my employer is competing with my walking group, job searching after generous medical leave, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I tried to organize walks with coworkers, but the company scheduled its own activity over it

I work in a place that encourages others to take leadership in making the company a better place to work; it’s actually part of our evaluation tool. So, as the holidays are coming up and people don’t always make healthy choices during holidays, the company started a way to be supportive of one another with better decision-making about food and exercise, etc. In response to this, I replied to the email asking if anyone would be interested in starting a walking club a couple of times a week. (The company-wide email is perfectly acceptable in my organization). I got a lot of positive responses (though no official company sanction) and we chose two days and times to start with. Excellent. Emails were exchanged (cc:all) for several days.

Except, the very next day, the person heading up the wellness initiative sent out a company-sponsored flier announcing a more hardcore workout (but saying it can be modified for all fitness levels) and the days and times conflict with the times we had decided to start walking.

I’m irritated, and I don’t know how to proceed. I know this isn’t some enormous problem, but it’s annoying. I feel that if my suggestion had been inappropriate or stepping on someone’s toes, they had plenty of time to talk to me about it, and I feel it is disrespectful to schedule in a way that conflicts with the other stuff. I feel like I either need to say something, or at minimum change the previously agreed upon times for walking, because I don’t want people feeling like they have to choose. So my question is: what do you suggest? Should I say something? What? Should I change my times?

Honestly, I feel like canceling the whole walking thing altogether. I branched out of my comfort zone, and now I just want to go back to keeping my head down.

I … think you’re way overreacting. It’s very unlikely that the company-sponsored workout was deliberately scheduled at the same time as your walking club; it’s probably a coincidence, and whoever scheduled it probably wasn’t paying attention to when your walks were scheduled for.

If you’re concerned about people having to choose, why not just change the times you’d settled on? Yes, that’s mildly annoying, but it’s not worth canceling the whole thing or staying angry over.

2. Negotiating salary when coming from the military

I’m an active duty Air Force officer looking at potentially transitioning to the corporate world in the wave of military drawdowns the force is facing. I have taken the transition assistance classes, and am working with a military focused recruiting company to find my dream job assuming I make the cut. All of this has prepared me well to negotiate, and your site has helped a lot but I’m seeing a large trend with people asking what you used to make and I’m a bit concerned here.

My pay is pretty much a matter of public record. For having x number of years in, and knowing my rank anyone can look up how much I should be making, however there is a large amount of my pay that comes from a tax-free housing allowance. I know how much you dislike employers basing salary on previous work and not what you will be doing but I’m also a realist in knowing I may have to jump that hurdle at some point. How do I explain to people that because a full 20% of my compensation is completely tax free and all of my compensation is state tax free, my salary shouldn’t be based off of what I used to make but what I am worth?

I know you are against people lumping in benefits when discussing salary, but in this example my monthly base pay is $5,415 and my housing is $1,560. Is it fair for me to include those and other entitlements, such as special pays and other allowances, into my total salary if and when I’m asked about my current salary?

It’s absolutely reasonable to bring it up, but don’t just lump it all together as “salary,” because that’s not strictly accurate (and you risk causing confusion if they try to verify it). Instead, I’d just explain what you have here: “Well, the military handles compensation differently. My salary was $X, but much of that was tax-free, and I received a $18,720 housing allowance. What I’m looking for in a civilian role like this one is something in the range of $Y-$Z.”

3. I feel guilty about job searching after my employer gave me generous medical leave

I have been on my job for almost two years now. This is a high-stress, low-paying job that has high turnover. It was a position that used to be held by two people but because of budget cuts only one person is doing this job with the exact same workload. When I applied, I figured I’d stay a year and then move on like everyone else. Well, about a year in, while I was looking for a new position to transfer to within the agency, I had an auto accident, broke some bones, and was out for almost three months. Management was super nice! They even gave me a few weeks of extra sick leave that I hadn’t yet earned so that I would receive a full paycheck when all of my leave ran out.

The job is still stressful, the workload is still overwhelming, and I’m just as unhappy with it now as I was before the accident. Actually, with all my injuries and new medical bills, I’m even MORE unhappy and stressed out than I previously was and feel myself sinking into a deep depression. Now that I’m back, I feel guilty as hell for still wanting to leave and feel as if I owe them for being so understanding while I was out and so accommodating when I got back. I don’t want management to view me as ungrateful. They know how stressful the job is. They even joked that they didn’t think I was coming back at all. I am grateful for the job, the paycheck, and benefits, but how long should I wait before applying for other positions? Six months? A full year? I’m so conflicted.

You’re not obligated to wait at all. Yes, they handled your medical leave well, but that doesn’t make you an indentured servant — and a good manager isn’t going to want you to stay in a job where you’re not happy anyway (both for your sake and for theirs). If this job isn’t right for you, you should be job searching now. Plus, job searching takes a while — you could start now and not have an offer for six months or more. (Although if you get one right away, that’s fine too.)

You can appreciate how helpful they were without letting it tie you to a job you’re not happy in.

4. Finding a part-time job in my field while working part-time retail

I recently graduated from college with the hopes of going into nonprofit work focusing on the environment. I spent the summer working on an organic farm and, once that internship was over, moved back in with my parents and got a part-time job at a big box store to be able to pay off my enormous student debt. I have continued to look for “real” jobs (as my parents like to put it), but the issue is I get paid $11.50 an hour currently, and taking a job in my field would be a cut in my hours and most certainly move me down to minimum wage. My solution to this is to find a “real” job that is part-time and work both, one for the experience and one for the money. My question is, when should I bring up that I already have a part-time job that I need to keep? Right away in the cover letter, or in the interview? And also, am I doing the right thing by keeping my current job?

My parents keep suggesting that I need to go back to school for my master’s, but I only see that making the problem worse by increasing my debt and still not being able to find a good paying job in what I want to do.

I’m not sure I’m following your logic. Yes, taking a job in your field would mean cutting your hours at the big box store, but you’d presumably be making it up by the hours you’d be working at the new job (unless you have reason to believe the new job will pay minimum wage, but most nonprofits pay even entry-level staff more than that).

In any case, I wouldn’t confine yourself to a part-time job in your field. Part-time jobs in professional fields are usually much harder to find than full-time jobs, so you’d be putting yourself at a real disadvantage by only considering those, and you’ll be missing out on lots of employers who are only seeking full-time workers.

5. Can my resume note that my work was mentioned in two books?

My work has been mentioned in two different books (one was just a reference to the work I did, but not my name and the other mentioned my name). How do I mention or reference these in my resume (or do I at all?). Both really show my level of expertise in my particular area of work, so I’d like to include these references, but as I didn’t write the book, I’m not sure how to include this.

You could say something like “work on X featured in The History of Teapots by Barnaby Plufferton.” But I’d only do this if the book really delved into your work — if it was just a footnote or a couple of sentences, it probably doesn’t rise to the level of resume-worthy.

{ 323 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann Furthermore*

    #3: I’m conflicted on this one. No one should feel obligated to stay in a job that makes them miserable. I’ve had miserable jobs, and your unhappiness at work seeps into every other aspect of your life, until you feel like you’re walking around under a black cloud all the time. It’s a terrible feeling that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    On the other hand, my husband runs a very small business and a few years ago one of the guys who worked for him injured himself and had to have knee replacement surgery. His job required being on his feet all day, so he was unable to work for 2 or 3 months. My husband and his business partner decided to keep the guy on the payroll so he could keep getting a paycheck and have insurance — otherwise, he probably would have lost his house and gone bankrupt. It was a huge outlay of cash for a business that only employs 6 or 7 people at any given time. After getting the OK to start working part time again, the guy came back for a week (maybe 2) and then quit, saying he’d found another job out of state. It was doing the same type of work, so the rationale that he couldn’t perform a job that required him to stand for long periods of time didn’t apply. It was pretty evident that he’d been looking for another job on the company’s dime. No, he wasn’t obligated (or expected) to stay forever and bow down and kiss his boss’s feet every day, but my husband felt like this guy took advantage of his generosity, and the outcome was that he will probably never go out on a limb like that for anyone ever again.

    I guess my advice for the OP would be to give as much notice as you possibly can, and then spend your last few weeks doing whatever you can to make the transition as easy as possible. Maybe compile some training documentation if none exists, tie up all the loose ends you can, and so on. And then acknowledge how much you appreciate the support your management gave you while you were recovering from your injuries. This situation is probably different than the one I described above…the OP did say that management has acknowledged how stressful and difficult the job is.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      I think the main difference between OP’s situation and your husband’s employee is that if I’m doing the math right (it’s late), OP has been back to work for 6+ months now . I don’t think she should feel any guilt about moving out of a role that is acknowledged to be high turnover and that she’s been in for 18 months even aside from the medical leave.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        That’s true — she’s been back at work for quite awhile now. I do feel for her situation, because in her position I’d feel obligated to stay for awhile, and then end up staying longer than I ever intended.

    2. Dan*

      Hindsight being 20/20, one option your husband had/has if he ever wants to go this route in the future is have the employee sign an agreement to commit to working for him for a certain period of time or he has to pay back the wages. What I have in mind is not unlike a tuition reimbursement program many employers have.

      Most people want to be reasonable, and most people want to protect themselves, both employers and employees. There are ways to do nice things without getting burned. And with a written (and negotiated) agreement, both parties can decide up front if there is a fair deal. Without one, that employee could think that “fair” is 6 months, but your husband might think a year is appropriate.

      1. Raine*

        Laying it out this way also would help convey to the employee just what the employer is doing — I think part of what happened is that the husband’s employee didn’t know the partners had thought long and hard about this and, even though they didn’t have to, decided to keep him on and his paycheck coming for that period of time, so … took the gesture for granted, to start. (And then went to town.)

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Very good point. I don’t know how much of a conversation they had with him. They’re both pretty casual, laid-back people, plus, the business is in what would be stereotyped as a “typical” blue-collar industry. So things are pretty informal to begin with. You’d think that someone would understand what a big deal it was for their employer to keep them on the payroll when they technically didn’t have to, but if you’ve never run/owned a business that might not be so obvious.

      2. Lisa*

        That sounds like a great solution with contract of sorts agreement, but some bosses will think leaving regardless of circumstances is a betrayal. Something tells me that even a 5 year stay after all this may still not be an acceptable time period.

    3. Apollo Warbucks*

      That’s a pretty harsh thing for your husband employee to have done, it sucks feeling you’ve been taken advantage of but at least your husband knows he did the right thing and other staff that saw how he handled the situation will be left with a positive impression of him.

        1. Leah*

          Exactly this. There will be people who take advantage of other’s generosity, and always will. That (hopefully) shouldn’t dissuade people from being generous to the majority, who will be grateful and try to pay it back in some way.

          I think an agreement, like others said, similar to paying relocation costs, could solve the issue. That way both sides know what is expected, the business can still do something generous, but without the risk.

    4. OP#3*

      Thank you for your honest opinion. I would have never done that to your husband and his small company. My agency is pretty big and isn’t hurting for money. Still, I really like and respect my managers. I was a temporary worker there for months doing something totally unrelated and applied for the opening. Even though I had ZERO experience they took a chance on me. If I am lucky enough to find another position I am going to do all I can to help train the next person that they hire. I owe it to them, but I’m glad that Alison eased my conscious in confirming that I don’t owe them forever!

    5. Melissa*

      I don’t agree that this is necessarily taking advantage of the boss’s generosity, though. It’s not something I would personally do, but I think as an employer if you give people benefits you have to prepare for the possibility that people are going to want to move on at some point and make it as a calculated risk. It’s like when jobs reimburse you for tuition or cover the costs of schooling; most of them have a contract that you have to stay on for X years afterwards to ‘pay back’ your commitment. But with paid medical leave (which is essentially what your husband’s company offered) – well, it’s technically a part of the compensation. Even if the employers works it out specially for the employee in question, it’s still part of their compensation – just a special compensation that the employer decided to give the employee in question.

      What if he was already considering leaving before the sick leave? What if he was very unhappy at the job – should he stay longer and be miserable just because his employer is decent and gave him a paid medical leave? I’m curious about what the employer was expecting in that situation – how much longer would he have had to stay in order to make it “okay”?

  2. Biff*

    I see the problem in #4, as I have a friend between the same rock and hard place. Alison, a better way to explain this (maybe) is that the LW can’t keep her head above water if she takes an entry-level full-time job in her field (which isn’t available anyway), but she can’t get experience that would help her get the better-paying jobs in her field if she’s working retail full-time(which keeps her head above water). So how to do both — keep her head above water AND get experience. He solution is to work both jobs. It also sounds like, in general, part-time entry level employees in her field are expected to be available whenever, not on a set schedule, so she needs to set expectations right away.

    I think I have an idea based on what my friend was planning.

    I know that during the Holidays this may be harder to pull off, but let me lay it out anyway. See if you can move your retail hours to 3-10s on Friday, Saturday and Sunday or some variation of that. I know plenty of stores get stock on Thursday, so you might be able to do a long shift on Thursday. See if you can get this pretty well set in stone with the manager. With some managers, this isn’t going to work. But a reasonable one should see this in fair light. Then you can shop yourself around as being available 2-3 days a week. I think this is the sort of thing you can put in your interview towards the end. Something like. “Of course, I’m really excited to have an oppurtunity to design Eco-Teapots for Earthpot, but I need to mention that I’m currently also working for Buy’n’Large on the weekends to make ends meet.”

    1. #4 OP*

      Exactly, this! Except I have already tried talking with my manager about schedules. I can’t even get him to give me a regular schedule, let alone choosing the days. My schedule changes every week! I like the job well enough, but it isn’t something I have any interest in making a career, and I really need the money. (Hello, student debt.) Taking a job in my field would not only be a cut in hours (Part-time at my current job comes out to be about 35 a week.) but also a very likely cut in pay.

      I guess what I am asking is how do I make this work without leading on potential employers during the interview process and not taking advantage of my current employer.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m still confused :)

        Are you sure that full-time work in your field pays less than $11/hour?

        As for how to make it work if you’re only looking for part-time work (and again, I think that’s a mistake and so limiting that it will make your search much harder), are you asking when to tell the employer that you’re seeking only part-time hours? Or that you have to accommodate a constantly-changing schedule at your other job? Or something else?

        1. #4 OP*

          I haven’t been able to find full-time work in my field, that’s why I’m in this mess. If it was a full-time job, I could probably swing less than 11 an hour. But all I’m finding in my field is a lot of internships and not a lot of jobs. I have come across a few part-time, though. But since I can’t pay my bills with 20 hours a week, even at 11 dollars an hour, I need both jobs. My question in more of how do I accommodate a constantly changing schedule? I’ve worked multiple jobs before, so I’m not afraid of the work load, but never in a professional environment. How do I, or is it even possible for me to, tell a potential employer that I need flexibility in my hours? Especially when, being just out of college, I feel as if I should just be grateful to have even gotten an interview, let alone having a job where I get to choose my hours.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Aha! That was the part I hadn’t understood (that you couldn’t find full-time work). Okay, got it.

            It’s possible that you’ll find a part-time internship where they’re willing to give you flexible hours. Internships often have that kind of flexibility. I’d just ask in the interview how the scheduling usually works, and if it would be a problem to have a fluctuating schedule to accommodate your other job. It’s not an outrageous thing to ask for in the context of an internship. If they say no, well, they say no — but it won’t have been a crazy thing to ask about.

            That said, it might be worth changing to a different part-time job, one that will give you a reliable schedule. The most important thing here is to get work in your field so that you can start working toward whatever career you want, and I hate to see you have obstacles that might make that more difficult. I know that’s easier said than done, but I’d at least explore that.

            1. #4 OP*

              I was afraid you would say that… How bad should I feel if I do leave my current job after having just worked there for four months and right in the middle of the holidays? Would it be silly of me to put off leaving, and therefore job searching, until January, just so I don’t burn bridges with the people I currently work with? (My department only has five people, including my manager, and we are already short-staffed.)

              1. Sourire*

                Not Alison but going to answer anyway – I absolutely wouldn’t quit your current job until you have an offer in hand from a job in your field, and even then, I’d talk to your current manager first and explain that these are going to need to be your new hours/schedule and if that doesn’t work you will need to leave and look elsewhere. Perhaps he’s not accommodating in the hypothetical (if I get another job…) that you are presenting, but would change your hours if he realizes it’s that or lose you.

                You have no idea how long it is going to take to find something in your field and currently have a part time gig that pays pretty well and gives you a lot of hours. Do not quit that for a maybe scenario based on a job you don’t even have yet.

                1. Sourire*

                  Ah, just realized I may have misread and you meant to ask if you should feel badly leaving your current job should you find something in your field soon. I don’t think you should have any reason to feel badly. It happens all the time in retail and you’ve been honest with your manager about what is going on and that you would like to stay on assuming they can work around your hours (which sound like they would be weekends/nights – the most in-demand hours for retail anyway, especially during the holidays). Definitely do not hold off on your job search!

              2. LAMM*

                Start looking now. Any retail manager worth their worth should be overstaffed right now, not understaffed. Every year I’ve had at least 2-3 people just disappear around the holidays. It’s something you plan for, as most of your employees are not in it for the long-term.

