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Yet, a fact of life in the 1990s economy is that a college degree is mostly about survival. A person under 30 with a college degree will earn four times as much money as someone without it. In 1973 the difference was only twice as great. With the loss of well-paying factory jobs, there are fewer chances for less-educated young people to reach the middle class. Many dropouts quickly learn this and decide to return to school. But that decision costs money and sends many twentysomethings back to the nest. Others are flocking to the armed services. Private First Class Dorin Vanderjack, 20, of Redding, Calif., left his catering job at a Holiday Inn to join the Army. After two years of racking up credits at the local community college, he was ready for a four-year school and found the Army's offer of $22,800 in tuition assistance too tempting to turn down. "There's no possible way I could save that," he says. "This forced me to grow up."
WANDERLUST: LET'S GET LOST
While the recruiters are trying to woo young workers, a generation is out planning its escape from the 9-to-5 routine. Travel is always an easy way out, one that comes cloaked in a mantle of respectability: cultural enrichment. In the TIME/CNN poll, 60% of the people surveyed said they plan to travel a lot while they are young. And it's not just rich students who are doing it. "Travel is an obsession for everyone," says Cheryl Wilson, 21, a University of Pennsylvania graduate who has visited Denmark and Hungary. "The idea of going away, being mobile, is very romantic. It fulfills our sense of adventure."
Unlike previous generations of upper-crust Americans who savored a postgraduate European tour as the ultimate finishing school, today's adventurers are picking places far more exotic. They are seeking an escape from Western culture, rather than further refinement to smooth their entry into society. Katmandu, Dar es Salaam, Bangkok: these are the trendy destinations of many young daydreamers. Susan Costello, 23, a recent Harvard graduate, voyaged to Dharmsala, India, to spend time at the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, headed by the Dalai Lama. Costello decided to explore Tibetan culture "to see if they really had something in their way of life that we seem to be missing in the West."
ACTIVISM: ART OF THE POSSIBLE
People in their 20s want to give something back to society, but they don't know how to begin. The really important problems, ranging from the national debt to homelessness, are too large and complex to comprehend. And always the great, intimidating shadow of 1960s-style activism hovers in the background. Twentysomething youths suspect that today's attempts at political and social action pale in comparison with the excitement of draft dodging or freedom riding.