there life after graduation? Although many WSU Vancouver graduates found employment after commencement, others still seek jobs to go with their Cougar alumni bumper stickers

“Whoever told me that all you have to do is go to college and earn a degree [to] get a job making a decent living is quite the exaggerator!” said WSU Vancouver alumna, Janae Teal, who earned a bachelor’s degree last spring.

“People keep telling me, ‘Well, you majored in the wrong thing’ and my response to that is, ‘How lucky I am to be in a country that values one degree over another!’,” Teal said.

Teal majored in both sociology with a minor in women’s studies and in English with a focus on creative writing. Teal said graduation was exciting, but she was not prepared for what happened next.

WSU alumna Janae Teal, class of 2012, and her buddy, Casey Payseno.

WSU alumna Janae Teal, class of 2012, and her buddy, Casey Payseno.

“I figured I would pick up a placeholder job while I applied to grad schools, but turns out, finding a job that pays even minimum wage is nearly impossible,” Teal said.

Since donning the crimson cap and gown last May, Teal has submitted over 50 job applications. One potential employer, a well-respected community non-profit organization, required at least a bachelor’s degree. At first glance, the full-time position seemed promising, but Teal quickly learned it was less than ideal.

“As it turns out, [I would] not be paid hourly, but rather given a monthly stipend on which to live. I ran a few numbers and found that the monthly stipend for a 45-hour week would be less than minimum wage per hour. In fact, it would pay $7.72 per hour,” Teal said.

Discouraged, she declined the position and decided to continue her education at WSU Vancouver fall semester. Teal currently works part-time on campus as an accounting assistant for the Office of Student Involvement and as a teaching assistant for the sociology department. Her goal is to attend grad school.

“I want to eventually get a job working in the non-profit sector with underprivileged kids, but at this point, I am willing to do anything that will pay the bills,” Teal said with a smile. “There are not exactly jobs out there begging for sociology majors.”

Like Teal, WSU Vancouver alumnae Ryan Heasley and Elizabeth Berg also find the job search daunting. Heasley recalls the experience as “quite an emotional ride.”

Heasley graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education with an elementary education endorsement last May, and also earned a teaching certificate for grades K–8. He applied for more than 30 teaching positions.

“When I first started applying for jobs, I was so let down because I did not get called for any interviews. I took their rejection very personally,” Heasley said.

WSU Alumni Ryan  Heasely ( second from right) and fellow graduates last at spring commencement 2012.

WSU Alumni Ryan Heasely ( second from right) and fellow graduates last at spring commencement 2012.

After 15 months of searching, Heasley was hired as a sixth grade teacher at Tukes Valley Middle School in Battle Ground, Washington. He is currently working toward his masters of education degree with a focus in literacy, which he hopes to have completed no later than July 2013.

“I love teaching and working with kids. I want to help children feel successful and to empower them,” Heasley said.

Berg is still actively job hunting. Last December, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in personnel psychology and human resource management. Berg wants to find a job as a human resource assistant to build her skills. Until she finds a job in her field, Berg tends bar and waitresses at Applebees.

“Basically 98 percent of jobs in the HR [field] require three to five years of experience. How do they expect us to get experience if no one will give us the chance to gain experience?” Berg added, “I have been graduated almost a year and still have not gotten my foot in the human resources door.”

Frustrated by her job search, Berg has contemplated other options. She has considered alternate professions, a stint in the Peace Corps or studying abroad for her MBA, but going back to school worries her.

WSU alumna Elizabeth Berg, class of 2012, had high hopes for employment at graduation.

WSU alumna Elizabeth Berg, class of 2012, had high hopes for employment at graduation.

“[If] I am having difficulty getting a job with my B.A., I do not want to put another $20,000 in and still not get a career,” Berg said.
She is not alone. With student loan payments looming, the additional cost of continuing their education is enough to stress most new graduates’ pocket books. Teal estimates graduate school application costs will amount to approximately $900 for the 11 graduate programs she has identified.

“Applying to grad school is hard. It is expensive. It is tedious, painful and incredibly stressful. I knew that it was going to be a challenge, but I underestimated it by a long shot,” Teal said.

So, what can current students do to prepare for life after graduation?

  1. “Do an internship!” Berg said. “I should have really looked harder and pushed more. I graduated [last fall] and there are many fewer internship opportunities available [now], but looking for a job without any experience in the field is beyond difficult.”
  2. “Be optimistic,” said Heasley. “I would also take any opportunity to strengthen your credentials and gain experience so that your resume stands out to potential employers.”
  3. “Start early!” Teal said, “Ask questions! Do not assume that you will have a financial safety net to fall on. Make a timeline. Know deadlines. Be as prepared as you can be!”
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