Just Don’t Call It ‘Adulting’

New Course Equips Terps for Post-College Life
By Sala Levin ’10 | Illustrations by Lauren Biagini

1099, 403(b), withholding certificate—admit it, the paperwork at your first job stumped you as much as your calculus homework ever did. What’s FICA? Who’s Roth? And what does it mean to be vested? Is down or flannel involved?

“Designing Your Life After College,” a two-credit course introduced in Spring 2020 by the Office of Undergraduate Studies, aims to help juniors and seniors prepare for working life by teaching them practical skills they may not have learned in high school or at home: understanding a benefits package, what to do when your fantasy job turns out to be less than fantastic, or how to achieve the goal of retiring at 50. (Hey, a Terp can dream.)

Gerry Strumpf, director of orientation in the Office of Undergraduate Studies, noticed after years of teaching UNIV100 to first-year students that “when students leave us, they have no sense of what’s ahead.”

“They get no transition into life,” she says.

She and Cynthia Stevens, associate professor of management and organization and associate dean of undergraduate studies, developed the new course, devoting 40-50% to financial literacy and the rest to helping students figure out their general goals and values, and how to create a life that aligns with those.

“We tried to couch the course in the larger context of who are you and what do you want out of life,” says Stevens.

Boomers and Gen X-ers may grumble about kids these days, but, like it or not, adulthood and its attendant miseries are setting in later than they used to. A 2017 data analysis found that contemporary teenagers were less likely than previous generations to engage not just in activities like having sex or drinking, but other adult (or adult-ish) ones like driving, dating or working after school. Many factors may be at play: a rise in online socializing, more involved parenting or an increased focus on schooling, especially among affluent families.

Jung Oh ’21 was one of the first students to take the class. A member of Army ROTC, she knows she’ll spend a few years in the military but says, “I’m not really sure how to plan financially or career-wise where to start looking for jobs after the Army.” Instruction on cover letters, creating a budget and building a five-year plan appealed to her.

“We take it for granted that people will know these things or learn these things,” says Allison Gibeily ’13, M.A. ’20, a class co-teacher, “but if you go into a job and don’t know these things, the stakes are kind of high.”


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