                Plus, Christmas is only 5 weeks away. Even if you can apply, interview, get hired and have a start date within those five weeks, it’s not like you’re putting them in a tough spot for the next 3 months. The holiday season is pretty short and it’ll be January before you know it. You’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t start sooner.

                1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

                  The thing is, retail is staffing up right now, so if OP starts looking right now, they’ll find something, but the new job will probably demand starting right away (heck, I’d be shocked if a condition of hire at this point WEREN’T agreeing to work Black Friday). Service industry hiring moves really fast, and while many will generally wait for you to work out a two week notice elsewhere, I doubt that anyone would be willing to do that in mid November.

                  OP, I actually recommend NOT looking until January. Mainly because this gig is mostly pretty good for you in the short-term, and I would be seriously concerned that you would take another job, then get laid off in January anyway, because places will be staffing down. Most places will be transparent about whether or not you’re a temporary holiday employee, but some may not be, and it’s a situation where you’re in greater danger of getting screwed.

                  Additionally, if OP is looking for regular hours at another place, he/she is NOT going to find them during the holidays; not anywhere. Most retail places are going to be all-hands-on-deck for the next two months, and the only people keeping regular schedules are likely to be senior employees, not newbies.

              3. #4 OP*

                Okay. I think I’ve been caught up on feeling bad about maybe leaving my current job and it is overly complicating my life. I just feel like a horrible person because I went into this job knowing that I only planned on it being temporary and I totally did not make that clear in the interview process. Because I really need the job. Is this normal or should I have let them know in the beginning that this was only a filler position?

                1. Store Boss*

                  It’s retail. It’s normal, and pretty much expected. Don’t stress over it. Focus on doing what’s best for your career.

                2. Sarahnova*

                  ….it’s retail! That you actually show up for your shifts consistently probably puts you above and beyond their expectations. A LOT of people working retail plan on it being temporary. Hell, if they didn’t figure when they hired you that someone with a degree working retail probably planned on it being temporary, they are not the brightest bulb on their own shelves. Feel precisely 0% guilt.

                3. Saro*

                  Some unsolicited advice: Have you looked into waitressing/bartending, high end restaurants, if possible? The money is great and schedules are usually flexible. That’s what I did and what my baby brother is doing now (I feel ya on the student debt – good luck!)

                4. Graciosa*

                  Not only is it retail, but your employer is not taking reasonable steps (like scheduling in a way that is fairly consistent and predictable) that would make this job attractive to long term workers rather than those who are just paying the bills until they find something else.

                5. BRR*

                  Don’t feel bad! First do they do anything to try and retain employees? Second it doesn’t take as long to train people, so other positions where it would be rude to leave after four months it’s because the company is likely not getting anything from the money they invested in you. Third you most likely will not be able to conduct a full job search that quickly.

                  I also want to throw out these two other things. It might be time to expand what fields you’re willing to enter. If there aren’t that many full-time positions you might need to explore what else you may enjoy. And don’t go to grad school to help get a job.

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Agreeing with everyone else here — it’s retail, and it’s normal. Also loudly seconding Graciosa on this: “Not only is it retail, but your employer is not taking reasonable steps (like scheduling in a way that is fairly consistent and predictable) that would make this job attractive to long term workers rather than those who are just paying the bills until they find something else.”

              4. Basiorana*

                #4 OP, don’t feel bad at all. It’d retail. They assume people will do that and plan accordingly.

                1. krm*

                  +1 on the restaurant suggestion! When I was just out of college, I worked at a restaurant until I found a job in my field, and then I continued to work a few nights a week at the restaurant even after I had a full time position. The money is great if you are in the right spot!

              5. Raine*

                Hi OP. Do not worry about leaving the Big Box job if you find something more do-able before the holidays are over. I have worked at a Big Box place; I came to the conclusion that their constantly changing schedule — it wasn’t just that my day-to-day shift hours were different day to day, but that the entire schedule was different week to week — was deliberate. It keeps people from being able to leave, because they can’t schedule job interviews reliably, they can’t schedule other part-time work around it, etc. (By the end of one year I was very close to never being able to get out of the job, what with the super-low wages now very nearly making me immobile — by which I mean I was leaving not just paycheck to paycheck but to the dime and penny, so that I couldn’t afford a haircut, couldn’t afford new shoes, a new interview outfit, etc.) I know how dire the situation feels, but please do not put this Big Box job before everything else any longer.

                1. Ann Furthermore*

                  Ugh. That is so awful, and it’s so crappy for employers to do that. I read a story recently much like yours. The person profiled said that she needed her job to at least have a little money coming in, but was looking for another job. But her employer wouldn’t give her a steady schedule, and sometimes she didn’t know until 2 hours before her start time that she’d have to work that day, which made it really difficult to schedule job interviews.

                2. Melissa*

                  I read an article in the newspaper (can’t remember which one) a few months back that suggested the same thing, that retailers deliberately make schedules fluctuating and unpredictable to make it harder for their employees to find other work, whether it’s a new full-time job or a second part-time job. Might have been the same article Ann read – it profiled a couple of people who were talking about how 1) they had a hard time finding other work because they couldn’t reliably schedule interviews, and 2) they had a hard time finding consistent childcare because they never knew when they would be working in advance.

          2. Museum Educator*

            What about taking 2 part-time jobs in your field? Also, this has been asked a few times but I haven’t seen an answer. Are you sure the pay is below $11/hour? Retail is one of the lowest paying gigs out there and it’s rare that something pays much less than that. I’m in a very low paying field and my first entry level job paid just over $11/hour in a very low cost of living area.

            1. Anx*

              I’ve seen quite a bit of incredulity at her taking a pay cut. $11/hr is pretty high for retail (especially if it’s with no experience), and I think the OP is worried about leaving that for another job that would likely pay less than $11/hr. If you’re making double digits, it can be really hard to walk away from that. The OP is interested in entering an environmentally focused field. I would think, based on my observations of job postings and friends’ experiences, that the OP is worried about finding a job in that field that pays more than $10/hr. With just a BS and not a lot of experience, it can be really hard to find something in that field that hits double digits.

              Maybe there’s a regional component here, though. I do know that 8.50 seems to be a pretty common wage for B.S. part-time or full-time hourly work where I am.

                1. Anx*

                  And I assume that’s part of the differing reactions. I live in a state where $7.25 is that minimum, so $8.50 is a significant bump and high enough to boost your ego a bit, too.

              1. Biff*

                Retail is easily 11 to 13 dollars an hour where I live. I’d I’ve definitely seen “Do It For Love” type jobs (environmental causes, helping the disadvantaged or) and creative fields offer less.

              2. Museum Educator*

                At no point did I suggest that OP should leave his/her current job for a lower paying job. I simply asked if he/she was sure that it would indeed pay less. What’s the problem with asking the question?

                And I suggested working 2 part time jobs in OPs chosen field because he/she already said somewhere that at full time they might be able to make it work, even with a pay cut.

                1. Anx*

                  I didn’t think I indicated that there was any problem with asking. And I thought I indicated that I was responding not just to your post, but to the thread as a whole.

                  Of course you cannot be certain that it would pay less, but it may be very realistic to expect that a job in the OP’s field will pay less than $11/hr.

                  I was pointing out that in some regions and markets $11/hr would be a reach for salary in an environmentally focused field for entry level work.

                  Where I disagree is that it’s rare to find jobs that pay less than retail, hourly. It can also be harder to make as much money in other fields because of scheduling, seasonality etc. And even if retail typically pays near minimum wage, depending on the region $11/hr can be quite a bit more.

              3. JAL*

                I have a full time, professional job and I make less than $11 per hour. My sister works at a fast food chain and makes $1 less than I do. I feel the OPs pain and I can understand why she doesn’t want to take a pay cut.

      2. LAMM*

        Can you switch to nights and weekends at the retail job (6pm or 7pm to close Monday-Friday and open availability on Saturday, Sunday and Holidays)? That would leave you open to work “regular shifts” for your day job (like 8a-5p or 9a-6p) and then go to your retail job afterwards. You probably won’t get as many hours at the retail job, but most managers are going to understand (or should!) if you get a full-time job and can only work evenings/weekends/holidays (which are often the most needed shifts anyways!). We’re very much used to it, and are generally happy when someone can get a job in their field, even if it means we see them less.

        Not ideal since you won’t have a day off at all during the week, but hopefully you’d be able to save up some money and not have to work both jobs forever (or at least be able to cut down even more on your hours at the retail job).

        1. #4 OP*

          I already work weekends at my current job, the days I have off are during the week (though which days those are changes from week to week). That is one of the reasons that I think I could make 2 jobs work. I also usually work 2-3 nights a week, leaving me with 2 full days and usually 2 mornings open during the work week. I’ve already tried talking to my manager about making my schedule more ‘second job friendly’ but he completely shuts me down every time I bring it up, even though my coworkers all of second jobs.

          1. LAMM*

            You just have to tell him (or submit it online if your store uses an online system) that, starting on X date, you are only available from 7p-close M-F and open – close on the weekend (for example). If you get scheduled for a shift you are not available for, bring it up right away. If it’s their scheduling mistake, then it’s on them to get that shift covered. Right now it sounds like you’re saying “what if….” versus “this is what it is.” You might lose hours, but hopefully a full-time day job in your field would be enough to fill that gap.

            They will adapt – either by finding someone else to work those shifts or by hiring someone who can. But I would worry about finding a full-time job in your field. Either your retail job will accommodate your availability, or you can find another who will. Nights and weekends are always a much needed shift in retail.

            1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              If OP finds a decent part-time job in their field, I can see this. But I can tell you that in retail, having flexibility in schedule is a big deal. If I had someone that had been my pinch hitter tell me that now they WON’T work outside of a certain set of regular hours, especially after they’d already asked about it and I told them it wasn’t possible… the reaction would vary from just removing them from the schedule/firing them alltogether, to giving them hours in the time frames they specified, but not all the hours they were used to (because I have 20 other employees with their own scheduling requirements). Like, if they tell me it’s now nights and weekends only, I’ll give them whatever nights and weekends I need covered. I’m not going to move around other people (many of whom, OP notes, already have second jobs, so adjusting their schedule will totally screw them over).

              Given the manager “shutting it down” every time OP mentions a schedule change, if he/she does what you propose, LAMM, it would almost certainly result in either a dramatic reduction in hours, or no hours at all.

          2. AmyNYC*

            Can you change your availability at BigBox? Block out two or three days you’re not able to work there, and fit the other part time job into those “free” days. I did that when I worked retail while also working a “real job” part time/internship; the scheduling part worked, but this will lead to burnout – there were weeks I was working 7 days straight and I couldn’t do it for more than 6 months or so.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            I can almost guarantee that the reason she shuts down the convo about working around a primary job is because she feels she is already doing enough of that with other people.

        2. AndersonDarling*

          If you are good at your job, you should be able to make inquiries at other retail locations that could provide a steady schedule. Some of the smaller retail locations have smaller staffs and can have a set schedule. You may be surprised that some managers have room to match your current rate, or come close.
          I have a full time plus a part time that I work 2 evenings a week and every other Saturday. I love both of my jobs, so I don’t feel worn out. It works out very well, and having an employee discount and the extra $$ is great.

      3. Dan*

        What kind of work do you do where there actually is part-time paid work that isn’t an internship? One thing that sucks about internships is that they’re generally designed for students before they graduate. I realize you say you want to do environmental work for a non-profit, but what roles are you actually trying to get? My first thought was with AAM — that part time professional roles are few and far between. The ones that I see are with people who have an established track record with a company and want to semi-retire or something.

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          I have seen several that are part-time, usually grant-funded. It’s not completely unheard of.

        2. anonymousreader*

          It seems like most of the professional entry level jobs I see are only part time (I’m looking at various types of nonprofit jobs for people with Library and Info Science degrees).

        3. Anx*

          She says it’s environmentally focused.

          It’s very common to hire a few part-time people instead of a full-time one, especially since a lot of the work is grant funded, seasonal, temporary, depends on politics, etc.

          1. Dan*

            The *org* is environmentally focused. I’m curious what the job itself is. You can be an accountant at a nonprofit, and the accountant is probably numbers focused…

            1. Anx*

              I think we’re both making assumptions. I think that she wants to do work that is environmentally focused. We don’t know if her specific role would be or not.

              1. Dan*

                I’m not making any assumptions. The OP has been active in this thread, I’m curious as to the types of roles that she’s specifically interested in. I live in DC, and so many people say “I work for a non profit”. Yeah well so do I, but I do software development and mathematics, and get paid comfortably for my services.

                I’m asking about the work she wants to do on daily basis. Some people maintain computer systems, I write software, one guy is an accountant, some people do fundraising… I want to know what is it about the OP’s work that all they can find is part time employment, if they’re lucky.

                1. Anx*

                  Hmm, I must not be seeing comments as they post. I was under the impression that they are working retail right now and don’t actually work for an organization yet.

                  I only read that they are interested in going into nonprofit work focusing on the environment, not interested in going to work for a nonprofit that focuses on the environment.

        4. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I don’t know if this is what OP is thinking specifically, but the environmental movement is almost constantly hiring canvassers, which are part-time and hourly. But I would also think OP could do that with a ton of flexibility around his/her job.

          1. LawBee*

            and if they’re the canvassers that I run into every day on the way to work, it’s a terrible terrible job. Those kids are miserable – I overheard two of them in the coffee shop talking about their jobs. It wasn’t even standard b*tching, it was just this really sad acceptance that their job sucked, everyone they met on the street hated them, no one ever met their eyes, they felt like they were nothing more than lampposts, etc etc. I wanted to give them both a hug.

            1. Amtelope*

              Yeah, I would be really, really wary of nonprofit canvassing jobs. I’ve seen people have very bad experiences with them, from unrealistic quotas that required them to either be aggressively pushy or get fired, to violations of minimum wage laws. I would try almost any other avenue for getting a foot in the door with nonprofits before taking a canvassing job.

              1. MNChristy*

                Ugh. I worked as a canvasser for one summer while in college and it was absolutely miserable for all the reasons Amtelope mentions above. Some people like it and excel at it, but I think they are in the minority.

        5. Cath in Canada*

          Yeah, I have a friend who works in the environmental field and until this year she was always balancing at least two and sometimes three part-time jobs at a time. This year she got a full-time job that runs 9 months a year, which is almost unheard of apparently. It’s just not a very well funded field, and there are plenty of people willing to volunteer to take on some of the work, so there’s not a ton of demand for full-time employees.

        6. Clever Name*

          I have a professional STEM job, and I work part time. I was hired to be part time. My company frequently hires part timers because often we need help in a certain area, but we aren’t sure of the workload. People sometimes transition to full time, sometimes they don’t.

        7. Melissa*

          I work in research (social sciences) and there are lots of paid part-time positions that are not internships and don’t necessarily require student status. Many of them are at nonprofits, and most of them are grant-funded research assistant positions. I was looking for one to supplement my research fellowship when I was writing my dissertation. Often they prefer if someone is a current student (one I interviewed for, at a child welfare nonprofit, preferred an advanced doctoral student because they anticipated making a full-time hire in the next year. They actually asked me in the interview if I would be willing to stay on, should they get the funding for the full-time position), but it’s not a requirement of the job. The one I eventually got paid a lot more than $11/hour, but I also lived in New York at the time.

      4. ExceptionToTheRule*

        OP4, I feel your pain. I’ve been working a full-time job and a part-time job on the side for going on 20 years, because… well, let’s not go into how young & naive I was at age 22.

        The best answer I have for your question is being honest. Make sure your retail job is on your resume and that it indicates you’re still employed. As the hiring manager, I would certainly ask about whether you intended to work both jobs during the interview process. If they don’t bring it up, ask about the potential schedule, it might be flexible enough to allow your retail schedule to have priority. If it’s not, then you can adjust your availability with the retailer as LAMM talks about.

        The real key to pulling this off is keeping meticulous track of when you’re supposed to be where.

  3. CoffeeLover*

    Is it really possible someone with a bachelor degree and a job in a related field would make less than 11.50 an hour (which translates to 24K annually)? I tried a quick google, but got questionable sources. I’m in Canada and the lowest I’ve ever heard (and was shocked by it) was 38K, but maybe that’s because everyone I know took business or engineering.

    Anyway OP, similar to what Biff said, if you’d like to have both jobs, I would look for full-time in your related field and try to find a part-time job you could work evenings or weekends. I know people that have done that. Alternatively, you could just consider repaying the loan slower. Depending on your interest, you might not be saving very much by trying to pay it off asap.

    1. Oh anon*

      I have a BA in History /Anthropology. The plam when I started school was to work in a museum. Cue 2008,the economy crashes and I have 4 classes left to complete my degree. What dries up? All those entry level jobs I was counting on. They either became non-existent or non-paying internships. Now, I’ve seen these types of jobs reappearing, but lots of them are seasonal, part-time and many I applied for last year were starting people, with prior work experience, at $8.00/hour.

      1. #4 OP*

        This. Exactly. Everything seems to be a non-paying internship! That’s also why I am looking into part-time work in my field. If I could find a full-time position that was even considering hiring someone right out of college, I wouldn’t have started working at the big box store in the first place.

