It is high anxiety time for 21-year-old Maura Lockhart. She is about to graduate from college.
Like many of the 10,600 young people who will graduate from Washington-area universities this month, Lockhart, a psychology major, does not have a job lined up.
"How do I feel about graduating from college?" asked the Georgetown University senior. "Panic with a capital P."
With the economic recession forcing layoffs or retrenchment and cutbacks in federal programs that previously provided a multitude of jobs, there will be fewer jobs available even to the most qualified of the 1980 graduates.
"The 1980 graduate has a strong challenge to show his marketability," said Patrick Mckoen, director of careers placement at American University. "A college graduate can no longer simply go up to an employer and say, 'Here's my diploma,'" and expect a job.
"It's not always the best-qualified students who get the jobs, but the students who know how to best seek out a job," Mckoen said.
The graduating class that rings in the decade of the '80s has some advantages, though, over its counterparts of a decade ago. Many today have majored in highly sought-after specialized fields such as computer science, or in subject areas that can lead to jobs in business or the professions.
And many have benefited from the growing number of internships available in business and government that give young people a chance to gain on-the-job experience while still in school.
But those factors are little consolation for someone like Lockhart, who is finding it hard to explain her current situation to her parents.
"Actually I'm not as worried as my parents," she said. "I feel as though I can always look for a job this summer. But my parents and a lot of my professors think I should know by now what I'm going to do."
"You don't just get it from your parents and professors. You get it from your peers too," said Lockhart's roommate, Lynn Mcgalliard, as the two students walked through Georgetown's courtyard one day last week.
"A lot of kids around here are very profession-oriented and when you don't have any particular plans, you're looked upon as not fitting in."
Mcgalliard said the idea of graduating from college "is not quite as scary for me as maybe for people who don't have plans." She has won a fellowship to study German and history in Munich during the coming academic year.
"What scares me is just being out of the magic kingdom of the university where my life was structured for me," Lockhart said as she stood against the solemn backdrop of Georgetown's gothic stone architecture. "And being financially independent for the first time in my life will be strange."
Wayne Feldman, a business major at American University, has found that the euphoria of graduation and the lightheartedness of senior week dinner-dances, beer blasts and parties wear off fast. As of today, he has no place to live, since he has had to vacate his dormitory room.
And he has been through about 20 job interviews so far. But either he didn't want the jobs or "they didn't want me." Frequently, he found himself competing for entry-level jobs against people who had earned a master's degree in business administration.
"Sometimes I really get down on myself. Like I'll be walking down a street and I'll get to feeling really depressed and say to myself, 'What am I going to do?'" said Feldman, who had a 2.9 grade-point average (out of 4) and worked as a short-order cook, tennis teacher, waiter and store clerk to pay his college expenses.
Like many students who attend college here, Feldman wants to stay in the area.
"If I go home (to Connecticut), I'll have to start all over again," said Feldman, who added that most of his friends and business contacts are now in Washington. "And there's this other thing. I want to do things on my own, and if I go home, I know my parents will want to help me out. But I just think to do things yourself is better."
But college placement officers advise students to get out of Washington if they want to improve their chances of getting a job.
"I tell students they need to be flexible and mobile. Jobs in Washington are extremely competitive because this is the nation's capital," said Henrietta Duncan, a placement officer at Howard University.
Generally, Duncan said, "There's the usual demand (for college graduates) in engineering, business and computer science . . . Job prospects are also good in the health sciences, insurance and retailing."
She said many jobs have opened up in the past few years in the areas of energy, the environment and occupational health.
Many 1980 graduates say they don't want to be pressured into taking just any job. And they want jobs relating to their majors.Many say they are willing to wait if necessary to find the path right for them -- whether that path leads to graduate school, to a job, or to a year of traveling and reflection.
"I feel if you go right out of school to a career, you eliminate the freedom you have to travel . . . to take a few months off just to do something different," said Scott Ozmun, a Georgetown senior who says he will work for a year as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill. Then he hopes to enter law school.
Placement officers agree that college graduates have never been better informed about what faces them in the working world. "I would say students are more encouragingly pessimistic," said Eric Schlesinger, director of career services at Catholic University.
"But," he said, "there has been a lot of media hype and parents telling their kids that it's not a straight ticket out of college . . . To hear constantly that there are no jobs, no jobs, people get very depressed and feel, why try?"
Indicative of the students' budding realism with regard to the working world is the example of Howard University journalism major Curtia James. At first, she planned to move to New York -- a city she's never visited -- right after graduation to seek her fortune as a free-lance writer.
But a job offer from a small news paper in Louisville, Ky. has made her quickly change her plans.