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Social Distancing Means Many College Grads Are Launching Careers From Home — Often, Their Parents'

A photo of Ben Singel giving a thumbs-up while sitting at his at-home work station
Ben Singel / Special to KERA
Ben Singel at his remote workspace in his parents' home. He recently became a youth director at a church in Southlake after graduating from Southern Methodist University in May.

Millions of students across the country graduated from trade schools, colleges and universities this past spring. Those fortunate enough to find work will start their first full-time jobs during a pandemic.

That means that, unlike many of the graduates who came before them, they'll be entering the workforce from home.

Ben Singel sits in a fold-out chair at a small makeshift desk in a snug corner of his bedroom. He's just a few months into his first full-time job, working as a youth director at White's Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake. In May, Singel graduated from Southern Methodist University, and he had plans to share an apartment with his high school friend.

Then came the coronavirus, and his plans changed as quickly as the virus spread. Now Singel's moved back in with his parents and is working remotely.

"It is tough to take four years of your life — four wonderful years of college, where you find out who you are, [then] immediately be placed back in the setting you were in four years prior, with your parents," he said. "It's tough to navigate. You are not necessarily the same person you were when you were living with them previously."

SMU graduate Ben Singel says it's tough after four years of college, where students discover who they are, to immediately go back to where they were four years prior — their parents' home.

While living at home with his parents isn't what Singel planned a few months ago, he admits it's convenient — and affordable.

"There's the desire to have that independence back that I'm not necessarily losing, but I'm compromising on, by living with my parents," Singel said. "At the end of the day, we have to make the best of the circumstances we find ourselves in."

Texas Christian University psychology professor Sarah Hill says living with family during young adulthood isn't abnormal, it just breaks with the individualistic culture of the United States.

"There are a lot of cultures where it's fairly common for people to live in these large extended family groups," Hill said, adding that there's very little that's unusual or lies "outside the normal realm of human experiences."

Although moving back home after graduation is a relatively new occurance in the U.S., Hill suggests that it might become more common in the following years.

"Even in the absence of coronavirus and social distancing practices, [students] are returning home after graduating from college because their student loans are so outrageous," she said.

But unlike other young adults, Singel doesn't have the opportunity to escape to the office. Instead, he's working from his bedroom and is mere steps from his parents all day long.

About twice a week, he records videos at his church, but he still has to distance himself from co-workers. And he finds that doing a job from home has made it tough to distinguish when the workday actually ends.

"You never really check out of the 'office.' You're kind of always there, so I felt myself get very anxious," Singel said. "I never feel as though my workday has completely ended. I always feel like I'm on the clock."

Hill, the TCU professor, said the moment young adults enter the workforce and strike out on their own is a crucial part of brain development.

"The brain is always changing, and when we're going through periods of rapid change or we find ourselves newly independent, those are going to be periods of rapid change in the brain," Hill said. "You're dealing with a number of new scenarios, and so your brain has to be able to keep up with all of those things."

Learning to become independent is even important for other species.

"In the animal kingdom, we call it dispersal, right when you're dispersing from your home range," Hill said. "That's a period that's punctuated by a tremendous amount of growth."

As of now, there's no research to indicate that living with family longer stymies cognitive development. But that's not to say entering the workforce from home isn't challenging.

As of now, there's no research to indicate that staying home longer stymies cognitive development. But that's not to say entering the workforce from home isn't challenging.

Another recent grad, Reese Bobo, thought about moving back in with her parents in Washington, D.C., after she graduated from SMU in May. Instead, she took a job as a field organizer for the Texas Democratic Party. She's working virtually, and she couch-surfed until her apartment lease in Dallas started late last month.

"One of my options was moving back home with parents, which I so appreciate, and I'm so lucky that I have that option. But, I think that would be really difficult. I don't know if I could have done that," Bobo said. "I have a very, very hard time being productive at home. Even when I would go home from breaks at college, because I feel like you revert to being 16 years old."

For the recent grads who opted to bunk back in with their parents, Hill admits she understands their frustration, and their eagerness to be independent. But in this time of uncertainty, she has some advice.

"You know, your time with your family is finite. People that we love aren't going to be around forever," Hill said. "Just try to make the most of the moments that we're in."

And while there might not be much privacy, sharing a home with relatives often means sharing some of the bills too, she said.