How Do You Help Students Avoid the Quarter-Life Crisis?


Pamela Weinberg
Twitter: @pamelaweinberg
Blogs from Pamela Weinberg.

I have had the pleasure and disappointment of meeting with a slew of young professionals in my career coaching practice of late. It is a pleasure, because I enjoy connecting with these bright, interesting and thoughtful Millennials. It is disappointing, however, that so many of them are unhappy with their post-college career choices. A few years out of college, they are experiencing some of the symptoms of a so-called “quarter-life crisis.” There has been much written about the quarter-life crisis affecting recent the college graduate starting out a career and living on his or her own for the first time. These young adults may be faced with their first crisis of confidence and feel adrift. Many feel dissatisfied with their job choices and/or chosen career path and don’t know where to turn for help.

How we can help prevent young alumni from falling into a quarter-life crisis? One way to mitigate these issues for the next slew of college grads is for colleges and universities to take a more active role in preparing students for the workplace. Those students majoring in one of STEM fields or who are pre-med most likely have a more direct and focused career path than an English major with a degree that opens him or her up to dozens of potential job or career possibilities. But just what are those possibilities and how is a student to know about them? Without exposure to a myriad of careers and a sense of which skills/aptitudes are needed to succeed at which jobs, it is a challenge for students to find their perfect fit post-graduation. Ben Carpenter’s recent op-ed in The New York Times has received a lot of attention as he brings this issue to the fore and calls on colleges and universities to offer courses in “career training” which would begin freshman year and end senior year.

Others seem to agree. In a new book entitled Aspiring Adults Adrift sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa speak about colleges and universities “focusing too much on students’ social lives at the expense of strong academic and career road map.” The authors go on to recommend programs that “facilitate school-to-work transitions, in terms of internships, apprenticeships and job-placement programs.”

Career services offices at colleges and universities have always been the student nexus for career- and job-search advice—but as we know, not all students take advantage of the resources there. In championing the idea of four years of career training for college students, Ben Carpenter cites Connecticut College which offers a career training program that has proven quite successful. According to Carpenter, one year after graduation, 96 percent of Connecticut College alumni are employed or in graduate school. That is in stark contrast to the numbers from a recent job poll conducted by AfterCollege, the online entry-level job site. According to the poll, 83 percent of college seniors graduated this year without a job.

The letters to the editor of The New York Times, which followed the Carpenter piece, were squarely split. Most educators were against schools offering career training programs, while most parents were for it. It seems however, that there is more that can be done to prevent recent alums from floundering a few years post-graduation. However, whether these are offerings from career services or through other academic departments is a topic up for debate.

I would love to hear your comments, thoughts, and suggestions on the topic!

4 thoughts on “How Do You Help Students Avoid the Quarter-Life Crisis?

  1. Hi – good post on a very important topic. However, just one comment on Connecticut College comparison you cite: you are making an apples to oranges comparison here when you say: “According to Carpenter, one year after graduation, 96 percent of Connecticut College alumni are employed or in graduate school. That is in stark contrast to the numbers from a recent job poll conducted by AfterCollege, the online entry-level job site. According to the poll, 83 percent of college seniors graduated this year without a job.”

    It would be more accurate to compare the employment/graduate studies rate of Connecticut College rate versus other colleges. As it stands, you are comparing a measure that is one year removed (Connecticut College) from when the students actually graduate (the AfterCollege statistics). It is plausible (and there for inappropriate to compare the two) that much of the 83% of college seniors who graduate without a job lined up EVENTUALLY get a job or go back to graduate school by the one year mark post-graduation.

  2. Yep. It’s the students fault AND it’s the college’s fault.

    Most students ignore their career center until it’s too late. It’s their own fault.

    Most universities refuse to require career planning. It’s their own fault.

    Students will never access career centers until it’s required like English and Math courses because students aren’t motivated.

    Our only chance is to change the university because the university is easier to change than student behavior (procrastination) which is hard-wired in the brain.

  3. I am a millennial, career services consultant, AND quarter-life crisis survivor. With the pressure from parents and finances to get through college in 4 years, it was not an option for me to switch my major or enter college undecided. I was determined to decide a major and pursue it, and college was not a time for me to explore careers. This mentality led me to be in a career that I was unhappy with and it took me back to square one at the career center as an alumna. I think career exploration needs to start earlier than college and be even more incorporated into secondary school (in addition to post secondary education).

  4. Ali,you had a very interesting experience. The external pressures on many students makes career decision-making a stressful event. Sometimes they turn out well, sometimes not so much.

    The quarter-life crisis has been around for a long time and theorists such as Erikson explore identify formation (“identity crisis”) as typical for someone in their mid-twenties. I went through it at age 25-27. There are many variables that influence career identity and choice readiness, but one thing that seems to be true is that if we can get young people involved in understanding themselves it will improve choices and outcomes. Gaining clarity about oneself can start at any point in life, including early on as you suggest.

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