A college diploma may not solve everything

When Jesse Vickey graduated from Duke University in 1997 with a degree in economics, he said he was one of the lucky ones to get a job on Wall Street. But when it came to the reality of finding an apartment in New York City, he soon learned he knew nothing about signing a lease or other “real life” tasks. Many of his friends encountered similar situations.

“Everyone agreed that all these life skills kept popping up, and no one had explained them,” he said.

Vickey and his wife Nicole then co-founded Caps & Compass, a company designed to help college graduates learn real-world skills without the actual trial and error experience.

It began with the seminars. Andy Ferguson, who gives seminars for Cap & Compass, has traveled across the country to college campuses speaking on topics like “Avoid Looking Stupid at Dinner,” “Love Your Money,” “Getting Your Apartment,” “W4401KHMO: Translating Day 1 At Work” and “The Least You Need to Know about Taxes.” Ferguson and the Vickeys have spoken at universities from Maine to Florida and anticipate expanding to the West Coast.

The seminars are lively and aimed at entertaining while teaching.

“We throw out candy,” Vickey said. “We have people come up and dress in costumes.”

Caps & Compass’s latest venture, a book titled “Life After School. Explained.” furthers the company’s mission to aid graduating seniors. Co-authored by the Vickeys and Ferguson, the book is a guide for those heading out into the real world.

The book targets a range of people, from those who are etiquette challenged (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman), to those who just want to learn how to fill out a tax form.

Beginning with simple, easy-to-remember tips, such as how to memorize which bread plate and glass belong to whom at a formal dinner, the book covers everything from defining “business casual” to HMOs, 401K plans, fixing bad credit and finding an apartment in a new city.

The book, published in February, is a compilation of the five seminars. Vickey said the company’s short-term goals include getting the book into more bookstores and marketing it to alumni organizations.

“We offer the book to alumni organizations to give it to seniors as a gift,” he said. “They buy 1,000 copies, and then they can customize each book, with the senior’s name printed on it.”

In less than a week, GW seniors will face the world with minds full of calculus formulas, political jargon and peace treaty dates. Even after all those nights spent cramming for exams, with a college diploma to show for it, many seniors said they feel unprepared for life after college.

Some GW students said they feel they would benefit from a book like “Life After School.”

Mary Cashman, a senior in the School of Business and Public Management, intends to travel to the West Coast after working at Martha’s Vineyard this summer. She said her biggest fear next year is being responsible for all her finances.

“My biggest concern in college is paying the phone bill, getting the groceries and cleaning the bathroom,” she said. “My parents have talked to me about getting a job with a good medical and 401K plan, but right now I barely even know how to balance my checkbook.”

Students who have lived on campus for the past four years will face the challenge of finding their own apartment for the first time.

SBPM senior Grace Baek, who is interviewing for jobs, said she feels unprepared about renting an apartment because she is unfamiliar with the terms of leases since she has never done it before.

“I guess I am nervous about purchasing any big high ticket items, like cars even,” she said.

Others are laid back about not knowing it all next year. Senior Eric Carroll, a student in the Elliott School of International Affairs, plans to move home to Philadelphia in the fall to look for a job.

“When the time comes, I will figure it out,” he said.

Some seniors said GW’s emphasis on internships and jobs outside class has prepared them for life after college. Columbian College senior R.C. Hammond, who has held a job every semester for four years, said he has a job working for an engineer and a place to live for after graduation.

“I am getting my health insurance through my employer and called around for the lowest quote on auto insurance,” he said.

The final page in Ferguson’s and the Vickeys’ book gives advice on buying an engagement ring. Senior Raashi Sachdeva jestfully said this was the only topic she felt confident about knowing in the book.

“I know the four C’s to finding the perfect diamond: clarity, color, cut, and carat,” she said.

Sachdeva, who is graduating from SBPM, still has a while before leaving the academic world because she will be attending law school at Ohio State University in the fall.

Vickey’s advice to those leaving the college bubble is to not be afraid to ask questions.

“You’re allowed to ask questions without anyone raising an eyebrow for the first six months,” he said. “After a year, if you ask about HMOs, people are going to wonder since you have had one for so long.”

“Life after graduation. Explained.” can be ordered through the Web site www.caps&compass.com for $12.95.

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