Hey, grads! The world is about to fucking crash in on you.
I'm not trying to scare you or discourage you; I like adult life way more than college, and hopeless cynicism is an automatic loser. But you're about to enter a system that is so rigged against you that you'll think it's all an elaborate prank. I don't care how cynical you are, or how radical a Marxist your last professor was -- it still takes years to fully understand all of the devious little ways the deck is stacked in favor of people who aren't you.
So buckle up, because here's what's coming:
Let's just get this out of the way: As a whole, our society is horrible at getting human beings into the jobs they're most suited for. Look around you -- you'll find yourself under managers who shouldn't even be trusted to manage a stuffed animal tea party, and you'll meet brilliant creative minds who are stuck spinning signs while dressed as Little Caesar. I'm no expert, but this might be because we demand that teenagers decide what they want to do for the next 50 years and then lock them into it by imposing massive financial penalties if they decide to change course.
So, Mr. College Graduate, want to know your odds of landing in a career that actually uses the education you just paid six figures for?
About 1 in 4.
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"Sweet -- my major is so obscure, there's actually only one other dude doing it."
Yep, only 27 percent of graduates wind up in a job that requires their specific degree. (That's not counting graduate degrees. The success rate is higher for people who went to law or med school ... as is their level of debt.)
"Then why the hell did I just pay $100,000 for a bachelor's degree?" asks Mr. College Graduate.
Well, you hardly had a choice, considering your name is College Graduate, but also, as bad as things look for someone with a degree, you are absolutely fucked without one. This is the first way in which the system is rigged against you, and it's something that wasn't really true of your parents' generation.
You've wound up in a world where a college degree is a base requirement that's priced like a luxury extra. So, for the first time in history, in order to get a job as a secretary making $30,000 a year, you need a bachelor's degree that costs three times that. Even worse, the vast majority of you had to borrow to pay for that degree, and all told there is an astonishing $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt in the USA alone. And of course, much of that debt is owed by people who are using their expensive knowledge to roll burritos at Chipotle, a job that itself exists only because the robot they built to do it got too depressed.
"I came from MIT for this bullshit?"
"Well, why the hell doesn't somebody do something about this? That can't be good for the economy."
Because the show is being run by Cranky Old People From Another Time (or COPFAT, from here on out), and if you complain about college debt, they'll say it's your fault. They'll talk about how they "worked their way" through college, paying tuition with nothing but a summer spent on a whaling boat and a weekend job mucking horse stalls. And they're better for it, by gum! They don't realize that the cost of college has gone up over 1,000 percent since then, while salaries for whale impalers have not. It's now impossible to pay for a university degree without some kind of help, in the form of either borrowed government money or rich parents. So, in 2014, you're not allowed to be a computer programmer unless you first take out a mortgage-size loan in order to attend a university that will require you to also take classes in medieval literature.
"I came to MIT for this bullshit?"
Then, at some point down the road, you may find yourself in a cubicle reading a memo reminding you that you're required to dress up as Cupid for Valentine's Day (because this office is all about fun!), and you'll think, "If I don't change careers, I'm going to flip out and murder all these motherfuckers." And then you find ...
Hey, when you were in school, did you notice how ... you know, old some of your classmates were? Well, there's a good chance that'll be you a decade from now. About 4 million students are over age 35, many or most of them people who graduated, went out and got dick-slapped around by the world for a few years, and then came back to try again. The average person will change jobs more than 10 times by age 42, and will change careers entirely multiple times. In a world where every career requires a degree, well, you know what comes next.
And if you're expecting the world to offer any assistance whatsoever in trying to get you back on course, think again, punk. Once again, the COPFAT will declare it's purely your own fault for picking a "worthless" major in the first place.
"Have you considered a major in whining? You could double with entitlement."
As for how exactly a 17-year-old was supposed to go about figuring out the right one, well, it's not clear. If you follow the advice of the COPFAT above and simply pick whatever major pays the most, by the time you graduate, you may find that the hiring landscape has changed radically (thanks to the sudden glut of people doing the same thing) and that, oh yeah, you don't actually have a talent for it. But what else do you have to go on when picking a direction in life? Television? Because shows tend to portray every aspect of life except the actual work people do (how much time do those people on Grey's Anatomy spend doing doctor shit?). The obvious answer would be to pursue what you love doing, but you're making that call based on what you love doing at age 17, and if you try to go to college to be a professional masturbator, you find out that oh God this isn't a college, is it?
"No, we shoot those scenes next week."
So, five years out of college, you try to change course, and right off the bat you find you're automatically cut off from government aid for low-income students -- sorry, that's a one-shot deal. You can get a student loan, maybe, if you qualify and your credit rating is good enough.
"But doesn't the economy need more educated people and fewer unemployed people and/or meth dealers? Why would they make it harder to be a productive citizen?"
Well, the problem is that somebody has to pay for your education or adult job training -- specifically, the COPFAT -- and you'll find their favorite hobby is kicking away the ladder they themselves just climbed. That's why the government recently made cuts in student aid and slashed nearly a billion dollars off of its job training program. "I didn't need no handout, damn it! If you want to learn another trade, just apprentice with a haberdasher, like I did!"
Speaking of which ...