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by CHRISTINE GARTON | March 10, 2009


Editor's Note: Regular Act One columnist Emily Meehan is on vacation. Christine Garton, a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., is writing the column this week. Ms. Garton is the founder of, an online publication for university women, and has written stories for the Journal's She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and is a 2006 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

It's that time of year when college students are leaving their summer internships and loading computers into their family cars for the trip back to campus.

Some recent college grads might be wishing they were also heading back to school, rather than buttoning up suit jackets and heading to a job that hasn't turned out to be quite what they envisioned when they were living in dorms.

Call it the case of the post-grad blues.

Jonathan TranPham, 25 years old, says that he had a strong case of the blues a little over two years ago at his first job out of school as an analyst at a consulting firm. From all external appearances, there was no crisis: The 2003 grad had a great apartment and was making enough money to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in Chicago.

But reality bites: Working life wasn't as glamorous as planned. Turns out database entry and some and administrative work wasn't what Mr. TranPham had expected when he was racking up over $35,000 in debt to pay for his undergraduate education at Northwestern University. After a year and a half in the workforce, he left his job for another firm. Things are better now -- he gets to travel for work and he makes more money -- but he says he eventually plans to exit the workforce to obtain a joint M.B.A.-law degree. "I'm working to get enough real-world experience in order to apply to grad school," he says.

Before he straps on his backpack again, Mr. TranPham might want to consider a few reasons he may not want to take the plunge. First, many students take on hefty debt to earn a post graduate degree. According to a 2002 survey by Nellie Mae, a national provider of education loans, graduate school borrowers rack up an average of $31,700 in debt, up 51% since 1997. Students who attended medical school or law school accumulated an average of $91,700 in total debt, including undergraduate debt -- over twice the cumulative debt level for all graduate students, according to the survey.

Grad school is certainly not cheap, and being saddled with several thousand dollars of debt forces many people to take jobs that they wouldn't otherwise have if it weren't for the monthly loan repayment bills they face after graduation. Going back to school also means leaving the workforce during an important period of career development for many twentysomethings. Students working toward post-graduate degrees are not only paying for the degree but are also losing the salary they would have earned and promotions they may have received during the years in school.

Those who have gone through the post-college grind say recent grads experiencing the blues should give themselves more time to adjust to being in the workforce or consider other, potentially more rewarding options if they're bored with their jobs, before making the back-to-school plunge.

Keith McInerney, a 27-year-old communications and high-technology consultant at Accenture in Washington, D.C., counsels patience. He says his first job out of school at the firm wasn't everything he expected when he started nearly five years ago. At the time, he was considering grad school but he stuck it out at Accenture and now says he's glad he did.

"My last year in college, I couldn't wait to graduate and finally put my knowledge to use. I guess it's normal to have an idealistic view of what you'll be doing after graduation," says Mr. McInerney, who graduated in 2001 with a degree in integrated science and technology from James Madison University. "However, once the long hours kicked in and I wasn't getting the level of responsibility I had hoped for at graduation, it was hard."


Filed Under: Education|Grad School

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