Why You Might End Up Underemployed (& What to Do About It!)

If you’re graduating soon, we know what's on your mind: getting a job. And who can blame you? Unfortunately, we have some bad news: According to a new study published by The Center for College Affordability & Productivity, 48 percent of employed college graduates in the U.S. are “in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education.” The founder of the center and leader of the study, Richard Vedder, predicts this won’t change any time soon. So, ladies, it’s time to face the facts: After graduation, there’s a good chance you’ll be underemployed.

What’s Underemployment?

Underemployment is a phenomenon that recent college grads are facing now more than ever. Generally, it means that you’re working a job you're overqualified for. That could mean working retail, being a cashier, or waitressing—three jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. In fact, according to the same study, over 1.7 million college grads are working jobs in those categories.

But unemployment isn’t always minimum-wage gigs. It can even encompass full-time positions where you don’t get paid as much as your degree warrants, or you aren't using the skills and knowledge you learned in college.

Why is this happening? It comes down to numbers. There are simply more college graduates than there are jobs for degree holders. Unfortunately, that means the chance you'll face future underemployment is high, but that doesn’t mean you'll never reach your dream job!

Should I Be Worried?

There is definitely reason for concern. First, there’s the financial factor. You paid thousands of dollars for a degree, and now you’re only making $10 an hour. Those numbers definitely don’t add up, and if you stick to this job’s hourly wages, you’ll be in debt for a long time to come.

Then there’s the experience aspect. So many jobs require 2 to 3 years of professional experience, and you aren’t able get that experience if no one will hire you... but no one will hire you without that experience.

Put those two worries together, and you’ve got a pretty scary but totally common situation on your hands. “There is nothing more terrifying then going off on your own into the ‘real world’ with nothing more than your wits and a small paycheck,” says Katherine Fritcke, a senior broadcast journalism major from Drake University.

Despite the concerns, there are ways you can combat (or at least deal with) underemployment.

What You Should Do

If you can’t land your dream job by graduation day, the best thing you can do is find a job that you may be overqualified for, but is at least in your field.

“I am looking for both full-time and part-time jobs that will get me into the radio market,” Katherine says. “I know that in my field you don't get paid that well, but it's always a job.” Plus, Katherine isn’t limiting herself geographically; she’s applying to jobs in the Midwest, and closer to her home state of Arizona.

“I think it’s important for all college graduates to have a plan B—and C and D—if their ‘dream job’ doesn't work out right away,” says Helen Boote, a 2011 graduate of Illinois State University. “It might mean starting out in a position that you think you don’t have any interest in, but it can always lead to bigger and better things.”

Your best bet is to apply for several jobs you’d love, as well as a few part-time jobs that aren’t ideal but would help advance your career. If none of those work out by graduation day, go with plan C: start applying for lower-level jobs to make some money while continuing your job search.