Don't Brood: It Still Pays to Go to College

The recession and high national unemployment rates make life after college look worse than college itself, often leaving new graduates overqualified and underemployed.

It's an awkward and sobering time for college grads, like recent UW alumni Alice Tattersall, who works part-time at a Ravenna restaurant.

Tattersall has long intended to attend medical school and is now preparing to take her MCATs in March. But in the meantime, she's found her options for college-level employment limited.

"My parents are nervous that I'll get in a rut because it's easy to pick up a shift, take the money and stay in the service industry," said Tattersall, a psychology grad pursuing pediatrics.

Tattersall's story is typical, leading many recent grads questioning whether their costly bachelor's degree was worth the time and treasure.

But a new study by the Pew Charitable Trust's Economic Mobility Project would seem to dispel that skepticism, and confirm what high school counselors have been saying all along: It pays to go to college.

The report, based off a 2003-2011 Current Population Survey, says recent college grads age 21 through 24 experienced higher employment rates than their counterparts with high school and associate's degrees.

According to the report, 42 percent of recent college grads are in college-level job and 26 percent are underemployed in high school-level jobs. Only 10 percent of recent college grads were unemployed or out of the labor force--a small figure compared to 18 percent for high school grads and 11 percent for associate's degree holders.

While the unemployment rate is higher for young people compared to other age groups regardless of their education background, the statistics show quicker employment stabilization for those with a college degree.

At the UW Career Center, Senior Career Counselor Kimberly Petersen was optimistic about prospect for college grads in the economic upswing.

"The job landscape is improving and in general with a bachelor's degree, more doors are open for you," said Petersen.

In comparison to 2011, in 2012 there were more jobs posted on HuskyJobs, the UW community's free, online job board, said Petersen. This trend, which indicates increased regional jobs, also speaks to the increased amount of people and organizations engaging with university communities for employment opportunities.

While things are looking up for college grads, the future is still ambiguous and attaining a dream, college-level job is not guaranteed. For many recent grads like Tattersall, life after college is still a waiting game.

"It's a delicate balance taking time off, and not losing who you are and what you want to do," said Tattersall. "But I haven't second guessed my major because I know I want to go to medical school."

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