College graduates face choices about staying in the D.C. region

May 10, 2013

Kristen Schultz will move back to the District this fall, eager to find a place to call home after a summer filled with four weddings, trips to Turkey and Croatia, and her grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary celebration.

She knows she needs to take time in August to search for a place, but she doesn’t have to worry about how to pay for it. With an master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan, she’s landed a consulting job and feels relaxed and financially stable.

Melissa Dickson, by contrast, needs to find both a place to live and a job in the next two months. She hopes to stay in Maryland, even if she’s working in a pet shop or interning at a nonprofit group. “I’m not picky,” she says, as graduation from the University of Maryland nears for the animal-sciences major.

College graduation season brings major transitions, with decisions about whether to move back in with mom and dad or to find a fill-in gig to pay the rent while the job hunt continues. Approximately 40 percent of graduates of the Class of 2013 will not have landed permanent employment when they collect a diploma, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The number is lower for MBAs; at Georgetown and Michigan, only about 10 to 15 percent still need paying work.

Many move to the Beltway for internships or jobs with federal contractors or major companies. Those moving in for longer could get good deals on housing because a record number of apartments are opening in the D.C. region this year, and they will compete for tenants, according to Delta Associates. Rents in the region barely inched up during the past year, Delta said in its first quarter report.

Reconnecting with D.C.

The last time Schultz moved to the District, in 2007, she had just graduated from the University of Southern California. She stayed with her best friend for a month while she checked out places. She ended up in a “garden level” place in Columbia Heights, one she could just barely afford on her salary from the nonprofit Emily’s List. She lived there for three years, then headed to Michigan to earn a dual master’s from the Ross Business School and the Ford School of Public Policy.

“We have a whole house for what you couldn’t get a studio for in Greenbelt,” she said of her Ann Arbor home. Yet she’s “readjusting to big city prices” and is prepared to pay $1,800 or more for a one-bedroom apartment, possibly along 14th Street NW south of U Street and north of Logan Circle.

“I want to see the quality and the amount of space you get” in the bigger new complexes that have gone up in that area, along with some bars, theaters and more, she says. She’s interested in a place with amenities such as a gym or a concierge who can hold mail and packages on her frequent business trips.

Her move from Michigan will take place in stages: First she whittles down her possessions: “I’m really trying to be thoughtful and not just keeping everything” from the graduate school days, she said. Then the remaining items will be packed into a pod, with clothes and a few other items stashed in her car, and she will head for Chicago, her home base with her boyfriend this summer.

She’s starting to think about reconnecting with friends and media sources in the District. “My friend circles have changed; parts of the city have changed,” in three years, she said. “I feel like D.C. is an old friend that I haven’t caught up with in a long time.”

‘Terrified and hopeful’

Dickson says she hopes to keep living near the University of Maryland, unless she lands a job that makes it smarter to relocate. Still, her parents have hinted they’d like her to return to California if she doesn’t land an internship or a job locally. She’s just now starting to apply, since she needed to focus on studying and grades in her final two years.

“I have until the end of July until I get kicked out” of her current apartment in South Campus Commons, she said.

She’s flexible about living arrangements — alone or with a roommate — but it needs to be near public transit. She’s serious about her boyfriend, but he needs to continue to live at home in the District to save money, she says. Her plan is to sign a year’s lease and use the time to get some work experience and figure out what’s next.

Maybe it will be graduate school, working or returning to California. She wants to study American Sign Language as a way of communicating with some animals. A program near her parents working with primates interests her; so does working with animals and reproductive studies.

“I am both terrified and hopeful,” said Dickson, as graduation draws near. It’s exciting to explore options, to consider possibilities, but also the first time the next step is not clearly proscribed. “After this, it’s the world.”

Vickie Elmer is a freelance writer.

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