        1. Sourire*

          Ah, it all makes so much more sense now. Your original letter didn’t really address the fact that you are/were looking for full time work as well and haven’t been able to find anything and so I found the focus on part-time work to be confusing.

          If you can’t get your current manager on board with creating a set schedule that would work with a part time role should you be able to find one, you may need to look elsewhere for your supplemental income. Many retail and customer service jobs are more flexible with scheduling than it sounds like your current job is. I remember most of mine had me fill out forms with the days and hours I was available and then would only schedule me during those times. It wasn’t a set schedule I could count on not to change from week to week, but it did mean I could say certain days and times were off limits.

          1. Anx*

            I’ve had much more flexible schedules (not in retail–all my retail experience is atypical), but devoting a full 20 hours a week to another job may be pushing it.

            Another thing to consider is that if you want to work 20 hours a week at Job A, you probably have to give that at least 30 available hours. Same with Job B. So you have to have 60 -80 hours available to work, and depending on hours of operation and patterns in when they need you, which can be hard with a more professional, 9-5 environment. Plus, it can be very difficult to work in early morning shifts at one day (at 5 am), and then have to be someone else to 5 pm, and so on.

            So if the OP can swing this they should probably start looking into how to prepare their bodies for wild fluctuations in their sleep and eating cycles.

          2. themmases*

            I agree, I used to work retail as a student and my experience was that it was much easier to be firm about your schedule coming in. While the availability I put down in my application wasn’t totally honored, my employers at least started out trying and slipped gradually which gave me time to push back or switch shifts. It’s much harder to tell a retail manager you need a consistent schedule when they’re used to having you there whenever they want, or you don’t have an absolute contraindication to a certain shift such as school.

            Personally I would take work in my field, tell my retail employer how it is, and if they don’t like it… Well, it’s not that hard to find a new job in retail this time of year. A new manager who hears that you actually prefer to work evenings and weekends will love you. I’ve left retail jobs with less notice than I would have liked before because of unresolvable schedule or working condition conflicts, and no one ever checked or cared. If an employer in my field did care, I’d honestly think they were really weird. People know what retail jobs are for.

        2. Kat M*

          OP-I feel your pain. I was definitely in that boat.

          Question for you-would you consider getting a job a bit outside of your field, just to fill that full time need and gain some professional experience, while maybe doing some environment advocacy, networking, etc. on the side?

        3. Museum Educator*

          What area are you in? Have you looked at They have a lot of great opportunities in environmental work.

        4. MNChristy*

          I graduated with a Anthropology/Sociology degree in 2008 and had a similarly difficult time finding work in my field (also nonprofits). This may not be what you want to hear, but I would recommend looking into really rich volunteer opportunities with agencies that you would like to work for. Volunteering allows you to only commit a few hours a week (and organizations are usually very flexible with your hours) and if you find the right position you can gain valuable work experience and networking opportunities. My first “real” job out of college was obtained because I started volunteering at a nonprofit which turned into a part-time position, which turned into a full-time position (within about 6 months). Obviously I was really lucky, but volunteering was the foot in the door that I needed, and I’ve heard of many people getting entry-level nonprofit positions that way.

          Also, I’ve seen a lot of folks mention restaurants. I have a lot of serving experience and I would caution that finding a decent serving position in the US is difficult without experience (not that you shouldn’t look!).

      2. Museum Educator*

        Hmmm. I graduated 2 years before you so maybe I hit entry level just before the the economy tanked. I agree the museum field has been difficult to find work in, I am out of work myself. But I literally have never seen a museum job posted for $8 an hour and I have looked all over the country for work in this field.

        I haven’t looked for museum work out side of education departments, so that may be the difference, but in my experience, the education department is among the lowest paid. Straight out of college I did a 1 year paid internship at a museum in the south that paid $11.85/hour plus benefits.

    2. Basiorana*

      Entry-level professional jobs in certain fields, like Biology, pay minimum wage to start. Because they can. And they’re technically internships, so no benefits and you are constantly jobhunting.

      What’s more, there are huge numbers of fields– biology, psychology, and social work are the most common I know of– you CANNOT get a job to make over $10/hour to start, usually maxing out at $12/hour after some raises, without a degree. And social work and psychology don’t typically allow the direct to graduate school path. The expectation is you will graduate college, work for 2-5 years for under $25,000 a year to “gain field experience,” and then go to graduate school.

      Mind you, “field experience” means that we’re paying someone $12/hour to babysit mentally disabled pedophiles and supervise emotionally disturbed children. And the person who keeps those pedophiles from offending has no experience and will leave into industry if they are at all competent. It’s a system that is designed to funnel mentally disabled and mentally ill people into prisons because people don’t want to pay their caretakers what they are worth.

      1. Non-profit Anon*

        That’s a big generalization. I know lots of social workers in a professional setting- at least 75% of them are extremely competent, professional and empathetic people.

        1. Zillah*

          I don’t think Basiorama was saying that social workers aren’t professional, etc – my read of their comment was that they were basically saying that entry level people in those fields are often paid horribly, overworked, and undertrained.

          Which is, generally, true. I was paid just over minimum wage and incorrectly classified as a contracter in that kind of job. I made it six months.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This. BTDT. Let’s say a person can reasonably handle 50 (just making up numbers) cases. They are told they must handle 250 cases. The load is beyond unbearable.
            So let’s say you keep trying. If you make a mistake on one piece of paperwork – it rains in your life for weeks. You never hear the end of it. Do they give you additional help?no. And it keeps going like this. Your life gets consumed.

            This has nothing to do with the competency or the empathy of the people doing the work. It has everything to do with other problems.

        2. MsM*

          That’s not how I interpreted Basiorana’s comments. I think the point is that people go into social work because they want to meet that standard: they’re just not given the working conditions or support to do so, and a lot of the ones who most want to change the system for the better wind up leaving the field because it is hard to maintain their morale under those circumstances.

    3. Lamington*

      When I was working as a law clerk for a civil courthouse in Big City, I was making $10/hr and capped at 20 hrs.

    4. Miss Betty*

      It’s possible for someone with a masters degree and a job in a related field to make less that $11.50 an hour. And only find part time work. I’ve found this to be true in public libraries in my geographic area and have no reason to doubt someone who says it’s true in other professions as well.

    5. Anx*

      I’m in the U.S.

      Most of the people I’m friends with in related fields to me that are making 38K have a master’s or PhD and landed a job in their field quickly after graduation, but had quite a bit of lower level experience first.

      I have a B.S. and make a premium with it at my job, $4 an hour extra in an education field. I work part-time and make about $12/hour and have 3 years of related experience.

      It is not only possible, but very normal to make less than 30K with a bachelor’s degree in a field where that degree is required or relevant.

      1. Biff*

        Thank you for saying this. I’ve been indirectly accused of lying about this. People either don’t want to believe this is true or just have no idea how people survive.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Echoing thanks here. Around here the rule of thumb is a BA/BS will max out at 32K per year. That is it- you have reached the top. But no one is willing to pay for anyone who has a higher degree.

          1. CoffeeLover*

            :O I’m actually really shocked by these answers. I make more at my part-time high-end retail job than people do after spending an inordinate amount of money on a degree (though it’s significantly less in Canada).

            In my city and industry 50K (44USD) for an entry-level position would be acceptable (maybe on the lower end). I have friends though that are easily making 80K (71USD) in their first year (excluding handsome bonuses) after graduating… I would just like to take this moment to encourage more people to go into finance :P.

            1. Clever Name*

              I know. I’m shocked too. I made $39k my first job out of grad school, and that was for a city government and 10 years ago. It sounds like wages have gone down. :(

      2. Cruciatus*

        I realize this isn’t really relevant, but all this talk about lower paying hourly jobs (which I have) makes me even more irritated at least week’s Parenthood where Jasmine got a $30/hour filing job! I was all, “They said $13, right?” No, $30. Those writers are clueless! I will file my ass off for $30 an hour. There’s probably a lot of crappy entry-level jobs I’d be willing to do for $30 an hour!

        1. Anx*

          I’m trying to imagine a situation where you can even produce $30 worth services to a company through filing, as important that it is (unless you do that during lulls when you’re otherwise producing more value). That company must have been Flu uh huuuuuuussssshhh with caaaaaaaaa AHHHHHHH SH

          I do have friends that made between 30-40K (US) before the crash or that were exceptionally talented. But I think 20-30K is more common if you can find full-time work.

      1. Shell*

        I have to admit that meeting a bunch of PhD students and postdocs in my undergrad pretty much turned me off research. I did research during undergrad (pulled very similar hours as them actually, though obviously without the same expectations and pressure) and wasn’t too down about it until I heard what they were making. Yow.

    6. JAL*

      I make a lot less than that but with my medical conditions I needed a job with a lot of flexibility and this was the job for me. I know it’s not a forever job but it’s good for that. Then again I’m not in the field my bachelor’s is in because I received really crappy advice from my schools career counselor.

  4. Mister Pickle*

    #1: I can see how one might be unhappy about this, but it may be that the company-sponsored exercise program had been in planning for quite awhile before your walking program. I can pretty easily think of several scenarios where this kind of schedule conflict happens, and it’s just pure dumb bad luck.

    1. Anonie*

      OP #1 I think you should move forward as planned. There will still be people who want to walk instead of a hard core work out. I think you are reading more into it than there probably is. WALK ON!! :-)

      1. MK*

        Yes, I don’t quite understand the OP’s worry that she will make people “choose”. Unless all her coworkers are really into fitness, most people would choose the one or the other even if the hours didn’t conflict.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Exactly. A hardcore workout and a long walk are both beneficial but totally different. I would be happy to have the choice, quite frankly.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I’ll validate #1’s irritation because that would irritate me also. I think it was rude of the wellness organizer to not communicate with the OP in a “oh, Gladys, I hate to do this but we already had an event scheduled that is going to conflict with your times so I have to go ahead with my announcement tomorrow” fashion.

      After being really irritated, I’d take Alison’s advice and walk off my frustrations with my group at a different time.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Honestly, that would have been nice. But wow, I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere that such courtesy was the rule. Just the exception.

        Let me guess, the walking club meets during lunch. Or maybe 7:30am or 5:00pm. And at a regular schedule, like Tuesday and Thursday. When scheduling activities like this, there are really only so many times that make sense. People do have work to do, and want to get home at a reasonable time, so for maximum participation, wellness activities are going to be targeted at the same time. It probably didn’t even dawn on the person who scheduled the hardcore workout they were overlapping.

        In other words, I doubt we have a villain here twirling their mustache and thinking of passive aggressive ways to bug OP #1. It is not worth reading that much into.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Yeah, in our company of 200, it would stand out like a sore thumb. We just small enough for everybody to know each other enough that it would stand out as rude.

          We had an HR assistant at one time who clashed with the whole “manners” thing, and it was an irritation. She probably came from a larger corporate culture where dictating down rather than supporting grass roots up was the norm, but it so didn’t fly.

          So! Based on my past experience, yep, I’d be irritated. :) But, I’d also take Alison’s advice.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              During a 5 day work week, scheduling the only other fitness activity at the same time as the other one, just a day after the other activity was settled without a tip of the hat to the other organizer would come across as rude.

              We have a yoga class once a week. We actually schedule work meetings around the yoga class because, in our culture, that’s the polite thing to do.

              I’m not trying to rile OP #1 up :), just validating her feeling. I think, when irritated, *acting* should always go to being the bigger person.

              1. Cat*

                Hmm, yeah, I think we’re just a different culture – we have about 50 people and used to have a Mon/Wed. lunch time exercise group, but it wasn’t something that was scheduled around (or expected to be as far as I could ever tell).

        2. Mister Pickle*

          FWIW: I agree with both of you: a personal note to OP “sorry about the conflicting dates and times” seems like a no-brainer. But sadly, the thoughtfulness behind such a note is increasingly rare.

      2. SJP*

        Anonie and Wakeen – Im with you both on your points. Anonie has a good point that it’s likely it’s been being organised behind the scenes for a few weeks and they just happened to conflict, rather than intentionally.
        But as Wakeen said, they should have seen the company wide email and dropped a heads up so at least OP1 could have had the options to either reschedule or keep it the way it was.

        I concur though, OP1 continue with your planned walk. I know i’d much rather go out vigorous walking than a ‘hard-core’ work out and i’m sure other people in your team/company would also.
        Not everyone is a gym-a-holic and would enjoy the walking!
        Go walking, enjoy yourself and continue as planned! I think you’ll be surprised how many people will stick with you!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          OP, I hope you see this. I, too, would chose the walk. I am not an exercise person, so walking would appeal to me way more than watching other people do stuff I can’t do. (I would end up in the fitness class watching everyone else excel beyond me.)

          You know, the thought strikes me that the company knows you are doing this, so maybe they wanted it at the same time to make planning easier. “We all know on Tu and Th at 1 pm most people are either doing the fitness class or walking.” Maybe they put it opposite yours because they plan on allowing everyone to go who wants to go- let everyone do there preferred exercise all at the same time. This would actually make it easier to plan work things. Go cautiously here until you find out for sure someone is trying to be nasty to you.
          And definitely, follow through on your plans. You might get some of the other folks joining you. Let’s say I preferred the heavier work out. But I broke my arm. I would definitely check out your walking group while my arm healed.

          OP, tread carefully here. They may have done this to support you, not pull you down.

      3. LawBee*

        that’s assuming the wellness organizer even read OP#1’s email. If she’s swamped because she has a big initiative she’s announcing the next day, and has to make sure all the details are done and the program is ready to go, an email about a walking club could easily and understandably be missed or dropped down the priority list.

    3. Sarahnova*

      That, or the reasons the workouts are scheduled when they are are the exact same reasons your walks are: it’s the most sensible/convenient time. Maybe someone said, “man, these walks sound great, but I’d like to do something a bit more hardcore” and the plan developed from there. In any case, unless lots of people have dropped out of the walk plan, why on earth would you cancel it? If a lot of people want to do both, you may want to reschedule, but cancelling because you’re annoyed that someone else scheduled something does indeed come off as shortsighted and petty.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Petty may be generous. To cancel a group that others had committed to because your feelings are hurt is selfish.

        1. Mister Pickle*

          Petty, yeah, and I don’t think the OP should cancel over it.

          But I can personally relate to how annoying this kind of thing is: I once volunteered to do something nice for the group, at first nobody cared, but then when it was starting to come together, a number of people came out of the woodworkand and insisted I make changes and do things the way *they* wanted things done. I wanted to tell them “go to hell, you ungrateful opportunistic shoggoth-lickers” – but of course that wasn’t an option, my manager was spineless and wouldn’t support me except to say “yes, you’ve got to do it, and everyone has to agree.”

          So I completed the work, but wow, way to take all of the joy and fun out of it!

        2. INTP*

          Especially when the reason your feelings are hurt is that someone has given people additional choices beyond your activity. It would be one thing if it was another walking group but there’s no way to say “I don’t want people who are interested in doing a hardcore workout to have that option, at least not at the times of their choosing, because I want my walking group to be as large as possible” that sounds reasonable. (I don’t mean to pile on the OP, I’m hoping s/he just hadn’t thought through how different the purposes of the two groups are or the fact that having to choose other times might cause inconvenience to the other group.)

      2. Colette*

        Yeah, if I were in the OP’s position, I’d send an email to those people who were interested in the walking group and say “It turns out that the company wellness event is scheduled for the same time. Please let me know if that is an issue for you. We can reschedule this one if a lot of people want to do both.”

    4. AdAgencyChick*

      Yeah. I doubt they’re even thinking of it as a conflict with the walking club. They probably think those who want to walk will walk, and those who want to do something more intense will choose the hard-core workout.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        +1 – OP before you cancel your group, find out if any of the people involved would really find it a conflict. Maybe some of them welcome the options they would have to do one or the other based on how their day is going.

    5. Bea W*

      My company has sponsored classes like this. They arrange for an instructor to come in. It could be the time they chose was the time the person leading the group, either an internal volunteer or a hired instructor, was available.

      I’m not sure how much a “more hardcore” workout will compete with a walking club. People who are interested in a very vigorous type workout aren’t necessarily the same people who would be interested in a walking club and vice versa.

      1. OP*

        Yup! I’m willing to walk. I would sign up for the walking club. A workout, especially a “hardcore” workout, would be no conflict for me–you couldn’t pay me to do that.

    6. illini02*

      I’m going to agree. There are really only so many times that are convenient and appealing to many people. It basically comes down to the lunch hour, before work, or after work. No one wants to do before work Monday or after work Friday. Tuesday – Thursdays are likely going to get the most participation. And so you aren’t left with a ton of possibilities there. But I don’t get why you feel like people shouldn’t be able to choose what they want. I mean, if the choice for me was yoga or boxing, I’d choose boxing. There are plenty of yoga people out there. If they are different types of workouts, different people will go. You are taking this way too personally I think.

    7. INTP*

      It also may be that they just happened to bot pick the same times because they are the most convenient times with the company schedule and other factors. They aren’t really geared toward the same audience- one is for people starting a walking habit and the other for people interested in a hardcore workout. It wouldn’t occur to me to make sure they don’t overlap either. If OP does lose participants over it, I agree with changing the times or bring another organizer on board so it can be even more times per week. It’s win-win because the OP gets the visibility of having started a growing club.

