Jessica Tholmer at college graduation
Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Tholmer

About two months before I walked across a stage to graduate college — the first person in my immediate family to do so — I was told by an academic advisor that I should prolong my graduation if possible. “Take more classes, double-major, find a minor. Prolong if you can.”

But let me back up.

I graduated from my four-year university in 2009, the height of the last major economic recession.

Though I was graduating college, I barely knew what the phrase “economic recession” meant — besides being familiar with obvious examples like The Great Depression. But I had no idea just how affected I would be.

I had always had a job — since I was 16 years old — and I worked my way through college. (Though that makes it sound like I paid my way through college, which was certainly not the case. My paychecks went to rent and food — not to the thorn-in-my-side student loan I will be paying until I am 38 years old.) At the time of my college graduation, I had worked at Starbucks for almost a year, and my post-grad plans were to continue working at Starbucks until I was forced to seek out a job that required my degree. Why else did I go to school, right?

I am still unsure if my advisor was inspired by his own experiences, or if he was told to inform us that we had all been screwed by the university.

Regardless, he spoke to one of my classes, full of many people who were about to graduate. Though I semi-appreciated the suggestion at the time, I have grown to believe it was entirely irresponsible to suggest such a thing a) so close to our walk date, and b) to people who were about to struggle financially, no matter what they majored in. A double-major or a minor is a great suggestion for people who are unsure of what they want to do or study — not for people who have pretty much submitted every single piece of paperwork required to graduate on time.

I ignored the advice, and though I don’t regret it, I became a walking example of my advisor’s warning. After school, I worked at Starbucks — granted, I wanted to take a slight break after college, and I worked my way up to store manager. But the recession really was that bad.

No one I knew got a job with their degree until years later — that includes my friends with specific focuses like teaching or education.

Though “English Lit” can be incredibly open-ended, I didn’t find my career path until I was 27 — more than five years after I received my degree.

I wouldn’t take back my years after college.

I made really fantastic friends through Starbucks — people who I consider family to this day. That includes my lovely partner, someone I never would have met if the circumstances weren’t just right.

Our country’s economic situation at the time of my graduation was completely out of my control. And while I may have been tempted to stay in school, I would have easily added thousands of dollars to my already outstanding, never-feels-smaller student loan.

I watched many of my younger friends graduate college and find jobs right away, regardless of their degrees.

I was happy for them, albeit a little jealous, as they moved onto their real lives, and I still struggled to navigate my jobs and finances. I’m happy things started to change, but then again, the economy is fickle, and it can turn around at any time. BE PREPARED.

99% of the time, I feel like my college education was more about life experience than anything else. I am the biggest advocate for people doing what feels right for them — not what they are told to do by their parents, administrators, or society. If you want to double or triple or quadruple major, great! But don’t do it for anyone but yourself.

~Sage advice~ from an old college graduate.