Opinion: It’s OK to move back home after college

By Ana Altchek, Staff Columnist

As graduation approaches, a plethora of mixed emotions floods the minds of second-semester seniors. College graduation is bittersweet, and whether students are more nervous or excited often depends on their post-graduation plans.

While having to search for a job after graduation is stressful on its own, there’s also the looming fear of having to move back home. More graduates are choosing to move back home than ever. A record 36% of college seniors were expected to move back home for at least a year upon college graduation in 2016. Despite their good reason to do so, there is a lingering stigma of laziness and failure that surrounds those who do.

Moving back home after college does not equate to failure, and it shouldn’t be perceived this way. On the contrary, it is often the most realistic choice for a student who is trying to save money and work to pay off loans.

The most recent studies project that 70% of college students graduate with debt, at an average amount of $37,000. From 2004 to 2017, U.S. student debt accumulation soared from $345 billion to more than $1.38 trillion. For the majority of graduates who do have loans to pay off, moving back home to save money is often a realistic and responsible choice.

Along with the rising student debt, housing costs have simultaneously rose. Mortgage rates and housing prices are higher than they’ve been in seven years, according to a Bloomberg report released in September 2018. Mortgage rates have hit a rate of 4.72%, and Federal Reserve policy makers project that this rate will continue rising. As a result, the cities that are the biggest job hubs — like New York or San Francisco— are even less affordable. In a city like San Jose, Bloomberg reports that even the highest earning graduates are about $100,000 short of being able to afford housing.

Perhaps even worse are the detrimental effects that scrambling to pay off rent and loans can have on work life. According to a 2016 published survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, he organization, Financial Education for Today’s Workplace, 60% of workers struggling financially have difficulty focusing in their jobs, and 34% showed issues with attendance.

Clearly, living independently upon graduation can result in serious economic strain, which can consequently negatively impact work life. But despite the economic climate and evidence pointing towards the benefits of moving back home, students are still reluctant to do so.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering how stigmatized moving back home is in America. In a USA Today interview, a series of young graduates were interviewed about their experiences of moving back home. Although their individual experiences were different, the collective feeling of shame was often present in their responses.

“I am also kind of a ashamed to be living at home, and was slightly embarrassed to be asked to be interviewed for this.” Robin Harvey, a Washington University graduate said.

Even though moving back home with parents is common and acceptable in many other countries around the world, Americans seem to associate it with poor drive and work ethic — for instance, people lost their minds when they found out highly successful actor Michael B. Jordan still lives with his parents. This is a cultural issue that is continuously reinforced through our competitive capitalistic environment that associates hard work with monetary value, and perceives everything short as insufficient.

Millennials are constantly stereotyped as lazy and entitled, and the financial climate that’s leading them to move back home is used as additional evidence of this. In fact, this generation has even acquired the nickname “Boomerang Kids” to refer to the generation that always comes running back to their parents — like a boomerang.

Despite this, there is a multiplicity of successful people who did not conform to the traditional American expectation to graduate college and immediately live independently.

Dani Pascarella, an investment banker and current CEO of Invibed, a tech startup, published an article in Forbes last April about her experience moving back home and her refusal to let the stigma influence her decision.

“Many parents and the media view having a degree, a job, and living on your own as ‘being successful,’” Pascarella wrote in her article. “So when millennials opt to live at home, they often get bashed for being lazy and for freeloading off of their helicopter parents.”

But she credits her success to her decision to move back home after college, which allowed her to prioritize paying off debt. She was able to move back out before the age of 30.

“To many, being a debt-free homeowner by 28 is well worth a few extra years at home with mom and dad,” she wrote.

Pascarella is just one example of many people who have found success after living at home. At the end of the day, students who are driven and have goals in mind will not be hindered by where they live.

Columbia University professor Steven Mintz had a similar take on the issue. In fact, he believes the decision to move back home is actually a strategic career move. He raises the point that moving back home can work as a base camp that allows graduates to pursue the learning experiences they need before fully entering adult life in the workforce.

“This type of path is the best preparation for success in an economy that rewards ambition, risk-taking, entrepreneurship and adaptability,” Mintz said.

He shared one particularly notable example of a student who, upon graduation, volunteered at the Arab American Family Support Center in New York City and interned at Freedom House and Seeds of Peace. She was also able to curate a museum exhibit before pursuing Arabic studies in Qatar. While not everyone has access to the same opportunities depending on where they live, Mintz notes that opportunities like this would never have been possible with additional stress of housing costs.

Although there are valid concerns about moving back home, these potential negative consequences are not inevitable and should not dictate anyone’s decision to live independently. While some may struggle to reach the next step or find direction, there are ways to avoid this kind of outcome.

In terms of adjusting oneself to life back home, it’s crucial to keep open communication with parents about the situation. By having conversations about grocery shopping, guests, an exit strategy and basic guidelines of respect, the transition process will be much smoother and effective as a short-term solution.

While it may be difficult to change the cultural perspective on moving back home, it’s very possible for students to write their own narratives and set their own goals. The stigma may perpetuate, but students’ futures are in their own hands. Moving back home has its benefits and setbacks, but so does every major transition.

Young graduates should make the decision that’s best for them, even if that decision happens to be turning back to where they began.