  5. Nervous accountant*

    #4-I took her statement as becoming below minimum wage to mean that if she were to take time off for interviews etc that may cut into her hours at the job she currently has so she would end up making less. That sounds similar to the conundrum I faced when I was in college.

  6. Dan*


    I’m glad you are clear about not trying to base your private-sector salary on your military pay. There’s several jobs in the military that would be considered entry level in the private sector. For instance, one job I used to have was driving a fuel truck at an airport. Those jobs pay $15/hr max. If you were an E-7 with 15 years driving said truck, it wouldn’t matter to me — you get the crappy pay.

    Since your pay really has nothing to do with your job, that’s an easy objective argument to make.

    Now, if you do get caught in your “previous job’s pay” trap, I’d focus on the housing allowance and nothing else. I’m no expert on military compensation, but variable things like hazardous duty pay shouldn’t really be considered, because it’s not really intrinsic to your MOS. It’s more like TDY or something where your employer is giving you per diem, or hell, a job with heavy travel and you get to keep your frequent flyer points.

    Another thing that’s probably not going to get you too far is the pre-tax/post-tax thing. It’s a really hard analytic argument to make. There’s a few states in the US that don’t have state income tax. It’s not like you get an automatic paycut for going from a state with an income tax to one without. Likewise, you don’t get a big fat raise for going from a state with no income tax to one that has one. (The reality of the matter is that the state gets their money one way or the other. No income tax usually means other things, like property and sales tax, are higher. Or the state goes without certain services. Either way, there’s a shell game.)

    As you know, you’re best off figuring out what your worth is to the company.

    1. OP #2*

      Just to clarify, I’m an Analyst with a Bachelors and a Masters in my field, while these both transfer VERY well to the private sector, they also leave me in the situation where I’m getting paid the same in the military as everyone else and I didn’t want that held against me.

      Regarding the tax scenario, the housing allowance is also federal tax free, which is essentially 18k less tax basis which even at a 15% tax rate is leaving $2700 on the table if that’s not considered. For my actual pay military personnel are able to claim their home of record for tax purposes, where mine is Pennsylvania with a flat tax of 3.07%, but waives it for military. This would be another $2000 or more left on the table. I don’t know if this is nickel or diming but it seems like something that I should consider as part of the cost of living in an area as well as what I’m worth. Again, all of this matters if the employer is doing what they shouldn’t and basing my new pay off of my military pay, which I hope the recruiter I’m working with will help prevent but I know I’m my best advocate when it comes to my compensation.

      1. Joey*

        Fwiw I’ve hired 2 former military professionals and both understood the total comp in the military is higher than private. In other words they fully expected that the market rate and benefits in the civilian world is far different than the military. Both took substantial pay cuts knowing that while they had very useful experience they lacked a lot of experience you don’t normally get in the military.

        1. OP #2*

          I hope I’m in a different field than those two! I’ve got 5 years of program/project management and while I don’t have a PMP, my degrees are in Systems Engineering and Industrial Engineering which lines up perfectly with what should be a lateral if not increased salary. While I understand benefits are different in the civilian world, I would hope that I’m not penalized because my “teapots” are military grade.

          1. Joey*

            Well in my case they played by a totally different set of rules and never saw aspects of the job that exist only in civilian jobs.

      2. Dan*

        Honestly, if your skills are in demand, you can just tell the employers trying to shaft you that they can take a hike.

        If you get one offer, you’re likely in a “take it or leave it” situation.

        I deal with the same stuff when moving between areas with significant COLA differences. I’d love to move to Ohio and have the salary be based off of my compensation in DC. *Love* it.

        It likely ain’t gonna happen. The reality is that I could take a $10k pay cut and still have an increase in my standard of living, so a “net” raise.

  7. Student*

    #4 – You need to look at a move into a professional, career-track job as an investment in your future. I’ll assume you’re right, that it would mean taking a pay cut from your current job. It’ll also mean full time hours and probably (hopefully) some benefits that you don’t currently have, which will hopefully offset some of the pay decrease for you.

    More importantly, a new professional job puts you into a position where you could move forward in your career in ~2 years of time. By then, you will be ready for a not-quite-entry level job, either at the same job or by moving to a different position at a different nonprofit or company. You’ll start earning more and getting more benefits. Hopefully, with a little career experience, you’ll start getting enough money and/or benefits to put something toward retirement, too. Then, in another few years after that, you can make another career leap to more money or managerial experience or something, and start earning even more. It’s delayed rewards.

    If you stick with retail, after two more years, you’ll be facing pretty much the same job, at the pretty much the same pay. Given that there will likely be some inflation, you’ll probably be working for less actual purchasing power. If you’re lucky and clever, you might get an opportunity to move to retail mid-management position within the same company. You probably won’t have any real chance of a managerial position in a different retailer, though. It’s unlikely you’ll get much higher than that on the retail career ladder without a long time investment or good networking plus luck. You won’t have made any progress towards moving ahead with the type of nonprofit work that you’re interested in. You won’t be able to afford to put anything towards retirement. What you get now in retail is exactly what you’ll get for a long time.

    1. Cheesecake*

      OP explained above that it is not about the love for retail job. It is about the chosen field: there are only unpaid internships and part-time jobs atm. Now, how to pay bills in this case?

      1. misspiggy*

        That’s a beautifully clear way of putting the question. It makes me think, what are the requirements for the well paid post-entry level type of position which the OP wants to end up in? Can she get that experience elsewhere with decent pay, and move into her desired sector afterwards? As it’s museums work she wants, it’s possible that a Master’s is actually what’s needed, supplemented by part time retail work. Or getting more in depth experience of meeting customer needs, display work etc, through moving into retail full time for a couple of years – and then transferring that back into the museum sector. Another route could be teaching or tutoring, either full time or part time while studying: educational experience can be
        useful for that sector.

  8. Basiorana*

    Professional career-track jobs in many fields don’t offer benefits. That was actually the dealbreaker for me. Even my crappy food service benefits were better than nothing, and Biology jobs don’t offer benefits until you have 10 years experience and a Masters.

    I worked in food service for 3 years holding out hope before I got an admin job to get my foot into the door at a med device company. But my choices were either not in my field, or in my field without enough benefits and pay to survive. The current system expects you will live at home and stay on your parents insurance until you are 26, and then get on a partner’s insurance immediately, because you planned ahead and married someone for their insurance benefits.

    OP, I recommend volunteering for some place that uses admin skills, like as minute-taker for the PTA meetings or something, then applying for admin jobs in industries that are connected to your field (like at a nonprofit that does what you do). Do that for a few years, gradually taking on more skilled responsibilities, and they’ll either promote you into the role you want, or you can put it on a resume to get the job you want. That’s been the only path I’ve seen that equals decent pay and benefits for every step.

    1. Cheesecake*

      This is tricky. There was a question on AAM some time ago about building a career from admin role. There were some positive comments and stories. My experience is that admin job is not necessarily going to help OP get a smooth transfer to another role of her choice. Actually, it can only harm and i don’t know anyone who had a path you’ve described. More like they had more responsibilities and got into “senior admin”.

      But if admin role comes with a better paycheck and schedule – worth taking this opportunity. That retail job with hectic schedule is just not right for OP.

      1. Apple22over7*

        I remember that discussion. I think there is some merit to being in an admin role in the industry/field you want a career in. I get that expecting to be promoted from admin asst to lab manager, or museum docent, is wrong and unlikely, but just being employed in the field you’re wanting to make a career in can be a good thing. You’ll be exposed to some of the industry norms and most importantly start to build a network within your chosen field who could point you toward jobs with other companies and put in a good word for you. Working retail, you’re unlikely to make many contacts, particularly within your chosen field.

      2. MsM*

        I think that’s less true at small orgs that often have to pull in lower-level people on higher-level projects because otherwise the work won’t get done. My nonprofit’s promoted several of our administrative assistants to more substantive staff roles, based on how well they stepped up when we needed them, and we’re able to send anyone who does at least a competent job off to grad school with stellar recommendations and some really good connections. (Of course, that also means we have enough turnover to support new people moving into the roles, so be sure to ask questions about office culture and staff retention when you’re interviewing, OP.)

    2. tt*

      I’m not sure that’s true across the board for biology jobs. I’ve worked with college students, many biology, for more than 10 years, and I now work exclusively with biology students, who participate in a university co-op program. While some students didn’t get benefits, the majority of my students who got professional biology-related jobs did, in fact, get benefits, even as bachelor’s level candidates. The lowest paid of those jobs were usually hospital or academic research jobs, ranging from $28-32k (which I’d agree is underpaid for their skill sets) and those going into pharmaceuticals or biotech made more.

      The majority of my students in other majors, whether it was sociology, accounting, marketing, etc. typically also received benefits with their full-time professional jobs. I’ve seen a very small number of professional jobs, even entry-level, that didn’t provide benefits, even before the recent health care legislation.

      1. Anx*

        Do you know how to find these jobs?

        So many of the postings I find are for currently enrolled students (I don’t qualify) or for paid internships. Even full-time.

        There are a few regular jobs with benefits, too.

        Are they posted on the main websites for that school or do you have to find them through other means?

        1. tt*

          They find them through a variety of means – the University’s own job board, companies’ own websites, through networking with alumni and other professionals, or offers from their former co-op/internship employers.

          To be clear, I’m not suggesting that it’s necessarily quick or easy for them to get those jobs. just that the professional jobs they do get actually include benefits and don’t require a master’s degree.

          1. Anx*

            That’s very encouraging!

            Most of the full-time biology workers I know are actually students (grad students, fellows, postdocs, temporary workers) and thus don’t get the benefits.

        2. Clever Name*

          Look into consulting. I used to think that it was all cutthroat and unethical, but it’s totally not. We hire entry level biology field technicians at $25 an hour. Full time. With benefits. And we actually have sane work schedules (overtime isn’t typical).

          1. Anx*

            May I ask what region you’re in?

            I’m trying to wrap my head around this and it’s just so different from any compensation I’ve seen for entry-level work.

            I had always ruled out consulting because I thought it was more appropriate for someone with experience, but in the past few years I’ve become more tempted.

    3. MinB*

      I can recommend volunteering as well. I had a one day a week volunteering shift guiding people through exhibits. On days when it was slow, the regular staff had me help out with paperwork and things. They were understaffed enough and I was good enough at the tasks they’d given me that the tasks got more and more complex and eventually they created a job for me. It took 6 months of volunteering and me notifying them that I was job hunting and might leave soon to kick that job creation process into high gear, but it worked for me. It’s $13/hour, 30 hours a week, so not the best pay but it’s a foot in the door.

      OP, if you can find a regular volunteering gig at a small nonprofit in your field that’s only one day a week, you may be able to convince your retail boss to let you always have that one day off. From there, work your butt off volunteering and you’ll either make yourself so invaluable the nonprofit can’t lose you or, at the very least, you’ll have volunteer experience for your resume and good references from your field.

  9. Cat*

    So was I the only one hung up on this? It reminded me of the workplace in The Circle:

    “I work in a place that encourages others to take leadership in making the company a better place to work; it’s actually part of our evaluation tool. So, as the holidays are coming up and people don’t always make healthy choices during holidays, the company started a way to be supportive of one another with better decision-making about food and exercise, etc. In response to this, I replied to the email asking if anyone would be interested.”

    I hope this company is making it very clear that unsolicited “encouragement”about food and exercise is way out of bounds.

    1. Allison*

      I agree, some people would rather not have people at work bugging them about diet and exercise. Some people live healthy lifestyles and may view unsolicited advice or encouragement about food and exercise to be condescending, or intrusive. Others are working on being healthier, but would rather keep that part of their lives personal and not have their co-workers getting involved.

    2. Elkay*

      I think you might be picturing this as a bigger thing than it is. My company has a similar scheme we have a “champion” for health on site who just organises things like the walking group mentioned in the OP. The company provides fruit to go in the kitchen and reimbursement for sports equipment. They’re not sending an email round saying “We noticed Wakeen has eaten that whole chocolate teapot, don’t want to end up like him, get your running shoes on and grab a banana”.

      1. Allison*

        I doubt the OP’s company is doing that, but if people are encouraged to support each other in preventing weight gain and stay healthy, it may result in some misguided comments among staff, such as waving fingers at each other for eating a cookie or piece of chocolate, or eating pizza instead of salad, or declining a mid-day workout. Or even more subtle comments like “well aaall riiiiight, it’s youuuur body, just remember how much weight we all put on during the holidays . . .”

        1. Elkay*

          I guess this is where my many years of putting up with a whiny co-worker who would complain if you ate anything unhealthy in front of her come in handy because I got pretty good at saying “Yep, loving the doughnut, leave me alone”. I think it’s left me a bit blind to subtler jabs!

        2. Helka*

          Yeah, this. My company tends to be pretty low-key about their “weight loss encouragement” initiatives on the corporate level, but I’ve had individual coworkers try to push me into attending the onsite Zumba classes (because that’s the best thing for someone who relies on a cane, am I right?) in terms that were pretty rude and invasive.

          1. JAL*

            This made me laugh. I have a bad injury in my back and though I don’t rely on a cane yet, I am on full exercise restriction until they can fix the problem with therapy and injections. I would go off on the person (in the most professional way possible of course) if they ever tried to force me to do something like that. Luckily my company is more into treating us with donuts and hot dogs than pushing us to be healthier.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, depends a bit on the culture and the people. I am a non-dieter, non-exerciser in a very fit department (we have a sizable group of marathon runners, for example) and I’ve never really felt pressured or harassed by anyone when it comes to organizing team workouts.

    3. GrumpyBoss*

      I’ve been at companies that do this but it is always opt-in. people get motivated in different ways.

    4. AW*

      I’ve been places where they were OK about it and some that were very NOT OK about it. My current workplace organizes exercise groups and participates in volley ball tournaments but (so far) I’ve never been pressured about it. They let us know it exists and let it go at that.

      A previous employer on the other hand went way overboard. You can’t convince people to exercise by constantly harassing them about it. If you’re getting multiple people to ask someone to join a walking group on a regular basis, you’re doing it wrong.

    5. Melissa*

      A lot of companies do this; it saves them money on health insurance, for one. My current workplace is on a total green kick and there’s slight encouragement to do “green” things like compost the paper towels (we have a compost bin), use reusable coffee mugs at the coffeemaker (they provide them), and take the stairs instead of the elevator (we are on the fourth floor). They make it easy to do, though, and the encouragement isn’t bothersome in the least.

      I took the “encourages others to take leadership in making the company a better place” to encompass a wide range of non-work related stuff, like affinity groups, volunteering, childcare assistance, plus the diet and exercise thing.

  10. Csarndt*

    #4, I realize it’s too late for you, but this is why you don’t borrow more than your starting salary in college loans. I used to work on the campuses of several large universities and hated seeing kids walking around with smart phones and lattes and ever-growing student debt (again, not directed at OP#4 specifically) knowing that they were paying off that latte over the course of 10-30 years. I know someone who graduated with about twice the debt she should have taken on and it has limited her career and life choices immensely. At this point it is unlikely she will ever be able to get into the actual career she wanted because she can’t afford the entry level pay now and will be too old to do it once she can afford it. It’s not fair, but it’s how student loans work.

    But also, can’t you reduce your loan payments if you have a very low income job? You used to be able to (in the US).

    1. Natalie*

      Oh, FFS, the student loan crisis didn’t grow out of college students buying lattes or the smartphones their parents probably paid for. And unless you knew each student’s financial situation personally, you didn’t know they were paying that latte off over 10 years.

      1. Natalie*

        As far as reducing loan payments – if the OP has a lot of student debt, most of that is likely private loans which don’t qualify for any of the assistance programs for federal loans, nor can they be discharged in bankruptcy. Federal loans cap out at a fairly low level.

      2. Museum Educator*

        +1. Thank you! As someone who is struggling with paying back student loans I appreciate this response. I worked 2 jobs through both college and grad school and still needed to take out the maximum amount of loans possible to make ends meet. I am now drowning in student loan debt, as are hundreds of thousands of Americans and I can’t afford to work entry level in my career, never could. But guess what? There are no jobs no matter what career you are in. Who the hell knows what their starting salary is really going to be, what amount of taxes will be taken out, how much all other bills will cost, and what their student loan payments will be over time. That is an absolutely ridiculous thing to suggest people know.

        Also, I didn’t buy endless lattes or have a smart phone. (I didn’t get my first smart phone until after grad school). But even if I did, one latte a day for 4 years works out to be approximately $5600. Not a whole lot compared to my student loan debt. Not to mention that many college students get gift cards from family and friends for places like Starbucks.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Who the hell knows what their starting salary is really going to be, what amount of taxes will be taken out, how much all other bills will cost, and what their student loan payments will be over time. That is an absolutely ridiculous thing to suggest people know.

          Wait, wait. While I agree that the student loan crisis isn’t caused by lattes and cell phones (although $5,600 is a significant amount of money — do you really feel it’s not?!), the stuff you list above is generally pretty knowable. Not down to the dollar, but certainly in general terms.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Do you know it when you’re 17, though, and you’ve been told what glorious jobs there are out there, and then by the time you’ve graduated, the market is totally different?

