We recently asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share their stories about graduating from college and grappling with unemployment and paying off student loans — specifically, what's the hardest part about being unemployed? Here are their powerful responses:
1. "I was so poor, even the government realized I didn't make enough to pay them back."
Right after graduation, my unpaid internship hired me for barely above minimum wage and I scrubbed toilets at my alma mater to supplement my income. I was so poor, even the government realized I didn't make enough to pay them back. I applied for jobs everywhere, even places that only required a high school diploma, only to be rejected and ignored. It was frustrating to have put in so much time, effort, and money — about $32,000 just in loans — into my college education and have nothing to show for it.
—Dee Lloyd (Facebook)
2. "I just don't want to struggle anymore. And I truly hope my race isn't stopping me from accomplishing that."
I've recently been diagnosed with depression and am now taking antidepressants to recover. The hardest thing for me is knowing that you put your heart, soul, sweat, tears, and even blood into trying become successful after college, only to hear things like "you lack experience" or "we decided on another candidate" from thousands of employers. I went through five surgeries while in college and nearly failed out due to the endless medical procedures, but after years of being on crutches and barely making it to class, I graduated and got my degree.
Since then, I've had only one job: graveyard shift at 24 Hour Fitness. Are my skills no good? Is there something wrong with my résumé? Are my cover letters poorly written? I spend days trying to figure out what the problem is. And the one time I do manage to get an interview out of 500 applications, I still don't get the job.
As a black man, I also can't help but wonder whether or not that influences the decisions not to hire me, not to mention I'm a muscularly built weight lifter. Are employers scared of the "big black man"? Do they feel threatened that a black man might come in and take their job? As hardworking as I am, I don't want to take anyone else's job. I don't want to scare anyone. I just want to help my mom buy her first house. I just want to help my siblings get through college. I just don't want to struggle anymore. And I truly hope my race isn't stopping me from accomplishing that.
When you've spent your whole life having to work hard and overcome struggles, you know that you have to be harder-working and more dedicated than others. You have to do more, fight more, endure more. But you do it, and you succeed. I just have to ask myself every day, how much more can I do? How much more can I fight? The demoralization from being told thousands of times that someone else is better than you, for every job you apply to, truly breaks you down at some point. I just want someone to finally think I'm good enough.
3. "I can say that I have a diploma and show people that I accomplished something, but for what?"
I transferred colleges after three years and had to retake multiple classes. It was a mess, to say the least, and I was also working at a car dealership every minute I wasn't in class. I graduated with honors, held down a part-time job working 40 hours a week for five years; I sent out 20 or more résumés every single day, but was eventually offered a higher position within the company and took it. I made pretty good money for a while, but the ups and downs of worrying if you will make enough each month to pay off the enormous student loan debt was panic-inducing. Now I'm prescribed pills to help with my anxiety and nerves.
Luckily, I now work for amazing people and have been here for almost nine years. I am moving up the ladder, working hard every single day, taking on more and more responsibilities, getting here two hours before I am supposed to, and staying late every day. I hardly see my wife; I go home and eat dinner then usually go to sleep. But with all that said, I truly believe that college was nothing but a waste of time. Yes, I can say that I have a diploma and show people that I accomplished something, but for what? I am somewhere around $90,000 in debt, I've paid off about $45,000 in roughly three years, but with the interest rates — which are not able to be refinanced or all put into a consolidated loans — I still owe close to what I did four years ago. My wife doesn't have any loans, but mine are so much per month that if I weren't married, I would never be able to afford it. Her entire paycheck goes to loans and bills, and mine is what we live off of.
4. "The worst part of post-grad life is the unrealistic stigma that it's your own fault."
I turn 30 next month. I'm a licensed attorney currently working two jobs and trying to get my own firm off of the ground, and I have yet to make $40,000 in any one year. I owe somewhere between $230,000 and my firstborn child in student loans. I moved home a year and a half ago because the work wasn't coming consistently enough and, when it did, it wasn't paying well enough to pay student loans and live independently. I refused to turn 30 living in my parents' basement, so I'm finally moving out again now, but I can only afford to do it because I have two part-time jobs.
