Young Americans Don’t Need College During a Crisis

The American economy is deteriorating “with alarming speed,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said recently, signaling that the government’s response to COVID-19 put people in a difficult financial situation. Though Powell predicts this problem is temporary, a closer look at growing unemployment numbers shows that America might not bounce back quickly once the lockdowns end.

To young people in school or who have recently graduated, the current situation might seem like a minor obstacle. But to older siblings who suffered during the 2008 recession, a broken economy doesn’t sound like a minor problem at all. As a matter of fact, they might already be despairing over what they should do next.

As college students and recent grads watch unemployment numbers grow, they might wonder if the skills they learned in college will be enough to get a job.

Economic anxiety that would lead them into a master’s program to sharpen their skills, however, would be a mistake. Returning to school to avoid a bad economy might be tempting, but the lessons of the previous generation should turn them against another degree. Betting on a more prosperous future by getting deeper in the red doesn’t always pay off. And, in North Carolina like many other states, whether students can even return to campus isn’t clear yet. A year of online classes might not be worth the tuition payments.

Instead of signing up for another student loan, what should a student or recent graduate do?

Learn New Skills Without Breaking the Bank

If you take a critical look at what you’ve learned in college and feel that your set of skills won’t make you competitive enough to get a job, consider how you can get new skills online and avoid debt.  

LinkedIn, Google, and Hubspot, for example, have a mix of paid and free courses you can take that will make you more employable. From software development to basic digital tool training, those online classes offer students and recent grads a golden opportunity to stay relevant.

By earning valuable marketing certificates and a variety of important skills such as video and social media marketing, SEO, public relations, branding, Google and Facebook advertising, proficiency in Google Analytics, and content drafting, you will be much more competitive when the labor market warms up again.

Earn Money Online by Teaching English

Scammers will try to lure people with “make money from home” schemes that sound too good to be true. However, there are still plenty of legit ways young people can make money without leaving their homes.

Using programs like VIP Kid, DaDa, GoGoKid, and EnglishHunt, which allow college graduates to teach English online to foreign students, young Americans can teach homebound students in China, South Korea, and Brazil who want to improve their English. Doing so can also show future bosses that you’re a self-starter and can handle unfamiliar situations.

For young people without a degree, companies like Cambly, QKids, and Palfish give English speakers the chance to use their fluency to help others to develop their English speaking skills. While compensation might be less than what’s paid to college graduates, it might be an interesting way to put yourself to work.

Find Side Hustles That Don’t Require Special Skills

As more Americans rely on grocery delivery services, those who are not known to be particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus can take on delivery gigs by working for Instacart or Shipt.

While precautions should always be taken to avoid infection and the spread of viruses, the opportunity is there for those willing to help people in need. If you’re homebound because you’re done with school or taking classes online, this is the ideal side gig.

Other ways of making some cash while waiting for things to go back to normal include teaching tech-related skills to seniors.

While there aren’t many opportunities online to find students, you can join groups such as Nextdoor and market your classes to neighborhood seniors who might be willing to pay to learn new technologies such as Zoom.

You can also offer other skills on similar sites such as Handy or TaskRabbit, especially if you have experience in mowing the lawn, painting, or even house cleaning.

Take the Time to Re-evaluate Your Career Goals

In addition to taking on gigs and online courses that can help you improve your resume and keep you afloat during the pandemic, you could also use some of your extra free time to reconsider your career goals.

Oftentimes, we take steps toward a goal that might seem good at the beginning but doesn’t always take us where we thought we were headed.

When re-evaluating your past professional decisions, ask yourself whether you’re confident you would be able to make money or get a job in your desired field by simply relying on the skills you’ve built up to this moment. If the answer is “no,” it might be time to look into ditching passion-driven career goals for hard work, as Cal Newport explains in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

Explaining that passion only comes after you put in the hard work to become good at something, he debunks the idea that following our passion is what makes us stand out. “No one owes you a great career,” Newport wrote. Instead, “you need to earn it—and the process won’t be so easy.”

To get there, Newport argued, mindful professionals should “adopt the craftsman mindset” and ask themselves “what can I offer the world?” Answering that question might be the key to identifying exactly what it will take for you to become a valuable professional.


Whatever you do, remember that spending money in a crisis is a recipe for disaster.

Even if you have access to easy credit to continue with your education, nobody can guarantee you’ll get a job in a bloated and extremely competitive labor market. Instead of entering a new economic recovery phase without real-world working skills and less money, why not save some while forced to stay put?

At the end of the day, employers will feel much more compelled to hire people who have put their time to good use during the lockdown by working instead of simply waiting or getting deeper in the red for a degree that might not make a huge difference.

Chloe Anagnos is the founder of Argo Strategy, a professional writer, and digital marketer.