The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects that 1,781,000 college students will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in 2012.
Unfortunately, these students are graduating into an economy producing very few jobs. About the same number of Americans are employed in 2012 as there were in 2000, even though the US population has grown by almost 35 million people during that period. According to the Gallup organization, close to 18-20 percent of the adult population is either unemployed or only able to gain part-time employment. In May, only 69000 jobs were added to the US economy, and many of these were part-time. No wonder between 73 percent and 83 percent of Americans think the country is in a recession.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, employment rates among young people between the ages of 18 and 24 have hit a new low. Only 54 percent of those in that age group are employed full-time, and their incomes are dropping faster than any other age group. Since the current recession began, fewer than half of college grads from the classes of 2008 and later were able to secure employment within a year of graduation, a big decline from the normal 73 percent.
In 2011 almost half of bachelor degree holders were unemployed or underemployed. College graduates are more likely to become waiters, bartenders, cashiers, retail clerks, and food-service workers than acquire a management position or professional job worthy of their degree.
What makes the situation worse for the class of 2012 is what Carl Van Horn, director of the Heldrich Center, calls the “recession hangover.” New grads must compete against those who received degrees between 2008 through 2011, many of whom are still out of work or underemployed.
Is it any wonder that only one in five college grads thinks their generation will be more successful than the generations before them?
How do students today navigate the choppy waters of a Depression-level jobs dearth? They can follow the lead of the more than 35 percent of young Americans who have gone back to school in the hopes of improving their job prospects. While training on average improves a grad’s employment possibilities, it can also increase debt. And that additional education still might not lead to a job. According to the WSJ, only half of this year’s law-school graduates are expected to land jobs as lawyers within nine months of graduation. The remainder will find themselves competing against next year’s graduating class of lawyers.
There are some steps students can take to increase their chances of landing the job of their choice when they graduate. First, college students should choose their major carefully. There are far more job openings in the STEM fields– science, technology, engineering, and math– than in softer liberal arts fields. Also, students in any field should choose to minor in business if this option is available. Second, the students should start their job hunt early in their college careers, as early as their sophomore year. That gives them two-plus years to develop contacts and scope out prospective employers. Third, the college student should look for internship opportunities as early as the junior year. Companies often hire their interns at the point the student-intern graduates from college.
Even in the worst job market in decades, the best and the brightest who prepare adequately can still land the job of their choice.