For many graduating college seniors, the joy and excitement of commencement quickly morphs into concerns about longer-term finances and job prospects.
There are positive trends happening–such as the recent announcement from the U.S. Department of Labor that the national unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent, the lowest level in more than a decade.
However, many students are still uneasy about the future, reeling from the stress of the student loan process–and concerns about paying them off.
Insights from Graduating Seniors
To learn more, Barnes & Noble College recently conducted a national survey of college students graduating in the spring or summer of 2017.
Following are insights we uncovered relevant to colleges, universities and other organizations supporting the college student population.
Plans – and emotions – vary
While more than half of respondents plan to work at a full-time job (57 percent) or serve in the military (two percent), survey results showed a wide variety of post-graduation plans. Unsurprisingly, in the current gig economy, many graduating seniors will pursue multiple paths at the same time. Just over one-third (36 percent) are enrolling in a graduate or professional degree program. Twenty-one percent will be interning, 13 percent are taking time off to figure out what’s next and six percent will work for a non-profit organization. Close to 15 percent of respondents will travel, domestically and/or internationally. And, one or more of these paths likely will overlap with working a part-time job for some graduating seniors (21 percent).
How were these graduating seniors feeling about entering the current job market? It’s complicated. Respondents had the option to select multiple emotions, and they made use of it. They were just as likely to say that they were apprehensive as optimistic, at 43 percent for both. Likewise, about one-third indicated that they were feeling discouraged, while close to a third shared that they were enthusiastic. Just 24 percent felt confident – and 10 percent felt angry. It’s a full range of emotions that reflect the uncertainty many graduating seniors experience.
Salary takes center stage
These seniors had many concerns about their life after graduation, spanning the full range from finances to careers to simply managing adult responsibilities. “Earning enough money,” however, topped the list – by far. More than two-thirds (68 percent) expressed this concern, followed by “difficulty finding a job.” And, almost half specifically cited student loans as a concern. Less than a third of graduating seniors expressed other, more general life worries, such as relocating and adjusting to living in a new place, difficulty making friends and lack of a safety net.
In this finance-focused context, it’s not surprising that salary emerged as the most valued attribute in a post-graduation job. Salary trumped both contributing to the greater good (34 percent) and prestige (eight percent). And, most graduating seniors were not feeling optimistic about what their salary will be: 60 percent expected that their actual salary would fall short of their goal. Right around one-third expected their salary to match their goal, and only a fortunate six percent anticipated that their salary would be greater than their goal. In terms of actual dollar figures, the median expected salary across all respondents was $40,000 – a $5,000 deficit from the median goal salary of $45,000.
(Next page: Graduating college seniors on living at home; major takeaways)
Opting to Move Home
As these graduating seniors started to recalibrate their finances and plan for the future, many expected to live at home with their parents or were keeping their options open. Just over one-third (35 percent) definitely expected to live at home, while another 18 percent were still figuring out their plans. Of those planning to live at home, the majority expected to be there two years or less. Twenty-seven percent expected to be there for one to two years, while another 20 percent were looking at about six months to one year. This may seem like a small amount of time from a big-picture standpoint, but it can feel like a major setback to achieving independence and beginning to work towards long-term goals.
Takeaways for College and Universities
While graduates may call on their school’s career center or alumni network for assistance, much of their path is set. However, the concerns and feelings these students expressed aligns with other research conducted with current student populations and college-bound populations.
Non-traditional students, for example, greatly value their education: 89 percent consider college to be moderately to very valuable. However, only 15 percent feel financially secure, which impacts everything from where they choose to attend school to whether they can get their recommended course materials. These students can benefit from campus support and services, but they may face additional challenges to access them, from work schedules to transportation and childcare. Anything colleges and universities can do to be flexible and communicate with these students where they are will be beneficial.
Gen Z students also see their education as valuable – exactly 89 percent again. And, they look at it in the context of greater job opportunity and financial security. These young teens already exhibit more of an entrepreneurial spirit than their Millennial counterparts. They’re interested in starting their own businesses, and they are more likely to define success by financial statements than by personal fulfillment. When Gen Z arrives on campus, these students will seek out on-campus tools and support to build on their enthusiasm and get a jumpstart on their careers – and maybe their side hustle, too.
Today’s college students are financially aware, with many concerns to go along with their dreams. The more colleges can do to help build and protect their financial health – from affordable course materials to building a culture of support that fosters academic success – the better positioned their students will be as they enter the next phase of their lives.
Infographic: “Are Students Prepared for the Workforce?”
Report: “Are Students Prepared for the Workforce?”
Article: “A Tale of Two Graduates.”
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