The Nightmare Job Market for Undergrads

Posted by: Geoff Gloeckler on May 7, 2009

by Mandy Oaklander

If you thought the biggest source of collegiate stress was deciding which fraternity or sorority to join, welcome to a college student’s worst nightmare—the job market of 2009. A new survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) gathered information from more than 16,500 graduating seniors about their employment pursuits. The survey shows that by graduation, only 19.7% of 2009 graduates who applied for a job actually had one. That number dropped significantly from last year, when 26% of applicants had a job. For the sake of dismal comparison, in 2007, 51% of applicants had a job by graduation.

NACE found that this year’s graduating class is caught in a curious crisis. Most students still plan to go into the job market; about 24% of last year’s graduating class reported plans to wait it out in grad school, while only slightly more students—27%—have such plans this year. Even so, fewer students are actively looking for jobs. Two-thirds of the class had started the job hunt at this time last year. This year, only 59% of the class has begun searching.

Procrastination isn’t usually economically driven, so what’s holding grads back? The survey found a high correlation between a candidate’s job search and his or her undergraduate major. Those majoring in engineering and accounting are more likely to have started the job search, secured a job, and accepted a job offer than their peers majoring in a liberal arts subject.

NACE chalks up the difference to salary expectations. Offers for engineering and accounting students fairly match what students expected (around $58,000 and $48,000, respectively), while liberal arts majors were more likely to turn down job offers and the salaries that accompanied them.

College students are inundated with warnings and laments about the job market drought, and it looks like many of them are putting it off as long as possible. What do you think: have college students given up hope? Why aren’t more grads looking for jobs—or accepting less-than-expected paychecks—when they plan to enter the job market?

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