Mitch Merckling graduated from the University of Oklahoma this spring with no job, no plan and a one-way ticket back to his parents' house in Texas.
He is not alone.
The college safety net was yanked out from under thousands of Oklahoma graduates last month and they have been thrust into the “real world” to get jobs and figure out their futures. So now comes the million dollar question for many: What's next?
“When I graduated, I didn't know where I was going to live, where I was going to work, if I was going to go to school, anything,” said Merckling, 22, a health and exercise science graduate. “I had absolutely no plan. I hadn't even applied to a job at that point.”
Not wanting to sign an apartment lease when he didn't know where he would be working, Merckling moved home to Plano.
“It's a huge adjustment going from your own place back to your parents' place,” he said. “It's like I can't take 10 steps without telling them where I'm going. It's like I'm back in high school.”
Students should start looking for permanent jobs at the beginning of senior year of college, said Philip Goodwin assistant director of Oklahoma State University career services. Most on-campus career fairs happen in the fall, and the businesses there are looking to hire fall and spring graduates, he said.
A survey conducted by Oklahoma State University showed that from any time between two weeks before graduation up to six months after the 2012 graduation (depending on when students filled out the survey), 18.6 percent of 2012 graduates were unemployed, while about 69 percent had found jobs, with 12.5 percent attending graduate or professional school.
The national unemployment rate for graduates in their 20s was 13.5 percent for students who earned bachelor's degrees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Amy Lecza, 22, from Bedford, N.H., is one of those unemployed students; but she saw job hunting as a chance for a change of scenery. After graduating from Oral Roberts University with a convergence journalism degree in May, Lecza moved to Chicago to find a job.
“I'll do what I have to do to pay rent, but I'm very hopeful that I'll be able to find a career,” she said.
When a high school friend said she was looking for another roommate for her Chicago apartment, Lecza jumped at the opportunity. Now Lecza is paying $300 a month in rent at her four-person apartment about five miles from downtown in Albany Park.
“I'm a person that really likes having a plan, so moving somewhere without a job was an uncharacteristic move on my part,” she said.
After arriving about two weeks ago, she has applied to more than 30 jobs in editing, marketing, advertising and copy writing. As she applies, she dreams of a career as a food writer for a major newspaper.
“Be selective and only apply for those things you're serious about,” Goodwin said. “You shouldn't apply for a job on a whim or for a practice interview because you're going to be wasting your time and your recruiter's time.”
While journalism isn't one of the majors with the highest rates of unemployment, Lecza is still worried about finding a permanent job.
Lecza has savings to use for rent and food, but she predicts that money will run out by the end of the summer. If she doesn't find a “big girl job” by then she said she will have to get a job at a clothing shop or waitressing — anything to pay the bills.
“I'm not married and I don't have any kids or anything so I feel like this is the time in life to go ahead and make those crazy decisions,” Lecza said.
A few weeks after graduation, Merckling got a paid internship at a health care consultation company in Texas, detouring his permanent job hunt for now. A family friend offered him the internship as a steppingstone to get experience in the health care field. Ultimately, Merckling wants to go into politics to help craft health care legislation.
According to Georgetown University's 2013 Hard Times report, graduates with fitness majors have small levels of unemployment — only 5.2 percent. Regardless, Merckling got few calls back for job interviews. And at the two interviews he did get, Merckling said he felt underqualified for the positions because he was up against professionals with advanced degrees or more than five years of experience.
“That's my trouble,” he said. “I'm in a market which is just saturated with college degrees and I don't have the experience a lot of people have.”
While Merckling heads off to his internship for the summer, Lecza continues the job hunt on her computer as she overlooks the city in her Chicago apartment. After having at least three jobs during college, she feels weirdly idle.
“Everybody's always saying you're never going to find a job in your field,” Lecza said. “It's so hard, and there are so few jobs, but if I'm going to find a job anywhere it's going to be in a big city.”
It's a huge adjustment going from your own place back to your parents' place. It's like I can't take 10 steps without telling them where I'm going. It's like I'm back in high school.”