Debt Education Millennials Youth Research

The real cost of education for Millennials

By Posted 28 November 2016

I owe the government over eighty grand. Yup, you heard right. Eighty thousand big ones. That’s almost a hundred thousand dollars that I could spend on, oh, I don’t know, a deposit on a house? Or better yet, a lifetime’s supply of smashed avocado. Yeah. Avo.

I’m in this little pickle because, like many kids my age, I spent a year studying the wrong thing straight out of school and then, when I realised my mistake; I did a double degree in two more wrong things in the hope of getting the right job out of it. Now, I’m frantically trying to save my butt/future by throwing even more money at university – this time in the form of a Masters. In addition, I work part time in an entry-level job kind of related to my field (basically glorified admin), intern one day a week, volunteer in the general area of what I want to do, and work freelance gigs to ‘gain experience’ and put the cuppa soup on the table.

It’s a pretty familiar pattern. Millennials live in a strange twilight zone between our celebrating-twenty-years-at-the-company parents and the job-hopping Gen Z – we get the best and worst of both worlds. We’ve got more options than our parents, but we live at an awkward time when university degrees and apprenticeships are still considered mandatory, despite being less and less useful. There are thousands of things that we could study (hell, a uni in WA has a degree in SURFING), but no piece of paper is guaranteed to get us the job we want, or any job really, straight out of uni.

In practice, this means that when we left school, we jumped straight into our career paths with almost unhealthy zeal. We thought our options were limitless and the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to make our dreams come true seemed like a small price to pay (especially when actual payment was deferred). But by year two, we were beginning to feel the weight of our decisions.

Saddled with rising debt, we frantically searched for entry-level jobs to support us while we studied, but were constantly knocked back for ‘lack of experience’. Internships grew more and more elusive and soon they too required prior experience. As though gaining said experience wasn’t the point of you interning to begin with!

Some of us changed career paths, often downsizing our dreams in the process. Others forked out even more dough to further pad the resume with a higher qualification. We were handing out free labour and eating cuppa soup every night, our fingers perpetually crossed in the hopes of meeting the right connection at whatever networking event we went to for the free booze and appetisers.

We left school thinking that a sheet of paper with a Uni crest on it was enough. Instead, we learned that we actually needed two, three, four sheets of paper as well as the combined practical experience of a small company.

At the same time, we lost interest in the traditional life goals. Owning property and having children lost their appeal as we started to chase less permanent goals – travel, eating out, unique experiences. We wanted a work-life balance and personal (but not necessarily professional) development. We wanted to give back and contribute something positive to the world. But we had to temper our enthusiasm for this against more traditional life goals, which we were often still expected to fulfill, and which the current employment market is geared towards.

Millennials are a generation very much breaking away from the traditional conception of career and education and forging a new path. We’re a transitional generation – living somewhere between the new and old worlds. We’re looking for the right balance and we’re still working out the kinks. Of course we know that education is important, that experience is necessary and that our first jobs will be shit. But we also know that things are changing.

For now, I guess we’ve got to sit tight, and endure the judgement of our elders as they watch us work through years of study and hop from job to job. Perhaps though we’ll have the last laugh, as our breadth of experience and knowledge will be much greater than generations past.

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