By HALEY ANDERSON/Montana State News

Jesi Lalum trains as an esthetician, a type of skin care specialist, at the Emerson Cultural Center. After graduating from MSU with a liberal arts degree, she found need for more training to get steady work.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that as of October 2010, 68.1 percent of that year’s high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities attempting to receive a higher degree of education

Upon graduation many attempt to find work in their specialized field, but in this economy fewer and fewer are having success. The New York Times on-line claims that as of May 2011 more than 45 percent of college graduates were working in a field that not only did not require a degree in their anticipated fields, but did not require a college degree at all.

We’ve heard the stories before: Biology major tending bar, English major answering phones, Spanish major working at Albertsons. These stories continue to become more common as the number of college graduates stays firm and the job opportunities get slimmer.

Jesi Lalum, a 25-year-old Montana State University graduate, encountered similar frustrations after completing her liberal arts degree May 2011.  During college, Lalum changed majors from elementary education to liberal arts with an emphasis in psychology.

She was working 30 to 40 hours a week in Bozeman to pay for a degree that Lalum claims, “Ultimately, I knew was useless…. I wanted to finish my education, get that piece of paper. For the last two years of college, I got to take courses I was interested in and ended up learning a lot, even if it’s not directly applicable to a field.”

Lalum was lucky to still have a full-time job to support her as she deciding what she wanted to do next.

“After graduation I thought a lot about what I wanted to do next,” she said. “I looked into going into cosmetology school for the fourth time in my life and then saw an esthetician program through the Health Institute Private Vocational School in the Emerson Cultural Center and enrolled.”

An esthetician is very specialized skin-care professional.

Lalum’s choice to get a vocational degree is becoming a popular alternative to college due to the much lower tuition and the ability to cater strictly to the area of study a student is interested in.

“I did both and consider my college education invaluable,” she said. “But this is what I want to do and I could have saved myself from a lot of debt if I didn’t think that college was what was expected of me after high school.”

Though vocational school is still expensive, the Health Works Institute Esthetics Program is an eight-month program and will run a total of $10,000. To be an esthetician one has to have this specialized degree and having a college education serves little benefit when approaching the industry, Lalum says

“Esthetics is specialized skin care and requires a minimum of 660 school hours to complete the degree,” she said. “Estheticians educate the public on the importance of healthy skin care practices and preventative treatment measures to maintain healthy skin. An esthetician is a skin care specialist who performs different treatments on the head and body, including facials, body wraps and scrubs, hair removal, paraffin, chemical peels, eyelash and brow tinting, electrotherapy, etc.”

Lalum could not hide her excitement when talking about her future in the industry.

“I plan on applying to dermatologists offices, plastic surgeons, a few spas of my choice, and any related industries. I’m gonna put my application out there and go crazy!”

Even with excitement about the future, there is still an obvious frustration about paying off debt from her previous degree.

“To quote myself, ‘life is a series of decisions.’ Every moment you are deciding what to do next,” Lalum said. “Sometimes you’re presented with opportunities that may further our well-being and it’s our decision to make on what direction to take it.

“I chose to finish my liberal arts degree and am happy with that decision; it’s a memory and a great piece of paper to look at on my wall. Now I am choosing esthetics and I can’t wait to see what’s down the road.”

Her parting words of advice? “You should do what you love, because you want to wake up every morning excited to go to work. Find out where your skills lie and maximize your potential.”

Edited By Megan Higgins

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