The 2016 college graduate

What’s going on in the mind of the latest crop of degree holders?

“Finally! I finished! What a slog! I’m a 2016 college graduate — proud, tired, and like Robert Redford’s character at the end of that old movie, ‘The Candidate,’ asking, ‘What do we do now?’

“This endeavor turned out to be harder than I thought. I knew it would be a lot of work, but not this much. It’s hard to remember what life was like before college. I guess I was a kid. I don’t feel like a kid anymore, but I’m not sure I’m an adult either.

“So in the beginning I thought I would be an accountant like my uncle and I went to a school known for accounting and finance. During my first year, I have to admit I didn’t work very hard. Dorm life meant freedom and I took advantage of it. The parties, new friends and lack of rules compared to home were seductive. My grades stunk and I ended up on probation by the end of my first year.

“My parents aren’t rich. They were angry when they realized they had spent their hard-earned money on that year and that I had little to show for it. The message from them became that, if college was important to me, then I would figure out a way to go back and make it work. And by the way, part of that figuring was how to pay for it, because they weren’t going to.

“During the summer, I resolved to go back, but to a different school, where I could have a fresh beginning. A big part of the motivation was in learning that a college graduate on average earns $17,500 more annually than someone with just a high school diploma. Over a 40-year career that could really add up. But also I did want the satisfaction of showing my family, friends and myself that I could succeed with this challenge.

“So I found a liberal arts college with a business focus that accepted me and some of my credits. In all, it turned out I lost, or should I say, I partied away about a semester’s worth of credits. The financial aid office helped me to get the loan I needed and I started the fall as a business administration major. Because I could see the very real possibility of owing a lot of money when this was over, I was determined to try to finish in three years instead of four.

“To try completing my college education in three years turned out to be unrealistic, for me at least. Many of my classmates had the same goal, and some were disciplined enough to pull it off. But I found the toll of taking between five and seven major classes per term daunting, and in the end I needed 31/2 years to satisfy all requirements and earn the bachelor’s degree.

“So here I am, with a degree in business administration and $30k in debt, which is the national average, so that’s not too bad, is it?

“Although the career office at school helped me complete a resume and obtain a three-month internship with a financial services firm during my senior year, I still don’t know for sure what I want to do. I have six months before I need to start paying back the loan, so I know I need to figure it out soon.

“My future looks uncertain and kind of scary. In college I always had a syllabus and course guides to tell me what I needed to do and when things were due. But a guy at my internship laughed at me one day and said not to expect real life to have a syllabus. He said to be prepared to think on my feet constantly and to work both harder and smarter or be swept away by the competition that can come from anywhere in the world.

“Oh, here’s a job notice for a produce associate at a grocery store not too far from my parent’s house. It’s not what I went to college for, but I’ll apply anyway and hope I get the job. I have to get an apartment and start paying back this loan soon!” 

Bill Ryan, founder of Ryan Career Services LLC, Concord, can be reached at 603-724-2289 or

Categories: Business Advice