As a writer and a Literature major, it’s always seemed like a given that I would need a master’s degree to compete in the job market. Although I’m incredibly happy I’ve spent my college career learning how to detect the irony in Shakespeare’s plays and cite all my sources in perfect MLA format, those skills aren’t exactly what employers expect to find on a resume. Surprisingly, I wasn’t alone when I decided to take a year off after graduating college. My plan to gain work experience before heading to grad school is part of a much larger trend as described in this article in the New York Times. Many young women are entering the workforce, only to drop out in order to add to the list of degrees after their names.
For this reason, the rising unemployment rate may not be as desperate a situation as it first appears. Many of the people leaving their jobs are heading back to school. The number of women ages 18 to 24 enrolled in school rose by 130,000 in the last two years, with an increase of 53,000 for men of the same age. Despite the dreaded student loans that come with higher education, the economic downturn is motivating young people to duck out of the work force and upgrade their knowledge and skills until more job opportunities open up. I see this trend playing out among my peers—many of my friends, almost all of whom were not planning on going to grad school, are now studying for the GRE. Most of them are only one or two years out of college, but are ready to be back in the classroom. They cite lack of real interest in their jobs, restlessness, and a craving for academia as their motivations for hunkering down over textbooks yet again.
Though both genders show an interest in continuing their education, women far outnumber men in enrollment. For the first time in three decades, there are more women in school than in the work force. Women, who still face the wage gap and difficulty entering male-dominated fields, feel that education will ultimately give them an edge when they do finally search for work. They are 35 percent more likely to drop out of the labor force than men—indicating that women would rather hold out for better paying jobs while men are willing to take what’s available. There’s no way to predict how this gender gap will play out over the next few years, but economists think that it will give the next generation of women an advantage in the job market.
As one of these women preparing for even higher education, I also hope a good, stimulating job is waiting on the other side of grad school—one that will help me conquer the loans that go along with it.