Every year, a new cohort of college graduates must figure out “what to do with their lives.” Many students have had a plan for years and have done all the work preparing for what comes next. Other students recently discovered an interest in a particular field. And then there is a large group of graduates-to-be who have no clue what will come next. Students in the first two categories seem to be better positioned than those in the latter. However, the past few years have seen decreasing job opportunities in all fields and students who previously thought they were headed on a particular track, find themselves jobless and rethinking their goals. With decreasing job prospects, many students are turning to alternatives.
A traditional way to forgo the current job market is to enroll in a graduate program. Business schools, law schools, and medical schools have always been very competitive; in this climate, they are even more so. But now graduate programs in all fields are faced with increased applications, and fewer slots due to budget cuts. Public policy, education, social work, even economics and math departments are faced with a overwhelming numbers of applications. And even graduating from a graduate program does not guarantee you a job, but perhaps only saddles you with more debt.
So what is a recent graduate to do? Many are taking to public service. In America, we do not have any sort of mandatory service requirements, like many other nations. However, we do have programs like AmeriCorps, PeaceCorps, Teach for America, and others, in addition to fellowships and thousands of non-profit organizations. Recent grades have entered the public service world, perhaps as a result of the economy, but also as a result of young people’s interest in “doing good” for the world. It is encouraging that people are finding their way into public service for some time – some will stay, but many will leave, with new graduates taking their place.