            $5600 is significant, but I don’t think anyone really drinks that many lattes. Most of my college career, they were a really rare indulgence, My third year, I actually did drink a lot of them…because I worked at the campus Starbucks affiliate and we got them for free.

          2. LBK*

            You can, but Csarndt’s comment says you should be doing that calculation before you even take out student loans so that you can base your loan amounts on your eventual salary. I am extremely lucky to not have any student loans so maybe I’m wrong, but don’t you have to apply for those before you start school? I had no idea what my major would be when I start college, nevermind my career – and I ended up going into a field completely unrelated to my major, so even then those calculations would’ve been pretty fruitless to do ahead of time.

            1. LBK*

              After reading some of the other comments below, I’ll add – what happens if you decide that the field you want to go into won’t pay for your student loans? You just don’t go to school because you can’t afford it? The money has to come from somewhere. I suppose there’s always staying in-state and such to try to keep costs down but I’m shocked at how easy some people are making it sound to calculate this and proceed with your college-related decisions accordingly, choosing your school, choosing your loans, choosing your career with such certainty and decisiveness. Especially for a 17-year-old.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Honestly, yes, if you want to go into a field and know you won’t be able to pay off the costs of the schooling, then you need a different plan.

                I’m not saying this stuff is easy or perfect. I know that it’s not. But people should not be taking out massive loans without a realistic plan for how they will pay it back. I understand conditions may change and that plan may fall apart, but starting with no plan at all is crazy.

                1. Museum Educator*

                  I don’t disagree but I didn’t think of that when I was just going to college. I was thinking “I need to go to college”. I did ultimately form a plan and was very strategic about what I was going to do by about year 2 of college. But it still fell apart.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yeah, I’m not saying “you all suck for not thinking about this earlier.” I’m saying that we need to change the way we look at this, and how we encourage kids to look at it now.

                3. LBK*

                  That’s fair enough, but I really think that’s just not part of our culture. College decisions nowadays are heavily based around doing what you want to do now. They aren’t considered as part your career track in the same way that, say, taking a certain job due to its possible future benefits. And I would be shocked to find any teenager doing these calculations without it at least being suggested by their parents – I can’t imagine having done this kind of thing of my own volition when I was in high school, nor even having it cross my mind.

                  And frankly, I don’t regret it – I went to college for something I loved doing that I knew was extremely impractical as a career. For me, that may have been the only chance I got in my whole life to dedicate years of time to just doing something that was my passion, because the odds of eventually getting paid enough for it to make a living are so low.

                  Is that the best plan for long-term success and financial stability? Nah. Not at all. But on the flipside, do I think I would’ve rather gotten a degree in something I wasn’t passionate about and pushed myself through 4 years of it just because I knew I’d have a better starting salary when I go out? I guess I’ll never know for sure, but my gut says no.

                4. LBK*

                  Missed your last comment while I was typing. That makes a lot more sense. I agree this should be how it works going forward (to an extent) but the culture is absolutely not there yet.

                5. Kat M*

                  I agree. And honestly, I do think parents need to think more realistically as well. My mother explained that, when she and my father were making their own way in the world, the economy was booming and the message from everyone was, “You’ll be taken care of.” And she explained that parents of her generation perpetuated this message on ours. No, you can’t plan for everything, but you should try to control what you can control.

                6. My Fake Name is Laura*

                  The shocking truth is that financial aid offices do not really talk to students about what loans are, how they work, what to expect, how to manage them, etc. At my school there was a brief orientation type meeting you could attend during your graduating quarter to learn about *repaying* your loans, but jack diddly squat for incoming students on how to decide what to do in the first place. And if your parents, family, church, etc didn’t prepare you? Well too bad, hope you can figure it out on your own. Then again this was over 10 years ago so maybe there are more resources for students now?

                7. ThursdaysGeek*

                  I knew from the time I was in grade school that my family wouldn’t be able to afford college and I needed to get scholarships so I could go. I didn’t get the scholarship I was trying for, and had to drop out and go to a cheaper state school halfway through. At the time, loans weren’t being pushed, so I didn’t even consider them.

                  And now, the loans are pushed. College is proportionally more expensive, and very few are able to go without loans. But the total cost isn’t really explained, just “sign here, you need these loans to go to the school you want to attend.”

                8. Not So NewReader*

                  Alison, I so totally agree with you.

                  When I went to school, this was not a topic for discussion at all. I had no idea how to approach this question. (NO internet in those days.) I was very fortunate to go to state U’s and pay cash. I felt I had to pay cash because I could not figure out the ROI on my degree.

                  And basically what we are touching on here is that it’s not worth 120k to get a 30k per year job. It takes too long to make a profit on that investment. If education costs keep increasing, I can not see where this bodes well for schools.

                9. doreen*

                  You could not imagine the flack I got for telling my kids ” This is how much we can afford to pay for college. You can get a bachelor’s and a master’s from the city university and graduate debt-free. You can go to the state university and take only enough in student loans to cover your room and board. You can go private and take out loans/get a job to cover everything above what I can contribute. I will not take out any parent loans. If you go to the city or state university, you will have a lot more freedom to choose your major, as there won’t be huge loans to pay back. Do not go private and then get a degree in a field that doesn’t pay well. ” I did not spring this on them in their senior year of high school- I think I started when they were in grade school. And all I heard from people was ” You’re crushing their dreams. They won’t have the “college experience” . They didn’t- but they also didn’t have the experience that one of those kids encouraged to “follow his dream” had. 80K in loans and not even an associate’s degree out of it. He spent so much time working nights and weekends to pay back the parent loans that his parents couldn’t afford that he flunked out.

                  Of course, it was probably easier for me to say this since I graduated from that city university debt-free myself, and wasn’t still paying off my own loans when my kids started college.

                10. catsAreCool*

                  One way to cut down on costs is to go to a junior college for a couple of years. But if you do this and plan to transfer to a university later, make sure that all of your credits will transfer!

              2. JAL*

                My problem is that the field I wanted to go into would pay my student loans but I got really bad career advice before I started reading this blog and there are zero jobs here. No one bothered to tell me that if you live in an area with a large law school, there will be no paralegal jobs because law students will take them for free as internship experience. Now I’m stuck in a job where I am on the poverty line and I need to figure out a plan soon.

          3. Museum Educator*

            I don’t mean to say that $5600 is insignificant, but that was a number based on a latte a day for 4 years straight (1460 lattes), which most likely isn’t what is happening. My student loans are over the $100K range due to an expensive graduate school so, while I didn’t spend $5600 on lattes, that number is insignificant in the big picture and would not make much of a dent in my monthly loan payments or how long it took me to pay it off. Certainly not enough for me to be wishing I’d never bought a coffee.

            I am not sure how, as a museum professional, knowing that my starting salary would be somewhere between $24K-$40K a year would make any difference on how much I took out in my student loans. For one, that is a huge range. For another, school costs what it costs. I did not know at the time when or if I would go to graduate school, where I would end up living or how much rent, utilities, or food would be, or that the economy would tank and jobs would be incredibly difficult to find. I also did not know what repayment plan I would qualify for or the interest rates my loans might consolidate at. I didn’t know when I would get married, or have a kid, and end up being a stay at home mom, or that there would be high medical bills to pay, or any other number of issues that arise just as a result of life. Asking someone just going to college to consider all that and implying that they are irresponsible (for buying coffees) if they don’t is a bit much in my opinion. There are so many fluctuating variables that I don’t see how guessing what my *starting* salary *might* be could have any real impact on my future before taking out student loans.

            1. Andrea*

              I also work in museums and I’m finding this logic a bit hard to follow. If you had gone directly to work after high school instead of University you wouldn’t take out a mortgage, for instance, without a plan to pay it back, right? I don’t think it’s unreasonable that I made a similar plan with my student loans. I was adult enough to borrow the money so I feel like I was adult enough to asses the risk and live with my choices.

              1. Dan*

                Well sure, but the bank won’t lend you money to buy a house without a plan to pay it back. Mortgages don’t grow on trees.

                Student loans, OTOH, do grow on trees, and nobody makes you have a plan to pay it back. “Sign here”, they tell you.

                If they’re going to run me through the ringer on a house that they can forclose upon and take back if I don’t make the payments, they shouldn’t be giving me even more more without so much as a second glance.

                1. LBK*

                  Exactly – the huge difference here is that the bank is also looking at your funds and your future ability to pay back, and they won’t give you the auto loan or the mortgage if they think you can’t pay. That doesn’t exist for student loans. Maybe that’s why this is so frustrating to me – there should be accountability on behalf of the banks first to not just hand out student loans willy nilly. Once that’s done, I’ll feel more comfortable putting accountability on the students taking out those loans if they aren’t doing their research.

                2. Dan*


                  When you really think about it, the thought process that critics want students to go through requires a lot more time at the School of Hard Knocks than most 18 year olds have.

                  So, at the age of 17, I’m supposed to:

                  1) Know what I want to study
                  2) Know the likihood of me getting a job four years from now (markets change)
                  3) What it pays (probably the easiest of the lot)
                  4) Where I’m going to live, and what my rent is going to be
                  5) Know what my loan payments are going to be 4+ years from now (tough when the loan rates are variable)
                  6) Know about taxes

                  While we *should* know all of this stuff, it requires a level of financial literacy that is just not taught to teenagers in this country.

                  It’s not just enough to know what this stuff costs today. It requires us to predict what things are going to cost four years from now. For example, and this is a big one: I moved into my current apartment in 2009 rent. Rent was $1000. Rent is now $1400. That’s a significant difference, and asking a 17 year old to be able to figure that out and plan for it is asking a lot. Too much IMHO.

                3. Nan*

                  You’ll aren’t seriously advocating that it’s okay for people to take out huge loans with no idea of how it might impact their lives in the future, are you? That’s insane.

                  Yes, it’s hard. No, it doesn’t have to be done perfectly. But we absolutely should be striving to do a much better job on this area. I’m shocked at this “oh let’s just throw up our hands because it’s hard to do” attitude in hearing here, especially considering what’s at stake for people.

                4. Dan*

                  I don’t know that people are advocating that it’s ok. I’m certainly advocating that it’s part of the current state of affairs.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Hmmm, I think there are two different conversations going on then. I don’t think anyone disputes that that’s how it works now — but some of us are talking about how it should work, which is quite different.

                6. Not So NewReader*

                  Just to illustrate how bad the situation is a friend got a scholarship for 8k. With that scholarship came a loan agreement for 24k. In other words you HAD to sign the loan agreement in order to get the free money.

                7. doreen*

                  The difference is that nowadays , its not a bank that’s giving you the loan. The loan is directly from the federal government. In my student days the loan came from a bank and the federal government guaranteed it – and banks are willing to give loans if either the borrower or the guarantor can pay. It doesn’t have to be both. That’s why some people need cosigners- because the bank won’t lend to the person who wants the loan but is willing to lend to the cosigner. The problem is if student loans are made on the same basis as any other loan (what the lender thinks you can pay back right now, not in five years when you will hopefully have a better job) we might as well get rid of the whole program altogether as few (maybe none) of the people who need loans are going to qualify.

            2. Fabulously Anonymous*

              I agree – and I think part of the reaction to Csarndt’s post is that it seemed to “blame the victim.” That may be what we’re all reacting to here.

          4. Dan*

            I’m a math guy for a living, and know all sorts of tricks to scare people with numbers.

            Let me ask you this: Do you think $5/day is a lot of money?

            1. Editor*

              $5 a day is a lot of money if you’re spending it on coffee and nonessentials. $5 a day is a lot if you’re in an entry level job and putting that amount into a 401(k) that you don’t plan to borrow from or otherwise touch until retirement. $5 a day is implausibly small if that’s the rent for a decent one-bedroom apartment. $5 a day would only pay about a quarter of my health insurance bill each month (I don’t have employer-provided health insurance), so in that respect, the amount is small.

              The trouble with money is that it’s all relative, and it’s a lot easier to understand that relativity when you’re 40. A student who’s 17 needs some guidance or a lot of personal finance training at home to make complex financial decisions that student loan lenders and colleges aren’t transparent about.

        2. Joey*

          wait, looking to see what entry level jobs generally pay in a particular field isn’t that far fetched while you’re in school. It’s simple math to calculate whether you’ll be able to survive in an entry level position in your field isn’t it?

          thats generally why there are few people that purposefully go into low paying careers, no?

          1. Museum Educator*

            But you pay your loans back over the course of 30 or so years. You won’t be entry level that whole time. And their are graduated repayment plans based on income. Rarely does ones career plans go so perfectly that they can really predict this with any accuracy. Many people fail to get jobs where they thought they were or their career path strays from their original interests after getting out into the real world. Or we just end up doing something else because that’s just how it went.

            I still don’t see how knowing what your starting salary might be should have any baring on what you decide to take out loan wise. Not trying to be deliberately obtuse. I’d like to hear this explained in a way that makes sense to me.

            That said, I think a better suggestion would be to tell people overall to take out as little as possible to get through school. If you can work instead of borrowing living expenses, do that. If you can get assistance from family, do that. If you can live on less and share space to save money, have a crappier car, eat ramen noodles, do that. Because you have no idea what’s going to happen after you graduate. Trying to base your student loan decisions on an estimated entry level starting salary for a job that is 4 years away seems like a complete waste of time to me.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, I wouldn’t base it all on starting salaries — but on a general idea of what you can expect to earn in your first 10-15 years out of school, yes.

              And really, if people feel like they have NO IDEA about that, they probably shouldn’t be taking out massive loans.

              1. CA Admin*

                There’s also the issue with knowing how much you’ll be paying for school over 4-5 years. Colleges can unilaterally decide, midway through your degree, to raise tuition however high they want. My last semester, for example, cost more than my entire first year at UC Berkeley. How do you plan for that?

                Transferring is difficult and not really an option if you’re having trouble with tuition because you usually have to redo a bunch of requirements at your new school. That tacks on additional time and additional $$$.

                Basically what I’m saying is, it’s great to try and budget for school get a feel for how you’re loans will look after you graduate, but there are so many variables that can change so drastically that any budgeting is really just a shot in the dark.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I can’t agree that budgeting is a shot in the dark. Yes, things can change and you can’t predict with certainty, but there’s no way anyone should be taking out huge loans if they have no insight into how they’ll pay them back. If it feels like a shot in the dark, that’s a flag to either do more thinking or change plans.

                2. CA Admin*


                  That’s the thing though, it didn’t feel like a shot in the dark at the time. My family had saved enough for me to go to school with no loans if I worked to pay my rent and food, but between the skyrocketing rents in the Bay Area and the skyrocketing tuition, it just wasn’t possible by the time I graduated.

                  How do you predict that tuition will more than double? How do you predict that rent will go up by 50%+ in your time there? You can’t, that’s my point. You might think that you’ve got everything thought out and under control and still your costs could spiral.

                  My tuition was literally double when I ended college from where I started. Double. My rent (my #2 expense) was almost 60% more. Those are huge changes that nobody predicted and completely screwed up the budgeting that my family had done for me and my sister.

                  Here’s the thing, I agree with you in the extreme cases. You shouldn’t go to a $50k a year school with no plan to pay back your loans.

                  But for those of us who went to state schools as the cheaper option, we’re getting screwed too despite our supposedly smart choices. That’s why you can’t just say “plan better”–because most of us did the best planning we could given the information we had, then had to take out much bigger loans than we anticipated because there are no price controls on college and we were already committed. You do your best, but it is ultimately a shot in the dark because you have no control over changes to your tuition or cost of living.

                3. VintageLydia USA*

                  But how are you supposed to do that budget when
                  1) costs are not clear up front and can increase wildly at any time through no fault of your own
                  2) job markets are uncertain, even now
                  3) and the people asked to make these calculations are 17-18 years old, who typically have very little experience in even short term budgets and may not even know where to look for overall trends in the industries they want to work in, the regions they live in, or the regions they may want to work in upon graduation.

                  There are just a lot of variables outside of these kids’ control and I think asking for more than an extremely loose outline is a but much. I think there are a lot of things colleges and especially high schools can do to better prepare students, but part of that is making sure you have enough guidance counselors to adequately advise every student in an era where education budgets in general are shrinking.

                  It’s a multifaceted problem and just saying kids should just know where to look for good information and what factors to pay attention to isn’t helping anyone.

                4. Dan*

                  In the larger sense… I owe $82k in student loans. I have a good paying job to support me, I can pay my loans, rent in the DC suburbs (and live by myself), my car payment, food, yada yada.

                  Basically, I’m not in a position where I’m a lost 25 year old wondering how I screwed myself. But that doesn’t change the fact I’m not saving for my house down payment or any retirement funds beyond my 401k. IOW, the $800 or so that I’m spending on my student loan payments, I’d rather spend on something else.

            2. Joey*

              It just makes little sense to take out large loans to go into a field where the entry pay is so little and the upward mobility is so limited that you can’t afford to live for any sustained amount of time.

              For example, I know many people who have taken out loans totaling over 75k, get a degree that’s not in high demand, then complain that they can only find generic entry level jobs that won’t pay the bills. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that if you’re going to take out big loans you’d better get an in demand degree that will up your chances of getting a salary that will allow you to live and pay back your loans fairly quickly.

