Completing a degree in four years isn’t as common as it used to be.
A growing number of students need outside employment to supplement living expenses not covered in grants, scholarships or financial aid.
After difficult experiences in the workforce, some graduates find themselves back on campus to find a new career path.
“Looking for a job was very difficult and I was really unprepared for it,” said Georgia State alum Scottie Zimmerman. “When I looked for a job the hardest thing was that every job required three to four years of experience.”
After graduating with a marketing degree Zimmerman continued to work in restaurants.
A Rutgers State University study found only four out of ten graduates landed a job that even required a college degree after graduation. Only two out of ten thought their job was on their career path. 40 percent reported they took a job just to get by.
Now Zimmerman is attending a paralegal program offered by Emory University to possibly pursue a law career.
“Since it is only six months it’s a good way to see if this is something I will like,” Zimmerman said.
Georgia State wasn’t Jeremiah Arnold’s first choice after high school.
Arnold moved to Atlanta and received a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu, only to realize that cooking was just a hobby.
“After a year of working in a bakery I was like, I have to do something else, I can’t keep baking cakes all day,” Arnold said. “I’m not getting anywhere, I can’t climb a corporate ladder and make the money I want to, so I went back to school.”
Arnold enrolled at Georgia State. While attending general classes he found his fit in a biology class.
“I took an anatomy class and I fell in love,” Arnold said. “I had no intentions of becoming a doctor after high school but it just fell in my lap.”
The National Bureau of Economic Research discovered in 2010 students took longer to get degrees over a three-decade period.
College preparedness and the demographic of students did not affect this change.
However, increased outside employment of students directly contributed to time it takes modern students to graduate.
There was a correlation between the cost of education and the amount of time it takes a student to complete college.
Zimmerman took five years to graduate from Georgia State. She said it took a little extra time because she worked 15 to 20 hours a week to help out when student loans couldn’t.
“It’s hard looking back at my transcript now and knowing if I hadn’t worked I would have had As and Bs,” Zimmerman said.
Georgia State senior Stephen Beal’s decision to change degrees was the start to the extension of his college career.
“So I kind of just went along with the band wagon, and hearing a lot from my parents and other people, I thought business was the best thing [for me to study].”
After studying at Kennesaw State University, Beal went to the University of Georgia to pursue a degree in business. After attending classes Beal began to second-guess his decision.
“After my first semester in 2008 is when I decided to transfer to economics,” Beal said.
While indecisive in Athens, Beal experienced trouble with his parents. When they quit assisting him financially with school and living expenses, Beal got a job to make ends meet.
“I had to find a means to live while I was still up there and I decided that getting into the bar scene and the service industry was the way to go so I ended up picking up a job at a local bar,” Beal said.
Focused on paying bills, Beal’s grades declined.
“The late nights and demanding schedule and the demanding schedule of being a bartender took time away from studies and gave me the overall idea that I was not cut out for school at that time,” Beal said.
He quit attending UGA and moved back in with his parents when things in Athens didn’t work out.
Beal started Georgia State three semesters ago and decided that education better suited him.
“I was like ‘what fits me the best?’ and that was something I actually have interest in,” Beal said.
Beal switched to psychology so he could get a degree before financial aid ran out.
“For me to stay in school for the amount of time it would take, the education degree, I couldn’t justify that because of the amount of money I was going to have to take out for financial reasons,” Beal said.
A 2011 UCLA study found that debt is the number one stressor for college students.
They found that outstanding student loan debt is at $1 trillion and continues to grow rapidly.
Right now Arnold isn’t trying to let the loans distract him. He has left his part-time job to participate in a university scholars program.
Lab work doesn’t pay very much, but Arnold believes the experience is worth it.
“I think a lot of people get caught up in how much of a loan they have, but for me if I don’t think about it I feel better about the outcome and I won’t feel as stressed,” Arnold said. “If I don’t think about it I won’t think about how much I have at stake.”