Of all the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, one in particular hits hard for graduating college students: unemployment.
As college seniors across the country prepared to graduate last April, the U.S. Department of Labor reported a 14.7 percent unemployment rate — the highest it’s been since the Great Depression. Now, recent Drake grads are left struggling to figure out their next step.
Anne Furman graduated from Drake last spring with a public relations major and an astrophysics concentration.
“I did have a job offer before graduation that was redacted due to the virus,” Furman said. “Since then I have done over 80 job applications and have received no feedback from any.”
Furman said that despite her inability to find employment this summer, she used the opportunity to go back to school.
“My plans were altered greatly since I have not been able to find a job. I actually decided to apply for a graduate program so that I could use this time to better myself and further my education,” Furman said. “I feel like the majority of the seniors I know have been having similar issues to me. However, I know we are all in different states so there have been different opportunities for all of us.”
The pandemic impacted Furman’s living situation as well; with her job offer rescinded, she moved back home to Texas after graduation.
“This is not at all what I had planned since I was hoping to move out almost immediately after graduation,” Furman said. “However, I understand for the safety of myself and my family this is the best situation.”
Graduate Ellie Reter was on track for a future in the medical field when the pandemic affected her ability to gain firsthand experience.
“I was waitlisted for my medical school,” Reter said. “I was going to participate in some medical volunteering and a hospital job, but obviously everything medical was sealed up for the safety of everyone involved.”
While this put a damper on the first half of her summer, Reter was later able to attend an EMT training program.
“I was very grateful that the EMT training course in the second half of the summer was actually still able to go on thanks to Iowa’s loose interpretation of social distancing and safety measures,” Reter said. “And then the day I passed my EMT practical exam I was accepted to medical school.”
Though Reter said she does not worry about finding employment in the medical field in the future, she does worry about the reputation of the field itself as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am concerned. This entire situation has been terrible to public health,” Reter said. “I plan to go into family or pediatric medicine, so I am not as concerned for getting a job as what my residency will look like in 2024 as new policies and procedures are created in response to this crisis, let alone the physical and psychological scars this is leaving on the population and their evolving (not all for the better) perception of medicine and health.”
Reter had moved back home because of the pandemic; however, her EMT program brought her back to Iowa part-time.
“I am living part-time at home and part-time with a Drake roommate,” Reter said. “My family lives in Illinois but my EMT class was still in Iowa. My medical school is online, so I will continue to go back and forth between Iowa and home until that becomes in-person in January.”
As a participant in the Drake 3+3 program for law school, student Natalie Sherman had a different experience than most seniors.
“I had a summer job, as I am in law school this fall, but I only worked for half the summer before being furloughed because my workplace could not afford to keep the full staff,” Sherman said. “This affected the savings I had coming into this school year, as well as my overall motivation.”
Sherman said she ended up staying at home for the rest of the summer.
“I did not pick up a new summer job after being furloughed because, for one, employers aren’t looking to hire people for only half a summer, and two it didn’t feel safe to transition between workplaces while living with my family,” Sherman said. “I basically spent the rest of the summer at home before moving to law school.”
Now faced with online classes and fewer savings, Sherman is reevaluating her living situation for the future.
“I am living on my own but paying rent with student savings and loans. But the inevitable move to full-time online courses makes me wonder if it is worth paying rent when I could move home for free,” Sherman said. “I am not sure how COVID will ultimately affect my plans, but I feel certain it will as it seems to have impacted every aspect of my life up to this point.”
Sherman says the cost of tuition and living expenses has also been a concern during the pandemic.
“I know Drake has some CARES act money that students can apply for, but students must meet very specific requirements to even apply, much less receive it,” Sherman said. “Like I said, I did not have the summer savings I thought I would going into this year, and Drake has done nothing to decrease tuition or make aid more accessible to students, graduated or not.”
In addition to worries about employment opportunities, Sherman said she also faces immediate health concerns as the pandemic runs its course.
“I am definitely concerned moving forward. It is not only tough to find a place that is hiring, but to decide how much you should put your health at risk,” Sherman said. “I personally have preexisting health conditions that cause me to worry a lot about COVID, and it is very difficult to know what is and is not safe when I know many of my peers are not doing everything they can to try and stop the spread.”