Quarter life crisis

May 042005
Authors: John Walsh

You're 24. You've just graduated. You have an awesome degree from a respectable university. You stand poised, ready to go out and take life by the metaphorical horns. So, what's so difficult about that?

A great deal, according to the some recent and soon-to-be grads, and the nearly 10,000 registered users on the Web site www.quarterlifecrisis.com. These people write that life near the end of college is less a road of expansive opportunities and more a slippery slope to disillusionment.

Craig Finerty, a 23-year-old senior computer science major, perhaps summarizes it best.

"Its just a major life change," he said. "You're going from under the safety of your parents' umbrella and a part-time job with summers off, to grinding it out in the workplace every day."

The Web site, www.quarterlifecrisis.com provides an outlet for the frustrations of a new generation of college graduates who are finding out that the world may not, indeed, be theirs for the taking. And the comments that members post on the site add sufficient illustration to these feelings.

"I'm a miserable failure," wrote one quarter-lifer. "I don't know what to do with my life anymore. I'm so ashamed and upset. I don't want to tell my parents."

"You're not alone. That's why we're all here," commiserates another of the site's members.

Some students around the state who are currently or about to experience this occurrence believe that this generation of university degree-holders faces some unique challenges. With more college graduates today than ever before, they say, the sheer number of people eligible for the same jobs has increased dramatically.

"It's not as easy as it used to be to get a job," said Heather Engbrock, 23, who recently graduated from Metropolitan State University in Denver with a degree in criminal justice. "It's harder because there's more competition."

Other factors, though, have also put the pinch on recent college graduates. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, the cost of college expenses in just a 10-year period, from 1991 to 2001, rose nearly 25 percent. Couple this with a rocky economy, and people could be left with a recipe for massive debt obligations – and accompanying massive crises.

James Salzman, a 23-year-old Front Range Community College student with about a year left until graduation, said that other factors play a key role. With an increased obsession with big-name schools and perfect grades, he said, some people have begun to think a perfect life is out of reach or just further down the road.

"The expectations are enormous and tough to live up to," Salzman said. "Not only are you coming out of school with a high debt, but you're expected to do so many things. You're expected to buy a house, get a car, get a job and a wife, and even have kids … There are a lot of people who just aren't ready for that new freedom."

Finerty also voiced concerns that CSU's Career Center may not be doing enough to deal with an impending quarter-life crisis.

"They definitely help with finding a job," he said. "But I don't know if they offer the psychological help and resources that many people are going to need when facing some of these tough issues."

Ann Malen, director of the CSU Career Center, said that although the center does not deal specifically with the psychological pitfalls that may accompany a quarter-life crisis, referrals between the Career Center and the University Counseling Center are common.

"Students should take a two-pronged approach," she said. "If students want to look at what they're going to be doing with their career lives, our counselors will work with them to find a job. If a student is experiencing pure anxiety, they should probably go straight to the counseling center. But either way we can be helpful – we're here to help people feel more secure about the future."

But despite the students and graduates who sympathize with the new generation of quarter-lifers, there are also some who believe that the crisis is neither atypical nor unavoidable.

Engbrock, who said that there are certain challenges facing today's quarter-lifers, thinks that the crisis is not uniquely new, oftentimes avoidable, and might be a good excuse for some people to be lackadaisical.

"I think people are a little bit lazier (than generations before.) They just expect it all to fall into place," she said.

Regardless of whether the occurrence of a quarter-life crisis is new or avoidable, enough people are apparently experiencing the phenomenon firsthand that it has lent an opportunity for a rash of new books, Web sites and even a Tony Award-winning play regarding the subject.

"It's definitely a 'crisis' for some because they are being thrown into a new, terrifying situation. It can be traumatizing," Engbrock said.

In the same vein, Finerty thinks that going through a quarter-life crisis is just a basic fact of life.

"It's a serious issue that college students simply must face," he said.

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