            3. Judy*

              As I said in another comment, many of the news articles about the student loan crisis have examples of people who chose to go to and now are completely surprised that they can’t support $150,000 in loans on an elementary school teacher’s salary. There needs to be some sort of plan on how the loans would be paid.

              1. Kat M*

                Exactly. It’s one thing to study something more general and gain experience in fields where the pay makes the loans a sustainable option. Or-you’re going to school in an area where your field is big, there is plenty of room for growth and you end up paying for a network as well. But going to an expensive school to study teaching, when neither you nor your family has the means for it? That never made sense to me.

              2. Fabulously Anonymous*

                I’m not disagreeing but I do think it’s time to re-think how we present the entire college “requirement” to students. Times have changed, funding has changed, the market has changed. The messaging needs to change, too.

          2. Dan*

            Well, cost of living makes a huge difference, and I don’t think anybody can predict with much accuracy exactly where they’re going to get a job.

            I might want to work in Oklahoma where it’s cheap, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

      3. Bee*


        Of course it’s good to save money and try to get through school inexpensively. It worked for me (no debt). But you don’t know every student’s situation.

    2. Monodon monoceros*

      While I agree that buying smartphones and lattes using student loans is not the best idea, I also think it is unfortunately not realistic to “not borrow more than your starting salary in college loans” anymore. Until (if? when?) the cost of college is brought under control, people will unfortunately have little choice than to continue to take out lots of loans in the hopes that they will be able to get a job to start paying those off. I think it is reasonable for people to look at whether college is worth it to them depending on what career they want, but overall it still is worth it for most careers. It may not be as worth it as my parent’s generation (since they didn’t have to take out so many loans), but it still is worth taking on the debt for the most part.

      And yes, OP, check out the Income Based Repayment plans. You may have to consolidate all of your loans into Federal loans, but it is worth it. Also if you are looking to get into non-profit, if you consolidate to Federal loans, you are eligible for the 10 year loan forgiveness (if that is still around after your 10 years are up…no guarantees, but it’s worth trying for it).

      1. Meredith*

        Museums often qualify as non profits under the Federal Student Loan Forgiveness program, if you have qualifying Federal student loans. I hesitate to count on PSLF at this point because it’s getting some political flack, but do look into it. I do think that the government will probably honor the forgiveness of loans for people who sign up before they do away with it… Anyone in a full time (35 hr/week) nonprofit, government, teaching, public service job should look into it. I work for a state university and qualify.

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          The problem is there is no “sign-up” as far as I understand. You just consolidate your loans, make 120 payments, and then cross your fingers and apply for the forgiveness after you’ve put your 10 years in. It’s a big gamble, but if you have high debt and are likely to work in the public sector, you might as well do everything to set yourself up to be eligible. That’s my reasoning anyway. I have high debt and will probably always work for an state or fed agency, public university, non-profit, etc. so I’m hoping that there will be huge political backlash if Congress tries to get rid of this program.

            1. De Minimis*

              I’m hoping that even if they do end it it’ll be a situation where it applies only to future borrowers.

          1. Anx*

            Another issue is that it’s a holdover from a time where committing yourself to 10 years or more to full-time work was something of a service, and not hitting the lottery and finding some job security and full-time hours.

            It’s heartbreaking to watch people volunteer for organizations, work part-time, or work in an even more low-paying field that’s not recognized and not work toward that forgiveness.

      2. ChristineS*

        “I think it is reasonable for people to look at whether college is worth it to them depending on what career they want, but overall it still is worth it for most careers.”

        It’s not so much that it’s worth it, in my experience, as it removes some barriers. I read an excellent description of the situation elsewhere on the Internet: Getting a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee employment, but NOT having one does guarantee that you will be shut out of a whole class of jobs. You basically have to take on the debt for the chance to get a “white collar” job. Not the certainty of a job, which is what most of my generation was told when we trooped off to college, but the *chance*.

        The only reason I’ve ended up even close to the kind of work I want to be doing is because I got insanely lucky and was able to get my master’s degree for more or less free, by working at a university that included free part-time tuition as an employee benefit. That master’s degree came with an internship that got me experience in my field and allowed me to transition into a job that’s getting me experience in what I want to be doing. The bachelor’s degree got me *a* job; the master’s degree got me *the* job, as it were.

        So, OP #4, maybe that’s something to consider. Is there a chance you could get a job at a school where employee benefits include partial or full tuition coverage? Then you could get your master’s without taking on a huge pile of additional debt and hopefully land an internship in your field in the process. It’s not a viable option for everyone, I know. But it might be something to consider. You’re in a horrible (and horribly common) situation. I hope something works out for you.

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          I agree. By “worth it” I just meant “will benefit you” and that certainly includes removing barriers to getting a job.

          1. PNW*

            But even with those barriers removed, the chances of finding a job that pays enough to let a person survive while paying off loans is slim. My son got his AA at a community college and came out of that debt-free. He did take loans and work for his remaining two years of school at a state university. He couldn’t find a professional job for several years, so he dealt poker for a couple of years and actually did really well until his card room closed down. He then tried selling insurance and that was a bust. He now works for $14/hour for the State.

            He is reluctant to take on more debt to get an advanced degree which would probably only make him qualified to teach. So he is now considering becoming a plumber’s apprentice because his chances of having a career where he can actually support a family are better if he’s a plumber than if he continues on the professional track.

            It’s so annoying to read posts where people think of students prancing around with expensive latte’s and smart phones. Maybe some do, but I paid for his smart phone in college because it was his ONLY phone, and if he was drinking a latte it was because he was using a gift card he got at Christmas. He was POOR in college; in fact, one time he told me of selling his plasma for money and I was horrified. Fortunately, I was in the position to send him a check; otherwise, I don’t know how he would have gotten by.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              the chances of finding a job that pays enough to let a person survive while paying off loans is slim.

              This is going to be annoying, but I’m a stickler for this kind of thing, so I have to say that the odds aren’t slim. They’re not always wonderful for each individual person, but overall, most people do find work that lets them survive while paying off loans.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Not being snarky- I am genuinely curious. Are there stats somewhere on that?
                I’d love to see something on the average amount of payment and the matching income that the person is making. (I like looking at numbers.)

            2. Monodon monoceros*

              Yep, I agree with this too. College can remove barriers and I still think that it’s overall still beneficial, but it is not a guarantee. And a college student can’t exactly plan for the economy to collapse either. It’s tough out there, and I don’t think many people who aren’t going through it get how bad it is for recent grads.

              Also, I remember being really sad in grad school when I realised I was too old to sell my eggs to pay the rent. Yup.

    3. Helka*

      So what you’re proposing is that 17-year-olds should be able to look into the future 4-5 years and know what their starting salary is going to be in the job they’ll get with the degree they’re just starting on the road to (hopefully) get?

      1. Judy*

        That was certainly mentioned in the college prep seminars offered for students and parents at my high school back in the 1980s. During the “paying for college” section, there was a discussion of savings, grants, loans and scholarships and a discussion about the salaries of different occupations. Even though my parents were educators, it was a different world for them in the late 1950s, when Dad went through school on the GI Bill after Korea and Mom got free tuition because her mother worked as a secretary at the university.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, this actually isn’t a crazy thing to be thinking about. Perhaps you can’t predict what salaries in a given field will be in four years with total certainty, but you can absolutely get a general sense and at least have a realistic picture of how the loans you’re contemplating will intersect with your ability to pay them off.

          1. Helka*

            If you have a very strong and solid sense of what you’re going to be doing after college, maybe. But I don’t think most 17-year-olds can say with even reasonable (let alone absolute) certainty what their career path is going to be.

            1. Judy*

              Well, one thing I’ve learned is that this 45 year old doesn’t have reasonable certainty what her career path is going to be. If you had asked me 5 or 10 years ago what I’d be doing now, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have guessed this.

            2. Museum Educator*

              Very true. I started out in graphic design, then went to new media, then art education, then dual major in art ed and art history, and finally settled on art history and museum studies. Once I figured that out my direction was clear, but it took 2 years of trying a lot of different things.

            3. Colette*

              Many people do change their goals in university, which is fine – but they should be considering the financial impact of those choices – not only the projected salaries, but the impact on the number of classes they’ll need to take overall.

              If they’re really unsure about what they want to do, they should try to work or get internships in the field. I know that’s not always easy, but it’s easier than having 3 figure debt spent on a degree in a field you’re no longer interested in.

              And, if all else fails, they can stop going to school and get a job to save up money while they figure it out. Again, this may not be easy, but neither is spending most of your adult life paying off debt you spent on a degree you didn’t get.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Where does one go to figure all this out if they want help? That was what baffled me. I kept my education modest- I did not go to a “top” school. And it was for this reason, I could not figure out how I would pay for the higher priced school.

                I remember my friend got a grant for $800. She was over the moon happy. I thought “but your tuition for one year is more than ten times that”. (Tuition was cheaper then.) I skipped the grants because I just did not get it- less than 10% of ONE year’s cost did not seem helpful to me.

                1. Colette*

                  Talk to coworkers, friends of their parents, parents of their friends. Search the internet. Check with organizations they’re involved with. The options will vary for each person. Sure, some people will find this easier than others, but that’s the case in every situation, and it’s not an excuse for not doing it.

                  In your example, one $800 grant isn’t much – but if you instead borrow $800 and take 10 years to pay it off at 5% interest, you’ve spent an additional $517.61 in interest. Most people aren’t going to fall into a full scholarship, but it’s important to realize that small amounts help, too.

            4. Hlyssande*

              I’m 32 and I still have no idea what I want to do with my life.

              I got a BA in philosophy because that’s what interested me my last two years of college.

          2. Chai Latte*

            I think you can know a general sense of the salary in your field, but you can’t know that you will actually get a job to have that salary.

            1. Anx*

              + a million

              That’s probably the most succinct way to put it. Education can be a path to prosperity, but it can also be a path to poverty.

            2. Kelly L.*

              This. I think the problem is less “the salaries aren’t knowable” and more “the job market in that field might be totally different in four years,” with a side of “sometimes parents and counselors Really Talk Up a certain field that isn’t really as lucrative, or as awesome, as they say.”

                1. CA Admin*

                  Or nurses! “They’ll always need nurses” and “there’s a huge shortage of nurses” was something I always heard going through school. But it took a friend of mine 2 years of job searching to find a nursing job after he graduated. Why? Because it’s actually “there’s a huge shortage of nurses, but we’ve all cut our new grad programs to the bone to survive the recession, so we can only take nurses with experience, new grads need not apply”.

              1. Joey*

                If you don’t think schools are in the business of selling degrees you are sorely mistaken. There are enough ways to frame stats to make the least marketable degrees desireable. You have to understand that most school employees pitching degrees have the schools best interest at heart, not yours.
                And parents…. If they’re old school like mine they were grew up any degrees were fewer and farther between. A generic degree is no longer a way to separate yourself from the pack

                1. Editor*

                  But isn’t one of the problems the fact that parents helping their kids get into school and get jobs are a generation behind the times (do what you love, take your resume in in person), and the high school teachers and college marketers have no real-life experience with life outside education?

                  So the problem the 17-year-old has is that a lot of the advice is out-of-date or misguided. In addition, there’s not very good counseling about career interests before college, and not very good academic advising in college. I think people who want to do what’s best for the student and who also know a lot about academics and the workforce are few and far between — yet people advocating careful planning seem to be telling high school graduates they need to have a therapist’s insight into themselves, a teacher’s insight into their skills, and an analyst’s insight into labor market and economic trends. We can certainly do better than we are, but I think doing really accurate planning can be unexpectedly undermined — such as when tuition increases at unforseen rates.

                  I think we’d be better off providing more support to public education and finding ways to make colleges more affordable. One suggestion I’ve seen is to move first-year required courses into public schooling, so students in high school took community-college-level introductory courses, perhaps in their high schools, and then went to college for three years. I don’t know if this is a good idea, but it is one proposal.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  I agree with the both of you. And I am tired of hearing about a well-rounded education. A well-rounded education does not mean you have a marketable skill. Colleges overall do not provide an education that is relevant to the work world. This is such a bad plan. If your product (the graduates) cannot find work then loans are not going to be paid off and like dominoes a chain of events will happen that will only hurt the school in the end.

            3. MsM*

              I think it depends on the field, unless we’re suggesting that nobody major in the humanities. There are a lot of directions my post-graduation career could’ve gone, and even if I’d focused on my top three choices, there would still have been an awful lot of variance.

          3. Nerdling*

            But that doesn’t take into account that not everyone knows what they’re going to be going into when they start. A student might go in thinking they’re going to be a chemical engineer and take out appropriate loans, only to discover that they hate organic chemistry with a burning passion and end up in biology. Or they might think they want to be a psychologist, only to realize that, actually, they hate statistics and end up in a pre-med program. (All examples completely made up; maybe med students really need statistics, I don’t know.) It’s absolutely possible to think you know exactly what you’re doing and have it all fall apart on you partway through.

            It also doesn’t consider the students who come in without a clue what they want to do. The deck is really stacked against those kids these days, because they can end up requiring very expensive additional years to finish once they decide on a course of study.

          4. Anx*

            I disagree wholly. The economy in September of 2004 and December of 2009 were completely different. And even today that economy is completely different than it was in 2004. And that still doesn’t take into consideration the odds of actually finding a job in that field. And even if the odds are good, no one is immune from being unemployed or underemployed.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The point isn’t that you can predict with absolute certainty; of course you can’t. But there’s lots of room for students to do a better job of this type of assessment than many currently do. Many people don’t even try to make this type of assessment.

              1. LibbyG*

                I fully agree. I’m a professor in the liberal arts, and I always find some excuse to have my students look up careers in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Most haven’t a clue about what they might enjoy doing, and they always get some good ideas.

                Among the many things that have to change (like educational loan policies) is this weird idea that there is one and only one perfect career for every person. It’s inaccurate and paralyzing.

                1. Zillah*

                  This! I have so many friends who want to find their true calling – and I was kind of in that boat, too, for awhile. But I eventually recognized that hold on – there is not just one profession that will work for me. There are a lot of things that can fit okay, and I just need to find something in one of them. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing.

              2. Kat M*

                When my parents got real with me about how college costs, that gave me an opportunity to figure out how I could make a difference in college costs. I held down a job and found a way to pay for my rent, bills, groceries, books, and pocket money, as well as travel to my hometown for holidays (and I live in a very expensive city). I took out federal student loans. I applied for scholarships. I worked extra hours when I needed to. I did AmeriCorps after college, partly because of my field and partly because they’d give me some cash with which to pay my student loans. As for my career, I took advantage of our career resources, went to my school’s networking events and, though I couldn’t do a lot of internships, I kept in touch with people from both internships I did.

                Could I control everything? No. But I took control of as much as I could and took advantage of other opportunities. I didn’t hit the benefits paying full time job till two years after my college graduation, but I was able to keep my head above water. Was part of that luck? Probably. I also think that taking control of what I could and learning to think ahead really helped me.

            2. Judy*

              And the economies of September 1987 and May 1991 were completely different. I spent 3 years hearing graduating seniors in engineering have 4-8 offers. During my year, I was very lucky to have two offers. I worked with guys in the 1990s who as engineers in the late 70s drove cabs and worked retail because they couldn’t find jobs. Although I think college costs have risen too much which is pushing the loan issue, I also think that the idea that the economy has always been better than it is right now is false. It’s always been cyclical, and some of us have the misfortune to hit the low spots.

              1. VintageLydia USA*

                I think it’s less that the economy was worst/better, but more just how much tuition has skyrocketed in that time and the resulting loans are that much more of a burden to graduating students.

                1. CA Admin*

                  Seriously. My last semester at college was more expensive than my entire first year. How do you plan for that?

              2. Anx*

                Yes there are definite fluctuations over time. I don’t think the economy is completely at all time lows. I do think this is the worst time economically for new graduates for certain issues (tuition is higher than ever, technological unemployment is taking on new forms).

              3. ThursdaysGeek*

                Yeah, when I graduated in 1985, it took me 4 years to find a computer science job! The US economy might have been ok, but we live in an area that was very cyclical, and it was a down time. My college costs increased by about 11% from one year to the next, so then I transferred to a cheaper school.

                College costs have certainly increased and loans are being pushed much more. But these last few years aren’t the only bad times to be starting out.

          5. Poe*

            I went into university knowing what jobs in my field paid. Entry-level, not a lot, but definitely livable amounts. I went into university in 2005. By the time I graduated in 2009, my industry had turned entry-level jobs into college internships or post-college internships with $500/month stipends. The industry cut mid-level positions across the board, which resulted in people with 7 years of experience going for the few remaining entry-level jobs. So all of my careful planning about an industry with slow but sustainable growth and opportunities for someone with my background wasn’t worth crap.

    4. Ezri*

      I just graduated, and that seems like a pretty unfair generalization to me. :( It’s really unusual to know what your starting salary is going to be before you take out your first set of loans – at that point you know how much school costs and how much you have (not enough). Some people don’t settle on a major until their second or third year. Sure, high school students can make smart decisions and try to avoid super-expensive schools, but even state schools are expensive.

