Money vs. Experience: Your Wallet or Your Future?

By Gabrielle Fellows 

Photo Courtesy of fsecart/Flickr “Money” CC by 2.0.

I have no gas in my tank, a broken break light and turn signal, my stomach is growling, holes are appearing in my shoes — and I have $12.35 in my checking account.

This may be due to the fact that I recently left my job at Barnes and Noble that pays weekly to pursue one that won’t pay me until the first week of February, but gives me more experience in my field. My morale and bank account are definitely hurting at this point.

I receive flack from my teachers for not buying their “required” hundred dollar book that we aren’t going to use in class and, in the same breath, get told that having the career of my dreams won’t get me a two-bedroom apartment, let alone a house one can raise a family in.

Hearing repeatedly from family members and strangers — whose opinion I didn’t ask for, by the way — that it would be smarter to go into a math- or engineering-related field where an IT analyst can make $123,000 — compared to a journalist, coming in at $47,000 according to — can really drag one’s dreams through the dirt.

This should be enough to persuade me to earn a degree in a STEM-related field, right? To code computers and crunch numbers, leaving my dreams of seeing my name lying beautifully above a magazine article I labored lovingly to write?

I, like many others pursuing degrees in something other that a math or science based field, am tired of hearing that my plans for the future have “in debt” written at the bottom in fine print.

The issue with certain degrees, specifically liberal arts and humanities, is that college kids get no real experience with them before being thrust from their graduation ceremony into the real world with nothing but a piece of paper and an extensive knowledge of British literature.

This leaves many students in school, like myself, having to choose between a job where they can make steady money, but learn nothing about their intended field, or a job that gives them experience, but forces them to order off of the dollar menu every time they go out.

But what about internships? Aren’t those required and give students enough experience about their job? Well, sure. But most internships are unpaid. Those students who are lucky enough to get hired as paid interns often use the money to pay for rent and food, but what about those who have to work for free in exchange for experience?

According to Natalie Sportelli in her article, “Who’s Really Paying The Price Of Unpaid Internships,” she states, “Unless students find some kind of external funding source, they are looking at paying out of pocket to cover the price tag of unpaid work experience. Students may choose to work on the side or ask their families for a loan in order to afford to take the job. But these options may not be available for interns working full time who cannot juggle a second job or those whose families cannot afford the additional expenses.”

You are literally paying somebody else to work for them. So what to do? Do you guarantee no debt now, take a useless internship and hope that in the future things will change? Or do you take living on a smaller wage, but gaining the experience needed to give your resume the edge over others’ in the same field, even though you may be working for free? Between internships, paying jobs with experience and having enough money in your bank account to survive — the decision is a tough one.

Just know there is no right choice in this situation. It’s just something everyone eventually stumbles upon. You want to follow your dreams, graduate with a degree, pay off your student loans and live debt free. That often gets muddled by the fact that most have to choose between making money and earning experience in their college years.

In the end, the decision is up to each individual. Planning out the future as we expect it to happen seems like the correct way to go about life: knowing exactly what’s going to happen, when it happens. It’s all taken care of. In reality though, life doesn’t work like that. The choices you make can define you, but not all the time.

Life has a reputation for being indecisive and inconclusive, so sweating about the future down to the last detail usually doesn’t yield any positive results. Don’t jump to conclusions, but don’t dwell on possibilities either. Go with your gut, even if it leaves you with cents in your bank account and a quarter of a tank to last you for a week and a half. In the end, it might be worth it.