Part blog, part oral history, part research project.
How has the Great Recession affected your path beyond college? What is your story?

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Claudia went back to school as an adult and transferred to a four-year college after attending community college. She designed her own major in Criminal Psychology and graduated in Spring 2010. She speaks passionately and demonstratively—leaning forward in her chair, animated and intense, but quick to laugh.


My original picture was that I was gonna go straight to law school. But...that didn't happen for a coupla reasons. I suffered a pretty severe break in my ankle. I sat for the LSAT cold because I had already paid for it. So there was that. However, even with the low LSAT score that I had, I would've actually gotten into law school anyway because of my personal statement, my letters of [recommendation], the fact that I designed my own major. But, when the economy goes bad, the first thing people do, is they [go] back to school, that somehow we have this idea that if I go to school—that degree equals success.

I applied to 8 law schools. What happened when I applied for UC Berkeley, the entire institution, both undergrad and all their grad school programs, they received 83 thousand applications. Ok? And they took a very small percentage of—maybe 20 thousand applications, a quarter of the applications they got.Two-thirds of it was out of state students. This is a public university, they receive both state and federal funding, which is null and void because of the economy. And so they're asking for out of state students to come in because they're going to pay out of state tuition fees.

I saw the impact of the economy directly in trying to get into [law] school. And now that I'm applying to law school [again], I'm applying to schools outside of this state, because those schools will probably be more apt to take me because I'm gonna pay their out of state tuition fees. It's ridiculous! What was disappointing was that as hard as I worked at school that I couldn't get into law school because so many out of state students were getting in. Because those are the people paying the fees that they want.

The day after I graduated, I began looking for jobs. I looked for a job for how long? Four and a half months before I landed a [clapping to emphasize each syllable] SER -VING-GIG. I've finally landed a job—waiting tables. So, really fabulous—my original career that I was trying to get away from... I had to, I actually had to take that. [I had been] tailoring every single cover letter, to every single company and just not getting responses. I mean it took me a long time to get a serving job. I was applying all over the place, going to the interviews and not getting any of the jobs. And the reason is my resume, because I'm educated, because I can complete a sentence. My resume says I'm probably more qualified than you manager to do your job [and] I'm extremely experienced. The less qualified you are, the more they want to see you and deal with you.

And then for the other jobs that I was applying for it was no response or delayed responses. And then, to add insult to injury, when I'd get there, they'd be like, "This position pays eleven dollars an hour." "This position pays twelve dollars an hour." "We don't actually have shift work, it's an on-call." Ok, well, what does on call mean? They wouldn't even have set days, like Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday you're on call. It's like you're on-call 24 hours a day 7 days a week. So, if they call you at 1 a.m. on a Friday night, hopefully you haven't been at the bar getting drunk [laughs] because they need you to come into work.

I interject, “You're talking about service jobs, right?”

No. Now I'm talking about real jobs. They can afford to be super-super picky right now. They can afford to do this, because there's no—there are no jobs...So, what's the applicant pool? Three thousand people? For one job? No kidding, seriously! It's crazy.

I still engage my mind. I totally actively engage my mind, because serving is so brainless. I mean, once you know how to do it and you're really good at it. I've been finding it hard to discipline myself . But, hey, it [applying to law schools again] has to get done, so…The problem with serving at night is that you're with a bunch of other people mostly who don't have college degrees who don't have these kind of lofty ambitions.

I make ten dollars an hour plus, like two hundred bucks a shift. That's a livable wage. It's ridiculous. You know? That I can't use my college degree. So I laugh about it. Like, "Ooo, that [diploma] came in real handy."

I've been really disappointed and I've been really angry that this is the world that I've inherited. From these fucking buffoons, these bankers and these think tanks and this system of government…and no jobs for us and the shitty economy. Just super disillusioned. You think you're doing the right thing, “I'm gonna go to school, I'm gonna get my degree, I'm gonna move forward.”

I really enjoyed [school]. I'm so glad that I was able to do that. The value of learning how to think critically about what I'm reading, the value of being able to compose letters or documents—it's enormous. But do I need to be seventy thousand dollars in debt now? Seventy thousand dollars of debt that I can't pay and not just that, I mean, with the private loans, I can't even fucking afford the interest payment right now!

How the fuck are we supposed to pay back all of these damn loans when there are no jobs for us. And the only way that we're going to be able to make it—really make it, is to invent work for ourselves. And that's going to be something local and sustainable. Whether you make clothes or you grow food or you make soap or you do this kind of stuff, where you're writing and trying to get published and can get speaking engagements and stuff like that. Those are gonna be the ways that we're gonna be able to make money in this economy. The old way of doing things is not going to work for us anymore. But what's really shitty is that we're all operating under the old mode of thinking, “I'm gonna go to college, I'm gonna educate myself, I'm gonna get my degrees, I'm gonna get my job.”

It's just a disillusionment. A total disillusionment that, you know, we're all sold this whole thing, that if you go to school and you get your degree, that there is a place for you to be a productive member of society in your field. She laughs. That whole thing? I really believed that—I really believed that. And today, I'm totally, totally fucking disillusioned from that.

I just sat for the LSAT again. I did better than I did last time. I still didn't place where I need to place. She sighs. Law schools are tiered. You have first tier law schools, second tier law schools, third tier law schools. Basically, the lower a tier law school that you go into, the more common you are, but, the more practical your education. So, when you go into these first tier law schools—Harvard, Yale, Berkeley—they turn the law into a very academic pursuit. The law is not supposed to be academic—law school is a professional school. You tell me how to interpret statute and case law and what the hell I need to do in the courtroom—that is what law school is for.

I think it's really good that I didn't go into law school right away because it gave me a better perspective on what school is really about, and what law school is gonna be about. I'm gonna apply to Tulane in New Orleans as a first tier law school, but I'm also going to apply to Loyola in New Orleans, which is a third tier law school. Why waste the money? I spent like $1500 applying last year. Tulane, I'm above their GPA but below their LSAT. Loyola, I'm right on target and I probably could get in to Loyola. [Loyola is] going to be extremely procedural. They're not going to expect me to be sitting on a bench somewhere, wrestling with the human condition, ethics and the law. It's been like a reality check about what school is. And it's also brought me down to earth as far as the school search in that, you know what? I don't need to go to these expensive schools and stuff. I can go to a cheaper school. To understand that going to school now is not about having money and being able to buy into the system. That by going to school I get a degree to do work that I enjoy. Serving is fun, but it's not engaging at all. I wanna do work that I enjoy and if that is what going to school is going to allow me to do, then that's why I wanna go to school. So, I'd say that this recession has impacted the way I think about school. I'm not thinking about [school] in that old way that I used to think about it. I'm thinking about [school] in a different way, a more practical way.

I'm not even gonna call it a Great Recession, I'm gonna call it a Depression. We're in the beginnings of this right now. We're in the beginnings. We are going into the Greatest Depression. I've really gotten into this mode of reuse, recycle, repair, stop buying, stop consuming. If you consume less, you require less money. To use my money for what my money is for.

There's something about it that seems like so...not fair somehow. It definitely has politicized me.

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