      I had a four-year scholarship worth 36k, another grant worth 8k, worked 30-40 hour weeks, and finished my degree (in four years) with 25k in student loan debt. I went to one of the cheapest state schools – someone who didn’t get my scholarship might end up 50k in debt, and that’s still considering in-state only (out of state was four times more expensive). That easily exceeds starting salary in quite a few fields. I know that community colleges are cheaper, but in my state they didn’t all have good programs for a wide variety of fields.

      Sorry for TMI about the financial stuff, but I wanted to make the point that avoiding student loans isn’t as simple as people make it out to be – unless you have your entire life figured out at 16, you’re probably going to be in debt to a college. Keep in mind that the kids with smart phones and lattes aren’t necessarily paying for them with loans. Sure, some probably are, but I knew plenty of people at my school who came from wealthier backgrounds and didn’t take out loans at all. Or maybe they are on their parents’ phone plan and didn’t buy the phone themselves (which for some families is much cheaper).

      1. De Minimis*

        You’re also having to assume that everything is going to work out fine after college. I did everything right and ended up borrowing just under the yearly salary for my first job after grad school. Would have been great, except I lost that job a year later, was out of work for a few years, and ended up in a lower paying sector/location where at my current level I will be near retirement by the time I earn what I was earning at that first job. The debt is now a much bigger burden than it would have been had everything gone according to plan. Part of my debt does qualify for public service loan forgiveness in ten years, part of it doesn’t.

      2. Tea*

        Just to add onto that, the rate at which tuition has been inflating can really impact the amount of money needed by college students and would-be college students in ways nobody can really prepare for.

        When I attended college at my state school, tuition literally doubled in the time that I was there– one year, it was about 12k, the next, 18k, the year after that, 21k and so on… I was lucky enough to have enough in the way of grants to cover nearly everything in the beginning, and my family had enough to pay the difference by the end– well over ten grand that I could never have accounted for. But most of my peers aren’t so lucky– those already taking out loans, who’d already poured so much money into their college education, had to either take out more or drop out (and waste the thousands for first couple of years they’d put in). So even the amount you need for loans can be highly variable and impossible to predict accurately as school costs continue to rise.

          1. Tea*

            I see from an above comment that you graduated from UC Berkeley. I graduated UCLA, so– sad high five for the exponential growth of our respective UC tuitions!

            1. CA Admin*

              Yup–I started in 2005, finished up in 2010, and spent waaaay more on my UC tuition than I ever thought possible. What happened to the Higher Education Master Plan I wonder?

    5. HR Manager*

      While sensible advice, it might be too broad. A four year Harvard degree is a good 50k+ per year, and someone might easily walk out of there 75k in debt or more. Surely, you don’t believe that every Harvard student is rich? And that every Harvard grad lands a job paying 75k out of the gate.

      College education is an investment, and it may or may not be the right investment for everyone. I don’t want to go too far off course with a rant on college prices, ROI for certain fields, and also just its positioning for education vs job training (they are not the same thing!) but there is no doubt for those who want to pursue a degree, there is a financial investment they will have to think carefully about in making that choice. But your advice to keep it at a first year salary though likely hasn’t been possible for years now (sad to say).

    6. Anx*

      The thing is, you can’t possible know what your starting salary will be when you start, can you?

      When I started school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I knew of so many things I would want to do. I looked into some of them. And perhaps I was just too naive to believe the labor reports, but getting a Bio degree meant you you could count on making more than the amount I borrowed in a year.

      In fact, you could make more than I borrowed in a year on a minimum wage full-time job.

      It’s been years and I can’t find a full-time job in my field OR any field. No full-time job, period.

      Things change in the 4 years it takes to get a degree.

      1. Joey*

        Well there havent been a ton of careers lately looking specifically for biology degrees either. I think this is the mistake tons of people make- they see decent career salaries, but don’t consider the likelihood (ie job outlook) of landing something in their chosen field. An MLS is another great example.

        1. Anx*

          I’m actually seeing quite a bit of jobs that are looking for people with biology degrees, but not at the entry level. Or full-time. Or with benefits.

          I am trying to apply to jobs I’m under-qualified for now, because what other options are there really? Stick to the jobs that ask for no experience? The ones that are so elusive?

          I read that men apply to jobs they don’t meet the minimum requirements for at a much higher rate than women…so I’m trying it out more and more.

        2. VintageLydia USA*

          Compounding this is a LOT can change in 4 years. My peers and I graduated high school in 2004 and the economy looked good. A few warning signs, but not anything your typical 18 year old would notice. My friends who went to college graduated between 2008 and 2009 and, well, you know what happened next. Fields that looked lucrative literally months before graduation were suddenly dried up. Even if you saw the writing on the wall and tried to change your major/focus, you just added at least one if not several semesters worth of classes (and that much time worth of tuition, housing, books, etc paid with loans.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right, but that was an unusual thing that isn’t what most grads are facing (fortunately). I agree that it’s not reasonable to have expected people to predict the recession. In general, though, you can make decent guesses about earning potential. They won’t always be perfect; that’s not what I’m saying. But it’s something many people could do a much better job of factoring into their thinking.

            1. Anx*

              I must admit I bristled at the comment that this is an usual situation or that it’s not what most grads are facing, although I suppose it’s true.

              As a late 2008 graduate, I still feel like a new grad. I know, I know. But the positions I’ve held since graduation are not much different than the ones I had as a student employee (and the job I have now, which is the best I’ve done since, is one I probably wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t become a student again). Many of us 2008 and 2009 grads and still struggling to enter the job market with our poor choice of degrees (mine is biology) and there are many obstacles someone in their mid-to-late 20s have do in redirecting their career. Internships are for new grads and current students. You’re ineligible for undergraduate research opportunities. Going back to school for a new degree means less access to grants, scholarships, etc. State job centers won’t help you if you already have a bachelor’s degree. Retail is wary to hire you. We have gaps in our resumes that an 18 year old or 22 year old wouldn’t have. We are transitioning to new careers before having old ones.

              The reaction to our concerns about how to establish careers at this point seem to be that we shouldn’t have gone to college without work experience or should have majored in something more practical (for today’s economy). In other words, we should have predicted the recession.

              You’re right. It’s not what most new graduates are facing right now. But 2009 graduates are still facing this.

              But even if I had a clean slate, what could I do? Labor statistics show that there aren’t any fields or majors where there are more jobs than prospective grads. And if you can find a few small majors that do fit that profile, students will be flocking to them in droves (like with nursing and teaching)? When the issue isn’t finding a high salary but an actual full-time job, the statistics pretty much tell you you’re gambling either way. Not everyone with your degree will find a job in that field, for most fields.

              1. Dan*

                I’m one of those who made the wrong financial choices but the right job choices. IOW, I certainly have a good job to show for my $90k in student loan debt. But I still have $90k in student loan debt, and the notion that I was supposed to put a lot of moving pieces together (budgeting isn’t just about income, but about cost, which varies wildly by geographic region) and forecast it five years out with some reasonable degree of accuracy is just asinine.

                Yes, it’s easy to say don’t borrow $200k for a job paying $30k out of school. But that’s just one piece of a larger puzzle.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  “Yes, it’s easy to say don’t borrow $200k for a job paying $30k out of school. But that’s just one piece of a larger puzzle.”

                  I don’t think students are hearing even this much information. There are rules of thumb to most things. And if you are in the industry or have done the homework you know some of these rules of thumb. For example: If you are making 30k per year, do not take out a mortgage on a 90K house. You won’t make it, no matter what the loan officer tells you.

                2. Anx*

                  I’m not even concerned with paying back my loans, because I’m on an IBR plan and it’s less than 15,000. 15,000 is surely an amount that an 18 year old could imagine making when they graduate. I have never made that much money, but I probably could have if I tried to get a full-time job out of high school way back when.

                  So it’s definitely just one piece of a puzzle.

          2. Kerry (Like The County in Ireland)*

            You are also looking at the reliability of information that you will be basing your decision on–for instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook is a federal publication, but I find it less than accurate and suspiciously bullish. So, if you can’t trust official government sources, and you can’t trust the universities, and you don’t have a robust personal advisory group of parents, professional contacts, and friends, how is an 18 year old supposed to pick a field that they’ll be able to get a job in?

            A Ouija Board or Magic 8 Ball is not supposed to bean accurate tool for career planning, but at this point, whatever works I guess.

            1. Joey*

              The business market, job advertisements, legislative trends, technology trends, news.

              For example, attempting to predict whose business outlook is good in your preferred geographical area is a good start.

              It’s almost just like researching other investments.

              1. LBK*

                Is that reasonable to expect a 17-year-old to be able to do comprehensively, though? I mean, I barely feel equipped to do that now and I’ve been in my current area of business for 2 years.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  That 17-year-old is about to make choices that may have massive consequences for decades to come, so yeah, we do need to expect them to do it. They should get help from family and school, but we shouldn’t excuse it as “oh, they’re too young to choose wisely,” when their choices are going to have such serious impact on their future finances and quality of life.

                  Again, I get that this isn’t what society is doing currently, but we desperately need to change that.

                2. Zillah*

                  @ Alison – I agree in theory, but in practice, I think that what this really means is that there need to be structural boundaries in place that stop vulnerable people from making these sorts of decisions in the first place, and those that we have are not cutting it.

                3. Joey*

                  Absolutely. If you are mature enough to get a loan to invest tens of thousands of dollars that will hopefully pay off down the road shouldn’t you be mature enough to research what you’re investing in?

                  How kids choose degrees now is as crazy as indebting their future livelihood to a particular stock that they’re passionate about without researching how it will perform. It’s mind boggling.

                4. LBK*

                  How kids choose degrees now is as crazy as indebting their future livelihood to a particular stock that they’re passionate about without researching how it will perform. It’s mind boggling.

                  How many kids do you know that actually do this, though…seems like a false comparison to me.

                  Such a premium (metaphorically) is put on education right now that it’s seen as a requirement that you just need to get it done regardless of the cost. We are SO far away from what you’re describing culturally that I question if it’s even feasible to get to a place where that’s the norm.

                  Should it be? To an extent, I think so. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back to this, because something about the tone of the comments saying this should be the norm today isn’t sitting right. It seems really idealistic.

                5. LBK*

                  Oh, nevermind, I got it. I thought you were saying kids are actually doing that, not saying it would be as crazy as doing that.

                  The other thing that factors in here is how much involvement the kids actually have in this process. It’s not the same as an adult going in to get a mortgage loan without even thinking about it, because that’s you doing all the work and making all the decisions yourself. The whole application and decision process of student loans sits with the parents in most cases – the kid is just responsible for paying it off after.

                  I just think that on a site where we tend to give more leniency to younger people, it’s a HUGE burden to expect them to make these kinds of decisions while they’re in high school. Hell, we even tell people in their early 30s that it’s not necessarily too late to redirect their careers.

                  Asking young adults to think about paying off their loans is one thing, but part of that is basically expecting them to know exactly what they want to do before they even start college and having to stick to that plan. I really, really don’t think that’s reasonable.

                6. Colette*

                  Well, these 17-year-olds are about to enter university, which usually require them to be able to learn independently, right? There’s no real reason why they couldn’t learn this, too.

                  Yes, they’re not likely to get it perfectly right – no one would – but “I’ll just take out whatever loans I need and it will all work out in the end” isn’t working well, so it’s reasonable to look at other options.

                  From an outsider’s perspective, the US seems like it’s all about individual autonomy until there are consequences to individual decisions (see student loans or the whole mortgage crisis), when people start claiming that it’s not possible for people to understand the documented, contractual consequences of their decisions.

                7. Joey*

                  It’s not expecting them to know anything with certainty. It’s just expecting them to have a thought out plan and adjusting that plan as things change. As opposed to just hoping things will work out.

                8. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  LBK, what’s the alternative? Continue to encourage kids to take out massive loans with no plan for paying them back? I’m pretty sure that’s not what you mean, but I’m not totally understanding what you’re suggesting that makes more sense than the idea of bringing more thought/rigor/accountability to the practice.

                9. LBK*

                  I don’t have a perfect plan, to be honest, but I think the biggest changes should first be a) decreasing tuitions and b) somehow decreasing the amount banks give out in loans. Once those are more reasonable and better regulated, I’m more comfortable making students accountable for the decisions they make.

                  Maybe this isn’t true, but I worry about anyone who wants to go into a creative field trying to come up with a plan like you describe, realizing the job market is so unkind and the salaries so low that they can’t go where they want to go, and either ending up at a school that won’t actually provide a good experience just because it’s cheap or going into a more lucrative field just so they’ll be able to pay off their loans. I fear we’ll end up with only people who have the privilege of parents who can cover their student debt being comfortable going into fields that generally don’t pay as well. Not just creative fields but education, too, which is arguably the most important field to get people into if we want to actually make culture changes around teaching kids about personal finance.

                  I wholly agree that “take out as many loans as you need and hope it works out” is an extraordinarily risky plan and unsustainable plan. I think educating people about how to research this kind of choice is important, but I think that’s step 3 or 4 of the process. We need to a much wider variety of lower-risk options available before we can expect people to choose from them.

                10. LBK*

                  To use the housing analogy: what you’re suggesting is looking at 20 houses, eliminating the ones you can’t afford or that aren’t quite right for you, maybe gauging the risk of the few that are just over the edge of your price range and ultimately selecting one out of maybe 5-6 viable options. What the current college market looks like to me is you look at 20 houses, you realize 19 are out of your price range and the last one isn’t in the neighborhood you want to live in and it’s not large enough for your family. But you have to live somewhere, so you’re forced into something less than ideal no matter what. Oh, and choosing that house will determine the houses you get to live in for the rest of your life.

                  I am totally open to this cynical view of the college system being corrected if it doesn’t, in fact, reflect reality, but being a Millennial surrounded by friends crushed under debt, it’s hard to see outside of that.

                11. Anx*

                  I’m in the US and I think we need to increase public funding for education. Education is no guarantee for employ-ability and won’t work out for everyone. But it’s an incredibly expensive gamble these days, with higher and higher costs being assumed by individual students.

                12. Dan*


                  The borrowing crisis isn’t solely on the student. They’re an easily influenced, vulnerable demographic who listens to both society and their parents tell them they need a college education if they want to amount to anything.

                  That point aside, the amount of loans a student can take out with just his/her signature is limited to the Stafford Loan program. Those limits aren’t very high for dependent undergraduate students. If they’re taking out private loans, their parents are cosigning for them. So there’s some shared obligation AND responsibility.

                  Fully half of my undergraduate debt came from loans my parents cosigned on.

                13. JAL*

                  This is why I stayed undeclared and took all my gen eds my first year and a half. But it still failed me and I’m underemployed

          3. Anx*

            There are days I definitely beat myself over being so stupid.

            But then I think: there are world leaders in government and economics that either couldn’t see this coming or deliberately misled people. When I realize that brilliant people making 6 figures or with notoriety in their field couldn’t figure this out, I don’t feel that bad.

            I mean, I still do…but it helps.

        3. Zillah*

          Yeah, unfortunately an MLS really is a great example of that. I just graduated in May. I can’t complain, though – I did it with both eyes open, and so far it’s going okay. I know a lot of people who are having a very hard time, though.

    7. Gobrightbrand*

      I agree with you. The research is out there to figure out what the starting salaries and median salaries are for most careers. If you want to be a Ice Sculptor and need $100,000 worth of student loans to be able to get an entry-level Ice Sculptor job but the starting salary is $20,000 maybe you shouldn’t pick being an Ice Sculptor, no matter how perfect that career would be for you and how much fun you would have doing it and how much Ice Sculpting is your passion. Compound that with there are thousands of people are dying to be Ice Sculptors and only a few openings and it’s a dying industry.

      I had lots of things I would rather have studied than what I did. I’d much rather have been a fine artist and gotten a degree in Painting but I knew that the numbers didn’t add up so I picked something else. I can still paint as a hobby if I’m truly passionate about it.

      The cost of my education (I did two years at community college to save money) was reasonable compared to my earning potential. I made a calculated decision to go with what made financial sense.

      I have tons of acquaintances and friends that graduated at the same time as me that picked careers that are historically known for low salaries and went to a very expensive private college for all four years. Now I see them complaining on Facebook about their student loan debt and how they don’t make a lot. Well duh. Make smarter choices.

      Not everyone is in the same boat. Some people truly have been caught in the crosshairs of a bad economy but many more people did take on too much student loan debt, picked career paths that are historically not high-paying and now are overwhelmed.

      1. Judy*

        It really doesn’t help that so many of the student loan articles about people drowning in debt are Harvard/University of Chicago/Yale graduates who are somehow surprised to learn that $150,000 in debt is not supportable on an elementary school teacher’s salary. Whether the choice of degree and school vs career opportunities is driving the issue or not, many of the media articles seem to be trying to show that’s the issue.

        I’m not saying someone shouldn’t go to Harvard/University of Chicago/Yale to get an elementary education degree. But, if you are, I really, really hope you’ve got some significant savings, family backing and/or scholarships. Otherwise, look at other schools.

      2. VintageLydia USA*

        Well, two years of community college in my state followed by two years of state university would cost ~$20K before books, housing, parking, meal plans, and other fees. Adding all that in, you’re looking at $30-40K total. Some people may get Pell Grants or scholarships and free money from family, but not everyone.

