A good friend and classmate of mine from Dartmouth sent along the following excerpt from this New York Times article, with a note that read simply, "This is embarrassing."
“We did everything we were supposed to,” said Stephanie Morales, 23, who graduated from Dartmouth College in 2009 with hopes of working in the arts. Instead she ended up waiting tables at a Chart House restaurant in Weehawken, N.J., earning $2.17 an hour plus tips, to pay off her student loans. “What was the point of working so hard for 22 years if there was nothing out there?” said Ms. Morales, who is now a paralegal and plans on attending law school.
Some of Ms. Morales’s classmates have found themselves on welfare. “You don’t expect someone who just spent four years in Ivy League schools to be on food stamps,” said Ms. Morales, who estimates that a half-dozen of her friends are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A few are even helping younger graduates figure out how to apply. “We are passing on these traditions on how to work in the adult world as working poor,” Ms. Morales said.
Unfortunately, Ms. Morales had to learn that real life does not work like school the hard way. But for those of you still in school, simply pay close attention to Walter Russell Mead's advice.
Life in school is life in bureaucracy. You follow the rules, do what you are told, and rewards follow.
The real world was never very much like that, but the parts of the real world that look most like school (like for example law firms, universities and government and private sector bureaucracies) have their heads on the chopping block. By the time today’s students are in their forties (and that is MUCH closer than you think, kids), most of those organizations are going to morph into something very different. Or they will die.
Inmates who spend a long time in prison become institutionalized; they adapt so well to the conditions of prison that they can no longer function in the free world. Something similar can happen to students. From age six or even younger, students are immersed in a predictable world that runs by the rules. Then you get out of school — and expect that this pattern will continue. If you go to a good law school and do well, you will become an associate at a successful firm. Do your job well, work hard, obey the rules and wash behind your ears and in due time you will make partner.
That’s the old system; the new one won’t work that way. Creativity, integrity and entrepreneurial initiative will pay off; following the old rules and hoping for the old rewards is a road to frustration. You have to fight the tendency of the educational system to turn you into a timeserving baby bureaucrat, following the rules and waiting for the inevitable promotion.
As you go through college, think about ways you can fight the pressures of institutionalization. Work or volunteer — not just for money, but to keep your hand in the real world. Live off campus. Start a business. Shake things up.