After four years of college, a $40,000 tuition bill and a B.A. in psychology, Lauren Hider can answer a lot of questions about Carl Jung's theory of the personality. But nobody is asking her about that.
"They all ask me, 'What are you going to do now?' " said the 22-year-old from Severna Park, now a hostess at Buddy's Crabs and Ribs Restaurant in Annapolis. "There's so much pressure. I don't know what I want to do right now."
Two months have passed since the most recent batch of college graduates tossed their caps into the air and said goodbye to undergraduate schooling. The thrill of commencement is gone. Now they have to find jobs.
For some, it's not so easy. While they do not face a depressed economy as some of their predecessors did, and recruitment is improving at many area colleges, they are having a hard time figuring out what to do.
No figures exist for how many college students graduate without plans, but college counselors say their busiest week starts the morning after graduation. Hundreds of the work force's newest members flood their offices, suddenly realizing they should find an internship, a company name, a connection, an inkling of their real career interests.
"It is very stressful," said Barbara Murry, a counselor at the University of Maryland College Park's career center. "They might say, 'I'm frightened about it.' More often they say, 'I have no idea where to begin.' It's a sense of being lost and that is very scary."
Graduates adrift is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it's practically an annual occurrence. The big difference between this generation and their parents is that the economy is much less forgiving.
"The job market is much more problematic," Ms. Murry said. "There was a time when it was a lot easier to ease into the job market, to get a first job, to get a toehold.
"There's so many more people with master's degrees than 20 years ago," she said. "Students with bachelor's degrees feel more competition."
Now, confused graduates are enviously watching their not-so-confused friends pick up and start careers. Their parents, many of whom just spent up to $100,000 on tuition, books, apartments and weekend fun, are edgy.
And there is peer pressure. As on the night Ms. Hider and her girlfriends went to the Water Street Exchange, a restaurant and bar in Baltimore. She could not escape that nagging, probing question, "So, what are you doing now?"
"I go out and meet men out of college, and when they ask me what I'm doing, I'm embarrassed to say I'm a nanny and a waitress," she said. "They are all in business suits, but they're my age, too."
Career counselors at Anne Arundel Community College say there is hope.
Graduates can take half-hour psychology tests, based on the philosophy of Carl Jung -- though Ms. Hider said Jung never helped her find a job.
With pencils in hand, they fill in the dots and make their choices: Do you enjoy taking risks or following orders, sharing ideas or playing solo, making money or changing the world, reading a book or going to a concert?
Once their focus is narrowed, videotapes offer advice on how to interview well, craft a resume, keep a job once you have it. Guide books line the shelves. Directories published by Standard & Poor's list hundreds of companies by subject.
Counselors are available for one-on-one sessions from 8:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. at the student center building, Room 122. Appointments are recommended and can be made by calling 541-2307.