        Just saying, even going to school the “cheap” way isn’t actually that cheap. (Though a lot of private universities DO offer a ton of free financial aid where it can work out cheaper to go all four years at an “expensive” private university, but you still have to a. get in and b. qualify for that aid.)

    8. Zillah*

      So along with what a lot of other people have said about the issues with assigning such significance to the occasional latte and a smart phone (which, by the way, probably costs less than a semester’s worth of textbooks, so in the grand scheme of things, not killing the bank), there’s a major issue in how you’re assigning blame.

      Yes, there are many, many 17 and 18 year olds who sign up for far, far more debt than they should. That is an enormous problem. Even without the recession, it’s extremely limiting, and the problem is only becoming worse as tuition costs continue to skyrocket. It’s absolutely important to start educating teenagers about what this means and how it will affect their future.

      But. But, but, but.

      You’re assigning blame to the wrong parties here. Of course 17 and 18 year olds are making some poor decisions – they’re 17 and 18! That’s a thing that they do.

      The issue is with the lenders, including the federal government. I don’t think it’s doing anyone favors to loan them an unlimited amount of money, or even just an obscene amount of money. I think the idea behind it is to allow poorer kids the chance to get an education, which is great. Unfortunately, the result is that far too many kids are being taken advantage of, and schools have no incentive to stop hiking up tuition when they know that kids can get the loans to pay for it. It’s the same as law schools, but somewhat less sinister.

      IMO, undergrad debt in particular should have a cap, and your overall education debt should have a cap. Not a super super low cap, but a cap. Because this isn’t working.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I love the idea in your last paragraph. Totally agree.

        Frankly, I’d also like to see some sort of payment plan sketched out as part of the process — some sort of showing “I have a plan for how to repay this,” not one you can’t change, but something that forces you to think that part of it through.

        1. Zillah*

          Ooh, I like that idea, too. Obviously many people would end up having to change it, but honestly, I think that just having to do the exercise would bring a lot of people back down to earth – especially if you required them to account for COL.

          Ideally, a parent would work this out with them, but IME, most parents aren’t in a good position to do so… and it’s generally the kids with the parents least likely to do so that will be hit the hardest.

          1. Editor*

            This is a big problem. My first child made friends with a first-generation college student at their college, and we were surprised by some of the problems. The friend needed a computer for college, so the parents got one, but it was basically a rent-to-own financing deal that was horribly expensive, and the particular computer was not the best choice for this student and at the end of his first year out of college, it was underpowered but not paid off.

            Even parents who have college degrees don’t always have good financial skills. I do like the idea of capping the amount of money that can be loaned. I think colleges increased tuition a lot because loans made it possible to do so. If a college knew its students would cap out their borrowing in one semester if tuition doubled, maybe tuition would not have gone up so much.

            1. Zillah*

              Yeah. And even parents who have professional careers are often not super helpful in making a long-term plan, because many of them formed their impressions of the job market and what a college degree can do decades ago. My parents didn’t believe me when I couldn’t find a job out of undergrad, because I had a degree, and pushed really hard for me to attend a super expensive grad program for a teaching degree (best decision I ever made was to turn it down).

              And they’re both educated people with decent financial skills.

              (They have improved immensely for my brother. I guess I was the guinea pig.)

        2. Anx*

          I really think a major part of the solution is to return to the model some of the previous generations had to work with, with state-funded schools.

          I think that if we return funding to public colleges, there will be less of a need for loans. There will also be less pressure to choose to go to college or not to go to college. The current model with the loan system I think keeps students enrolled in programs that they aren’t really succeeding in, because they started on that path and are already committed.

          I actually think the current lifetime limits aren’t that unreasonable. It’s less than 60K for the lifetime limit on undergraduate degrees for independent students.

          Of course, not every student will end up using their degree as expected. And many will still be unemployed and underemployed. But that’s part of the cost of our current economic system and I don’t think it’s working to have students shoulder so much of the fallout from the risk.

      2. LawBee*

        Jumping in late here, but I wanted to throw out there that the tuition rates are also a problem. It is FAR too expensive to get a college degree these days, or in many instances a non-college (probably more valuable) technical degree. The lenders won’t loan for much more than the schools are charging, and schools are charging a LOT.

        I guess you gotta pay for the football program somehow.

        1. Zillah*

          Sure, absolutely – but I don’t think that’s a coincidence. If there was a cap on student loans, then universities wouldn’t have the same ability to keep hiking tuition. They do it now because they know they can get away with it.

          1. Anonymous1973*

            It’s more than just one variable though. In my state, publicly funded schools have gone from 75% state assistance to less than 25%. Who do you think makes up the difference?

    9. Csarndt*

      Some follow up (yes, I read all your comments)
      1) there are absolutely students who take loans to fund fancy coffee and smartphones. And beer, and season tickets to the football games, and cute shoes, and a million other things that, if they truly understood the cost of the loan to pay for it, they would never dream of doing. I blame high schools, colleges, and parents for not teaching teenagers and young adults about compounding interest, but let’s be honest, lots of adults don’t get it either.
      2) school is expensive, but there are a million ways to lessen the expense. Yes, don’t go to the *perfect* school if you can’t afford it. Just like you don’t buy the perfect $1million house if you can’t afford it. You can’t afford it. And what looks perfect at 17 may not be perfect for your educational needs. I chose an inexpensive state school for affordability and it turns out that it was the perfect school for me, in fact, the only school in the state that offered the degree I ended up earning. And I worked. I worked and saved in middle school and high school and I kept right on working through college. And I wrote for scholarships. Yes, $800 isn’t 1/10 of tuition, but I cobbled together enough ‘worthless’ scholarships to cover 1/2 to 2/3 of my tuition. I got scholarships I wasn’t even really qualified for because nobody bothered to write for them. Seriously, knock out those 1 page essays, very few of us will ever again get $800 for writing a 1 page essay again. If you can’t swing full time, go part time.
      3) salary information is easy to find. You won’t know to the dollar what you’ll make, but you’ll know what the average starting salary in your field is. And that’s where the loan rule of thumb comes in…if the average starting salary in your field is $35k, don’t borrow more than $35k, you can’t afford to pay it back with an average job in your field. Sure, you may change your major, but you should also concurrently change your funding plan, or (and I know several people who have done this) finish your degree in a lucrative field, work in that field for some years, pay down your debt *then* switch careers. I know a nurse, a chemist, and an electrical engineer who all graduated with their original degree, worked in it for a few years, then went into ministry. Their lives are so much simpler for having taken a few years to pay down loans before changing to a lower paying career.
      4)student loans are a lucrative business. You can clear almost any debt in bankruptcy or foreclosure…not student loans. You have to die to get out of a student loan. Banks know this and want you to borrow as a student loan to make car payments rather than selling you a car loan. I know somebody who got a student loan to pay off a mortgage…dumb…but great for the bank! Again, education, but I also agree with lower caps, closing down the private loan industry, and other suggestions.
      5)defer college. Save up by working (my husband was an auto mechanic, my sister in law was in banking) or joining the armed forces (other sister in law and brother in law both did this) so that you have money set aside for paying instead of borrowing.
      6) I also blame schools and perspective students. There is a “keeping up with the Jones’s” mentality going on all over college campuses. Campus A just builds a new ‘free’ student rec center so campus B passes a new student fee to build a new rec center and they build a fancy new dorm along the way. All of the sudden all the students at campus A want better dorms and all the students at campus B that don’t live in the new dorm want better dorms and tuition goes up on both campuses. Perspective students don’t understand, or don’t care, that they are signing up to fund the new ‘free’ rec center. Schools don’t have the guts to say “we’re going to be a bargain school, so here’s a crappy rec center from the ’60’s”

      College is an odd combination of purchase and investment with pitfalls along the way. And is probably the biggest expense that people blindly go into with doing hardly any of the right research. Reform needs to happen on so many levels it’s mind boggling.

  11. Graciosa*

    Regarding #5, these mentions sound fairly minor – along the lines of being thanked during someone else’s award ceremony or being offhand informational (“If you have questions about X, Suzie Q has published a treatise”).

    To the object of this type of thing, they sound really important, but not so much to anyone else. I would include any actual achievements (like Suzie’s treatise in my example) but not bother with any mentions. I can’t think of a situation where the mention would have sufficient value on its own.

  12. Jake*


    This isn’t nearly as rare or obscure as you think it is. I’ve work civilian work my whole life and a significant portion of my income comes from bonuses, housing allowances, car allowances, etc. I always handle it the same way when they push for how much I make. I say, “My salary is XXXXX, but I get YYY for housing, ZZZ for a car, and typically get an annual bonus in the range of AAA to BBB. This has never shocked anybody.

    It allows them to verify all the information a little easier than just saying, I effectively bring home (Lump Sum amount).

    1. OP #2*

      Thank you for the great breakdown and the explanation that this isn’t very rare! I was just concerned that things were not going to be accurately represented but the way you and Allison broke it down was very helpful and great!

      1. LucyVP*

        Personally, I dont ask for previous salaries when I hire, but if I did . . . I would completely understand that the military pay structure (& tax benefits) don’t necessarily correlate with the civilian market. A simple explanation seems reasonable and should be sufficient.

        If a hiring manager or a recruiter are thrown by that I would consider it a red flag about the job and the organization.

        1. OP #2*

          That’s exactly why I’m working with a military focused recruiter, they know what’s going on and hopefully I won’t have to explain this sort of stuff to the client. But that leads to a deeper question, if you are working with a recruiter, do you negotiate the offer or do they?

          1. Alternative*

            It depends. The client may have a salary in mind and your recruiter could push to to take the job, even if it’s not what you wanted. Often, you tell the recruiter what your expectations are, and they should seek that out. Hopefully you have a great recruiter, but I have to warn you, there are many many bad ones out there. Check out the archives of this site for recruiter stories. Just remember you can always say no, or walk away. You are never obligated to do anything.

  13. Gwen*


    I understand from your further posts why this appeals to you…I just want to say from experience that part time professional jobs can really frustrating and difficult in a lot of ways. Straight out of college, I went from retail to full-time temp, then part-time permanent (professional job in my field) and part-time temp, then finally two part-time permanent professional jobs. I needed both jobs in order to stay afloat, but it was a huge drain on me, both personally and professionally. I didn’t get any benefits (one job gave me minimal PTO and paid holidays, the other none), and I also worked both jobs everyday, so I had an additional mid-day commute. But more importantly, I never really felt like I was a part of either office. I had to miss meetings or do an awkward dance to re-arrange my schedule, and it was very difficult to feel close to anyone in the office (I don’t think anyone knowingly treated me differently because I was PT, but there’s a difference between someone who’s there 20 hours and someone who’s there 40, esp if that person can’t participate in a lot of the social activities because she’s not always there.) PLUS, now you have at least one and maybe two workplaces you don’t WANT to leave, so you’re kind of hamstrung searching for jobs while you wait and hope that you’ll end up going full time somewhere. In my case, things worked out for the best & I don’t regret it, because I did end up getting the opportunity to take on a FT role at my preferred of my employers, and I love my job now, but that doesn’t erase how hard it was and it was entirely possible it never would have happened. I had actually done a phone interview for another position just two days before my manager offered me the FT role, because I’d given up hope that it would ever come.

    I guess this novel isn’t really proper advice since it ends with “but it worked out fine for me!!” – I guess I just wanted to speak from experience about the pros and cons of this set-up. I probably wouldn’t have gotten this PT job without the experience from my other PT job, so it all does come full circle, but there was a lot of stress and woe and concerns about health insurance!

  14. Joey*

    #3. I think you owe them a similar courtesy of giving plenty of notice and helping transition someone else into the role. That might mean creating guides, checklists, offering to answer questions for a period of time after you’ve left- whatever you can do to facilitate the transition to a new person.

    Id be bummed, but I’d know that you appreciated and are reciprocating the courtesy given to you. That would make me feel a whole lot better and would remind me that i probably wouldn’t have gotten that courtesy otherwise.

  15. Brett*

    #4 One opportunity you should look into is AmeriCorps State. The living allowance they give you is probably less than minimum wage, but that is better than an unpaid internship. And you will get full-time hours that can be flexible. More importantly, AmeriCorps State positions are often high level professional work (I did mid-career level specialized work in my field when I was in AmeriCorps) located where you live already.

    I did AmeriCorps through my state’s dept of natural resources. I reported directly to the director of communications, who was a strong reference for me for both grad school and my next career job. I was actually one of the few people who was not offered a full-time position with the department at the end of my term (I both left before my year was up, and moved on to another job as I worked on transition to grad school).
    Also, although you may be specifically interested in non-profit environmental work, there are lots of very good positions in government where you can achieve a lot and be paid decently with good stability.

  16. Karin*

    Thanks for responding to my question (#5). In both books, there were several pages dedicated to the work that I did. The first one mentions my company and their social media account (which I developed and managed) and the second one used my name along with quotes from me. I’ve been wanting to include these in my CV and on LinkedIn, but wasn’t sure how to address it–so thanks!

  17. AW*

    “whoever scheduled it probably wasn’t paying attention to when your walks were scheduled for.”

    OK, I’m not LW#1, but in my opinion *that’s* the problem. It is extremely frustrating to be constantly told to speak up and/or engage more and then get ignored when you do. That’s it’s somehow always a coincidence, accident, misunderstanding or otherwise unintentional doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change the fact that you’re either being criticized for not saying/doing more or being told whatever you say/do is unimportant.

    It could be that I’m projecting but this: “I branched out of my comfort zone” – makes me thing that this isn’t the first time this has happened to LW#1, even if it’s the first instance at this company.

    The fact that this sort of thing gets used in their job evaluations is also part of the problem. LW#1 may not get that many opportunities to show leadership in making their workplace better and part of the frustration is feeling like they got one such opportunity pulled out from under them.

    LW#1 – The advice to reschedule is best, though I do like the suggestion earlier in the comments about asking your walking group first. You may find that part of the reason they liked the walking group idea is that it isn’t a hard workout and some of them won’t want to do the more strenuous activity anyway.

    As much as I think I understand where you’re coming from, you aren’t going to get anyone else to see it your way. I don’t think a conversation is going to result in anything in your favor. Scheduling conflicts happen all the time and since the person who scheduled the company initiative has more authority than you regarding the wellness program, they aren’t going to see this as something they did wrong. At best, you’ll be seen as overly sensitive. At worst, you’ll be seen as arrogant for expecting someone with more authority to check in with you first over scheduling conflicts.

    But don’t cancel your walking group. You still took initiative in an area the company has said it cares about so that will still look good come review time.

    1. JS*

      I think the LW should have gone to the organizer of the wellness program to suggest the walking club. After all, there was a designated employee who was responsible for the wellness program. It appears to me that the wellness organizer had a flyer ready to go (the flyer went out the next day). The wellness organizer was probably irritated at the LW for starting up a walking club without coming to her first.

      It’s great to take initiative but there are generally “rules”.

      1. AW*

        I agree that it is always good to make sure you’re not stepping on anyone else’s toes. That is a good point. But I still agree with Alison’s assessment that this particular instance is not going to be seen as a big deal.

        I think if the organizer was irritated they would have gotten an email stating that the company was planning on doing something to create exercise groups after the LW suggested it that day, not just the official email about it later.

        Actually, I’m a little confused about the timing of everything. They first say that emails about their walking group happened over a period of days but that the email about the company sponsored thing happened the next day.

  18. Alternative*

    In light of question #2, regarding salary when leaving the military, I think it would be SOOOO great if AAM could do a special question day, or section, or something, for those transitioning to the civilian world. It can be so difficult for veterans to translate their experiences, titles, awards, and all those acronyms into a resume or cover letter that a hiring manager will read or understand!

  19. OP #1*

    OP #1 here…

    Thanks for all the responses!

    Some things to add – it is unlikely that the organizers didn’t read my email – the whole group conversation was in direct replace to the organizer. It’s rare that someone doesn’t read replies to heir own email thread.

    It is a small enough company that their actions come across as very rude, other employees commented on how rude it was. We’re a small enough company that I really felt slighted… a heads up would have been nice – some acknowledgement at least.

    As far as whether the company is offering unsolicited advice about foods, no – this is purely an opt-in activity :)

    AW hit the nail on the head with “It could be that I’m projecting but this: “I branched out of my comfort zone” – makes me thing that this isn’t the first time this has happened to LW#1, even if it’s the first instance at this company. “

    This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. At the bottom of a long list of things that has me considering quitting my job every day.

    As for the timing of everything – The initial email conversation went on for several days, so we nailed down times that would work for people. The day after we nailed down the time is when the flier went out.

    Finally – I was incredibly irritated the day they sent out the flier. My feelings were hurt because a couple of coworkers had noticed the email flier as well – and they said it really sucked, but that’s the kind of stuff that happens at our company.

    The next day, I could see I was overreacting. Though my knee-jerk reaction was just to give in and cancel the group, I recognize the importance of “sleeping on it.” I decided to go ahead with my walking plan and I’m glad I did.

    I’m also really glad I wrote in – I wanted to know that others would be irritated as well.

  20. OP#3 Here....*

    Had a doctor’s visit and I need more surgery, which will mean even more time off. I guess I’m going to be there a lot longer than anticipated. Such is life… Thanks for all of your comments.

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