Life after graduation is always an unknown. But the coronavirus pandemic has added even more uncertainty for the nearly 4 million students expected to receive college degrees in 2019-20, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“I feel like when you graduate, you go out into the real world,” says Stephanie Fallon, 23, who graduated in May from Temple University in Philadelphia. But this world “almost doesn’t feel real,” she says.
Even though the real world has changed, the challenges most new graduates face haven’t. Here’s what the class of 2020 can do to answer three essential postgraduation questions during the ongoing pandemic.
Can you get a job?
The job market looked strong for 2020 graduates before the economy took a hit from the coronavirus. A survey in fall 2019 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers projected a 5.8% increase in hiring over the previous year.
Of course, much has changed.
“What [graduates] are facing now is just a horrendous market,” says Edwin Koc, director of research, public policy and legislative affairs for NACE. “There really isn’t any other way to put it.”
A survey in 2018 from the recruitment agency Randstad found that the average job search lasts five months. Koc says it may take more time — and effort — to land a job in the current market. Here are some ways to improve your situation:
- Be persistent with potential employers but understand if they can’t give you a quick answer.
- Look to your college career center for help, like connecting you with alumni at companies that are hiring.
- Consider transitional work or opportunities outside your desired field.
Fallon, for example, plans to pursue a career in nonprofit work. While she currently has a part-time job with a national nonprofit foundation, she’s also working two nanny jobs.
Can you get an apartment?
Many students live at home after graduation: Investment broker TD Ameritrade AMTD, +0.95% found in a 2019 survey that roughly half of college graduates plan to move back in with their parents.
You may have already taken this step when your college closed its campus this spring. But that doesn’t mean you’ll want to live at home indefinitely — or be able to.
For example, you may need to relocate for a job. Although a June 2020 poll from NACE found that 66% of employers plan to start new graduate hires remotely, you may need to find a place while still social distancing.
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“The industry has adapted,” says Meena Ziabari, chief operating officer and principal broker for Next Step Realty, a Manhattan-based real-estate firm that helps new grads find apartments in New York City. “You should not be afraid of renting virtually.”
Choosing an apartment without seeing it in person may be unnerving. What if you arrive to find no hot water, a pest problem or an entire bait-and-switch?
“Do you get landlords who are a little funny or shady? Absolutely,” Ziabari says. But she adds there are laws in New York City on things like an apartment lacking heat — or a kitchen.
To help avoid undesirable outcomes, consider hiring a real-estate broker. You may have to pay a broker’s fees; in New York City, these can cost you as much as 15% of a year’s rent, for example. But their relationships with landlords could make that cost worth it.
If you don’t want to pay a broker’s fee or can’t afford to, Ziabari recommends having a trustworthy person who can check out places to live for you in person.
How will you repay student loans?
Roughly two-thirds of the class of 2018 graduated with student debt, according to most recent information from the Institute for College Access and Success. Those graduates owed an average of $29,200.
If you have student loans, there’s some breathing room: Most come with a six-month grace period.
“Go ahead and take advantage of not having to pay,” says Tara Unverzagt, a certified financial planner and founder of South Bay Financial Partners in Torrance, California.
But don’t avoid your student loans altogether — find out how much you owe, then explore repayment options with a tool like the federal government’s loan simulator. Options tied to your income could give you breathing room once repayment starts.
Unverzagt says your top financial priority now should be starting an easily accessible emergency fund. And if money is tight, understand your cash flow — and avoid the urge to rely on credit cards.
“That is a slippery slope into never-never land of debt,” Unverzagt says.
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Ryan Lane is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.