Jobs for grads? A little optimism this year.

Jobs for college graduates are a little easier to come by this year. Grads who applied for jobs got more offers. Employers plan to step up hiring.

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    In this May 15, 2011 file photograph, graduate Andrea Dvorak (center) does a kick dance as Rutgers University students march into Rutgers Stadium during their commencement ceremony in Piscataway, N.J. Grads' prospects for jobs are a little better than last year.
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With cake eaten and tassels turned, members of the class of 2011 turn to their next assignment: finding a job.

While the past three years have presented America’s college graduates with a bleak job market, there is some optimism in hiring trends this year. For example: 41 percent of senior respondents who applied for a post-graduation job received an offer, up from 38 percent last year, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a professional organization focused on college hiring and based in Bethlehem, Pa. In a separate NACE survey, employers said they plan to hire some 19 percent more college graduates this year than last.

“It was a bit better, but not dramatically so,” says Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at NACE. “It’s a very strong market for a few selective majors, particular technical-inclined majors.”

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The areas of strongest hiring are in accounting, computer science, and economics, Mr. Koc says. Surprisingly, students with degrees in health-care fields are doing poorly in their search. Less than 20 percent of education majors have received job offers, he adds, a record low.

Another bright spot: salaries. Some 26 percent indicated of employers said they would bump up compensation for new hires, compared with 16 percent in 2010 and 11 percent in 2009, according to a survey by CareerBuilder, a large online job-search firm based in Chicago.

“Employers are more optimistic overall, and as a result, are looking to bring in entry-level workers to build their work force for the future,” says Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. “They will recruit college grads primarily for IT [information technology], customer service, sales, finance, accounting, and marketing jobs this year.”

One surprising trend: A rise in the share of students turning down out-of-college offers. Last year, 59 percent of graduates who received a job offer accepted it, while this year 58 percent took the position. NACE officials hypothesize that this year’s graduates are slightly more willing to hold out for a better offer.

Other graduates are delaying their entry into the workforce.

“The job market is bad, [and] I didn’t want to test it,” says Alex Berger, a recent graduate of The College of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J. “It’s daunting, and there are stories that make you uneasy.”

Instead, he’s in Atlanta for a two-year stint with Teach for America, which he will spend teaching elementary school students in public schools. “I felt like this was an opportunity to do something good for the time being, an appropriate way to use my youth,” he says.

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