As graduation approaches, large numbers of students still subscribe to the "I'll figure it out when I get there" ideal.
That is not a good idea.
The economy may suck, but the average student is already graduating $30,000 in debt from the get-go. By the way, that’s only if you didn’t go somewhere pricey like Sarah Lawrence or Harvey Mudd.
The total amount of student loan debt in the US is more than $1.2 trillion as of mid-2014.
By the way, just in case that huge number wasn’t enough to hammer it in, student loan debt has actually overtaken credit card debt and auto loans for the first time in history.
It’s also getting difficult to break into the job market these days.
Those who scoff at this statement most likely already have full-time steady jobs with benefits, so rest-assured, my words are not aimed at you.
Just everyone else.
Governments and colleges can make all the noise they want about their alumni being hired, but you could be a law grad working a part-time retail job or teaching ESL overseas and they will still count you as "employed" for the purposes of their school stats.
Nevermind the fact that it has no relation to what you actually studied.
That’s something to keep in mind.
It's actually likely that having just one back-up plan is not enough when you're left holding only a BA or BS at graduation.
Unless, of course, your back-up plan involves some combination of minimum wage and your parents' basement suite. Or, you could try marrying rich.
In case you’re wondering who the heck I am to be saying this, I graduated with a BS.
So here’s a question for you: What do you get when you cross a BS degree with a student who absolutely hates lab work, and add that to an average GPA?
If you’re thinking “nowhere,” you would be 100 percent correct! This is why back-up plans are important.
Here are four reasons you should always have a back-up plan — or two — after graduation:
Reason 1: If you're not interested in academia.
If the thought of staying in academia, churning out research on, "The effects of ceremonial drumming on the Athenian male populace in the fourth century" that only you and your thesis supervisor will read doesn't sound like your idea of fun, then you need a back-up plan.
The general bachelor degree is good mainly for two things: academic research and as a requirement for professional school.
Notice neither of these corresponds with "finding a job in the field you got your degree in!"
Do you really think society needs 50,000 plus sociologists and art historians every year?
And, in case you think I’m picking on the arts, we don’t need 50,000 plus biologists, either.
In fact, I would argue that people who managed to get ahead in a completely unrelated field got there in spite of their degrees, not because of them (read on for why).
Reason 2: If you're not interested in grad school.
If medical school/law school/random professional school isn't your thing, you need a back-up plan.
Conversely, if medical school or law school is your thing, you need more than one back-up plan.
Average admission rates to med schools hover around 40 percent, and law schools aren’t any better.
Getting in doesn't guarantee you a rosy future, either.
Just as an example, it’s a pretty bad time to be a newly-minted lawyer.
Unemployment rates have been increasing each year, as each graduating class adds to the competition of unemployed lawyers, hoping to find work in the field.
By the way, they’re also a bad idea if you’re using them to avoid entering the workforce.
Because the last thing any new graduate needs is more student loans to repay.
Reason 3: If you were an English major.
You can spin it any way you like, but when the only skills you can list from being an English major are "writing" and "critical thinking," you need a back-up plan.
...You and the countless other English majors who graduated that year.
Basically, you need to have a skill that not every Tom, Dick and Harry with a university diploma can also list on a résumé.
You know why? Every business and science major lists those skills on their résumés, too. But, they also have the benefit of listing tax accounting and PCR beside it.
You need something that will help you stand out from the crowd.
So, if that’s the route you want to take, you’ll need a solid portfolio and enough experience to back it up.
Which brings me to:
Reason 4: If you spent your undergrad time mostly partying.
If you spent your entire undergrad doing nothing by getting drunk and/or studying, you need a back-up plan.
So if the idea of slaving away at retail and fast food while sending hundreds of letters to get hundreds of rejections sounds terrible to you, you need to get moving — now.
Because unless your uncle owns a major law firm and your father's company has an opening for a department manager and they both promised you a job after graduation, you need a back-up plan.
Get some internships, volunteer or do a co-op placement.
Become friends ASAP with your college career center. Better yet, get acquainted with the business school’s career service if you can.
Get a part-time job and start building up a portfolio of your best work.
Ask those friends who graduated how they got their jobs, and whether their companies have any openings. It's never too early — or late — to start networking.
Just get off your butt and do something productive. It’ll make the real world much less daunting.