Stefia Sloan

College is an investment. This is how students are able to excuse pricey tuition rates, wince-inducing interest rates on loans, and our parents’ help. What is the point when this investment may not result in a profitable job?

Many students fear that after graduation they will not be able to get a good job. They’re not wrong. In fact, according to a study conducted by professors from Harvard, Stanford, and UC Berkeley in 2010, millennials born in the decade before us are not earning as much as their parents did at the same age. The study associates this with the unequal distribution of wealth, where only the upper class benefits. So what happened to the American Dream? Is it an outdated concept? Is it out of the reach of those born without a silver spoon in their mouths?

When I think about the American Dream, I think about my father. He grew up in Bakersfield, California, in a middle-class family with eight children. Graduating high school was all that was expected from him, but he went into the Air Force which, in turn, helped him pursue a higher education courtesy of the U.S. military. He was also able to travel all around the world. After retiring, he went to one of the best culinary schools in the country—still courtesy of the U.S. military—and now he gets paid six figures to live out his two passions: cooking and traveling.

For my father, the American Dream is alive and well. So alive that, according to him, I should also be able to start from scratch. In his perspective, millennials may have a harder time than their parents because of failure to launch. Yes, that is the title of a Matthew McConaughey movie, but also an increasingly common scenario for post-grads. Instead of finding their own place, young adults move back to their parents’ house to save money.

Third year film and media studies major Kaitlyn Cook agrees. “I think that it’s common for people now to move in with their parents,” Cook said. “Other people tend to judge them for that but I think that it’s become necessary, especially with loans and stuff.”

Having the option to go back home could be a factor as to why we have a harder time becoming independent.

There seems to be a recurring word when you bring up financial security post-college to students: loans. Loans are really what set us back when starting a professional career. We have that six month deadline right after graduation pressuring us into doing whatever is in our capability to find a job. This could mean missing opportunities or having to put money above something we are passionate about.

If that is our biggest handicap, it should also be our biggest concern when it comes to political change. Interest rates can go so high you end up paying almost twice as much for the same education you would be getting without those fees. Education is an investment, but it is treated as a luxury. Me getting a loan for a car or a house would be a loan for luxuries. Having an educated society should be essential, or at least more essential than your mode of transportation.

Going back to our study, there are ways younger millennials could differ from our older counterparts. Some jobs currently available may not exist. With technology constantly progressing, different types of skills will need to be acquired. Third year biology major Max Fuery-Robbins believes that our generation grew up more wired, which will come to our advantage.

“Our age grew up learning how to go from device to device quickly,” Fuery-Robbins said.

With the ever-growing presence of tech companies and new applications appearing constantly and the omnipresence of social media, we are shaping our world and creating jobs for which we are the best candidates. If we take the example of the music industry, it has been completely reformed with the internet. Now, aspiring artists can directly upload their music on SoundCloud, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to promote themselves, sell their merchandise on their website, and create their own brand.

This does not only apply to the music industry; millennials use personal branding for all sorts of fields and careers. One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie “Mistress America”. The main character claims that “if you don’t know what you’re selling, no one will know how to buy it.” Knowing how to work your personal brand is how we can set ourselves apart and be more entrepreneurial.

“Entrepreneur” may seem like a word used by a fake-tan gym-rat promoting protein on Instagram, but could very much define our generation (within our generation). Hopefully we will be the ones to break the cycle and earn more than our parents did at the same age … hopefully without living in their basements.