The worst part of post-grad life is the unrealistic stigma that it's your own fault, that there is no excuse. Everyone knows the economy sucks, the job market is still low, and salaries are declining, but somehow people still manage to wrangle this smug yet disappointed look that screams, "I'm better than you. Why don't you work harder? You're just lazy" when they find out you are unemployed or underemployed. That is the worst part.
5. "Now I can barely afford anything other than rent and food."
I'm employed full-time without benefits, but I wish I could go back to my part-time job where I was happy. But because I no longer live with my parents and I have a $300 minimum monthly student loan payment, I can't afford to quit my job that makes me miserable. I've been paying off my loans for almost three years and I've only made a dent in the interest, so I've upped my monthly payment to around $450 and now I can barely afford anything other than rent and food. I was a good student and I worked hard all throughout high school and college only to end up in customer service answering phones. I apply to new jobs almost on a daily basis, but I barely ever receive a reply back to my inquiry. These are horrible times for college graduates, and while I loved my college education, it almost wasn't worth it.
6. "I don't know how I'm still sane."
Having bills to pay but no money to pay them and having to depend on your parents when they are already struggling paying their bills is the hardest part of being an underemployed college graduate. The only job offers I'm getting are from scammers and "work from home" solicitors; it's like they know you're desperate. While all this is happening, you're being told that your degree is worthless in this job market. I don't know how I'm still sane, but my feeling of self-worth has gone down dramatically.
—Hazel A. Boomer (Facebook)
7. "The system just doesn't work if you are a part of the class where you barely make enough money to get by."
The hardest part for me would be the financial stress of attending college and dealing with student loans. I have been to three universities since graduating high school in 2010 — one back home in Nebraska and two up in Montana, where I now call home. Due to current bills and trying to work while attending college classes, it gets to be tough, especially while trying to stay on top of homework. I had to drop classes from the most recent college I attended and go back to the farm I work on so I could pay my bills. The job I found in the college town wasn't enough, and I started to fall behind. Since I didn't have a choice but to drop my remaining classes, I didn't meet the required amount of credits and lost my financial aid.
Unfortunately I'm not back in college because I can't afford it, and I don't plan on attending again because I'm no longer eligible for aid. It's too much money to pay for on my own; my parents don't make much money either, so they can't help me out. I'm just working a full-time job. The job I currently have is barely enough to afford my bills and food each month. I've already applied for a second job that hopefully will be starting soon.
The other stress of that is knowing that I now have about $19,000 in student loans to pay back without a degree to show for it. I have tried applying for jobs in the Bakken, which are the oil fields in North Dakota, but that didn't work out; they either want to hire someone with prior experience in the fields or a degree. I have neither, and even entry-level jobs want experience.
I just do what I can to try to make a living and pay my bills each month; the system just doesn't work if you are a part of the class where you barely make enough money to get by. These days, it's tough to go anywhere without a college degree. It's even tougher if you can't afford to go to college to get a degree. Then on top of that, think about the individuals who did graduate with a degree, but cannot find a job in their field of study.
8. "Every time I even think about my student loans, I have an acute panic attack."
I graduated three years ago and just got my first full-time job last month. It's not at all in my field (I'm an administrative assistant) and student loans have been calling me non-stop wanting me to pay more than my rent each month. Every time I even think about my student loans, I have an acute panic attack. I shut my eyes and wish it would just disappear. Apparently that's not how it works.
9. "After sending out close to 200 applications and résumés and going on 15 interviews, I finally got a job as a temp."
