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What It’s Like To Graduate College During Coronavirus

I would like to preface this with a disclaimer: This is a trying time for everyone. People are losing their loved ones and their jobs. I recognize that and simply wish to share the perspective of a college student, as many of us are dealing with our own unique financial challenges right now.

College students, for the most part, are known for being broke.  We are the mass consumers of $1 Top Ramen, clad in notoriously cheap Forever 21 clothing, who can easily be summoned by the promise of free pizza.  It is our brand, our identity.  And while pursuing higher education is an incredible privilege, we pay the price to pursue it.  Student debt is usually presented as an investment, and it is. We figure the student loans will be worth it because we’ll have a higher earning potential post-graduation.  That’s what I signed up for: the understanding that I would be piled high with debt, but it would be worth it.  It’s “good” debt.

Now I am graduating in May, and it feels like I have been waiting my entire life for this moment.  For the first time in my life, I won’t be a student.  And I don’t want to sound naïve, but I was so hopeful for the next stage of my life.  Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has changed all that.

The most obvious thing that has affected the Class of 2020 is that commencement for most colleges and universities has been canceled.  This is the thing older generations address first — oh, no we have lost our ceremony! I don’t want to dampen that. The commencement ceremony, especially for first-generation students, is a huge deal and we were excited about it.  But there are larger, more pressing issues we’re worried about as well, and those seem to be getting overlooked.

We’re headed toward a recession, and the financial outlook appears bleak for us graduates. To be clear, the economy doesn’t look good for anyone right now. But it will affect the Class of 2020 in a unique way, and we should prepare for it. While many of us have worked throughout college (in on-campus jobs that we have now lost), we truly enter the workforce after we graduate. This was our time to shine, to finally get that higher salary.  Like the responsible adult I believed I am, I started applying for jobs in January. I was in the second or third round of interviews for positions I felt hopeful about.  Things looked good.  However, since coronavirus hit the U.S. — and hit us hard — all those prospective jobs are now on hiring freezes.  Soon-to-be graduates have student loans kicking in, we’re faced with mountains of debt, and our chances of finding jobs to combat that debt are not looking good.  We are about to graduate into what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is calling the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  No one is hiring us.

But what about the $1200 Stimulus Check? Alas, the Band-Aid upon our economy’s gaping wounds.  For most families that need the aid, $1,200 is simply not enough — but it is something. And with the overwhelming majority of college students claimed as dependents on their parents’ taxes, we are ineligible for the stimulus check.  Our parents are also ineligible for the $500 stimulus payment for children. Barring any child geniuses, college students are typically above the age of 16.  The government appears to have forgotten about us.  

But what about filing for unemployment? According to Forbes, most college students generally aren’t eligible for unemployment. Student workers may find themselves lucky. If you were hired by a company that can no longer keep you on the team, you might be eligible for unemployment.  But for the most part, part-time workers around the country are finding themselves unable to receive unemployment. And as the majority of college students who worked off-campus were working part-time, they will find themselves with the same problem.  Unemployment is also not available for students like me. I worked two on-campus jobs that I can no longer work, and since they were on campus, I am not eligible.  We are students first and workers second, which overall, makes us ineligible. This is fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine. 

The biggest problem with unemployment as we define it in our country is that it assumes you had a job you either lost or are unable to work. Structural problems in our economy have made that definition outdated. This definition does not include those of us who never got the chance to have a job in the first place. This was our chance to enter the workforce.  

Coronavirus aside, college students are also currently taking our finals. It’s hard to focus on passing a major, make-or-break test when you already have so much anxiety to contend with. We are not doing well.  Somehow college students — a group known for being broke, and struggling to make ends meet —  have limited to no options in this economic turmoil. 

Image via Pexels

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