BETHESDA, MD—As she prepares to enter the "dog-eat-dog" business world this summer, computer applications major Lisa Milch, 22, said Monday that she is skeptical she'll be able to parlay her lifelong passion for data entry into gainful employment.
"I knew when I chose to work with computers that I'd be facing an uphill battle after graduation," said Milch, a senior at the University of Maryland, as she reordered a list in an Excel spreadsheet. "But when you love numbers and archiving information as much as I do, you have follow your heart and be willing to take a risk, no matter how far-fetched it may be."
Milch said she's always fantasized about working 50 hours a week as a clerk in a medical records department, where the "big-time" information processing and retrieval opportunities are. However, she fears that setting her sights too high could set her up for disappointment in the real world.
"It's definitely a long shot, but I just know I'd regret it for the rest of my life if I didn't even try," Milch said. "It's something I have to do. I owe it to myself."
As early as age 8, Milch displayed an avid interest in quantitative measurement and numeric arrays. A star pupil in her high school business and typing courses, Milch said that a summer principles of information technology class at a nearby DeVry University first sparked her desire for a brilliant career in data entry.
"I know I might be listening to my heart more than my brain here, but something inside me keeps telling me to go for it," Milch said. "I've never wanted to do anything else. I'll take low pay, I'll work under fluorescent light, I'll telecommute if I have to—just let me do what I'm meant to do."
Milch is not alone. Across the country, millions of seniors worry about the difficulties of transferring their personal interests into profitable careers.
Wesleyan University senior Frances Hardwick said she's concerned she won't be able to find employment as a personal assistant even after graduating in the top 10 percent of her class.
"The only thing I've ever wanted is a life of service: taking phone messages, picking up dry cleaning, and getting coffee for the well-off," said Hardwick, who believes she will be in for a "rude awakening" once she is out on her own. "I'm not looking to get rich. All I need is just barely enough money to pay rent."
While these idealists continue to send out resumés and cold call dozens of potential employers, their futures remain uncertain, leaving each of them with the same question: Will the world find a place for my inner callings, or will it crush my deepest dreams?
And for Milch, the waiting game is almost too much to bear.
"Some days, I want to give up on data entry completely," she said. "I sit around wishing I'd win the lottery so I could just take one temp job after another forever."