I was always the person who never thought they would have to move home after college and hated the thought of living with my parents; I hated my hometown, and I hated the high school homebodies I'd be forced to see every weekend. Three months after graduation and no luck finding a job, I had to move home into my parents' house. The worst part about my job search was hearing my mother telling me how embarrassed she was to tell her friends that her daughter still didn't have a job. She would ridicule me day after day. After sending out close to 200 applications and résumés and going on 15 interviews, I finally got a job as a temp at a startup company. That was a year ago last month. I've gotten promotions and I am making better money than I ever thought I would be, but I hate my job. I hate where I am. I have my own apartment now, but that doesn't help shake the feeling that everyone else is moving on in their lives and I've just gone backwards.
10. "It's sad yet cruelly comforting that I'm not alone in this."
I just graduated with my MBA six months ago and am still having trouble finding a job that will get me out of the red. I had really high hopes and I was promised many things. I worked my ass off in an accelerated MBA program at a top-rated business school, yet anywhere I turn they require experience that nobody will be the first to give. I don't want to say I regret getting my master's degree because a part of me feels I wouldn't have felt complete without it, seeing as though I've already worked this hard my whole life. Maybe my mistake was going back too soon, two years after having completed my bachelor's. I'm grateful to have such a loving and supporting family or I'd be homeless right now, and I know for many people that is a terrifying reality. It's sad yet cruelly comforting that I'm not alone in this. I just hope one day I'll be in a position to help others in my situation. When everything is gone, there's only hope.
11. "It would just be nice to know that getting a job means I would be compensated appropriately for my time."
The hardest part about graduating with impending doom hanging over your head (student loans) is knowing that the only way to get a job is to work for free. I interned for a whole year for free, because that was the only way anyone would give me experience. They call it "paying your dues" but it's bad to intern for too long because then employers question why you haven't had a real job since graduating. Everyone knows you have to have some source of income with Sallie and Wells breathing down your neck, so I picked up serving, which is great because there is nothing better than making cash tips. I worked seven nights at the restaurant and five days a week at my internship. Once I finally got a job, it didn't take long to realize that starting salaries for a 9-to-5 job is hardly livable. Thank you, economy, I have really enjoyed the harsh reality of financial burden only to be rewarded with a tiny starting pay and no benefits. Don't get me wrong: I am not expecting to be handed a job or rewarded for completing my education. It would just be nice to know that getting a job means I would be compensated appropriately for my time.
12. "Being unemployed gives me this feeling that I worked so hard and sacrificed parts of my life for nothing."
I am 23, still living at home, and have less than $1,000 to my name. Unemployment began to take its toll on me a couple of months ago; I fell into a depression, which further exacerbates the sense of self-loathing. To say I worked my ass off in college is the understatement of the century; my typical weekday was spent in class, five hours of labs for my major, and four more hours of work in the orientation office. I sacrificed a lot of my overall college experience so that I could stack my résumé with awards and accomplishments. As I neared graduation, I started to realize I didn't want to work in the area in which I would be getting my degree. At the time, this was not a huge concern for me because the world was seemingly so full of opportunities. I was going back to Chicago, a sprawling land where I thought jobs grow on trees, but I've since discovered that is not so.
Being unemployed gives me this feeling that I worked so hard and sacrificed parts of my life for nothing. With the situation that I am in now, I don't believe that being so involved during school increased my chances of getting a job over another person. The hardest part of unemployment is the complete feeling of failure.
13. "I worked full-time and barely made ends meet."
God's really got a sense of humor. I graduated unable to afford my student loans, even after taking my first two years at a community college and having roommates to split the bills. I worked full-time and barely made ends meet. Post graduation? Overqualified for the grocery store I had worked in for about eight years and too young to be promoted into leadership, I found myself frying chicken at $9.50 an hour, then I got myself into an MBA program to extend my education and hoped I could hold out long enough to find a higher paying job. Not to mention, being enrolled in school temporarily suspended my student loan payments. I now work for the student loan company that I owe a small fortune to. Go figure.
Krystie Yandoli is an entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Krystie Lee Yandoli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.