Congratulations, class of 2010 college graduates! Are you hired yet?

In a still-tight job market, college graduates have their sights set on more education and opportunities abroad. Demand is up for statistics, finance, and accounting majors.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Graduating students listened to President Obama give the commencement address at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, May 1.
Rich Claybaugh/Staff
Rich Claybaugh/Staff
Rich Claybaugh/Staff

About 1.65 million students in the United States will be tossing mortarboards to celebrate earning a bachelor’s degree this commencement season. Here’s a glimpse into the big transition they’re making:

How is the job market for new college graduates?

It’s holding steady or showing slight improvement compared with last year. But the job market was particularly dismal then, so much of the class of 2010 will probably be joining friends from ’09 in the hunt for work.

Employers surveyed last fall planned to hire an average of 26.2 graduates this spring, compared with 26.8 in 2009, according to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) at Michigan State University. In a March survey, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found a 5.3 percent uptick in expected hiring, the first since October 2008.

The picture may improve in coming months, says CERI director Philip Gardner. “It’s been a long year for these seniors,” he says. “Some of them are discouraged, and they bailed out quickly to graduate school.... [But] if they have a strategy to look for work ... there are going to be jobs opening up now through the summer.”

Which students have the job-hunting edge?

If you can crunch numbers, you’re probably in good shape: Opportunities for statistics majors are up 11 percent this year, according to CERI. Starting salaries for finance and accounting majors are up slightly, NACE reports. As in recent years, demand is strong for people with degrees in nursing and environmental science.

But employers know that some of the hottest talent can be found in a variety of majors. Many look for graduates who contribute technical or analytical skills to “e-commerce” or who show an entrepreneurial mind-set. “If you’re risk-taking ... adaptable ... and you can communicate [in a diverse workplace], it’s going to go a long way,” Mr. Gardner says.

Studying abroad or being able to speak a foreign language can help, too, says Allan Goodman of the Institute of International Education, which estimates that at least 11 percent of the class of 2010 has studied abroad.

What’s the debt load for recent graduates?

Sixty-five percent of bachelor’s degree recipients in 2007-08 graduated with education debt – and half of those students owed at least $20,000, according to the College Board’s latest figures.

“There may well have been a bump in borrowing for the classes of 2009 and ’10” because of increases in federal loan limits in the summer of 2008, says Edie Irons of the Institute for College Access & Success in Oakland, Calif.

Here’s the good news: Their monthly federal loan payments can be capped at 15 percent of their discretionary income, and anything left over after 25 years of faithful payments will be forgiven.

If they opt for a government, nonprofit, or other public-service job, their debt can be forgiven after 10 years.

How is the job market affecting graduates’ plans?

Counselors who help students get into college have been hearing from soon-to-be graduates (and their parents!) seeking advice for next steps, especially since the implosion of Wall Street.

“There’s a lot of stress and angst,” says Matthew Greene, co-author of “College Grad Seeks Future.”

One healthy outcome, he says, is that today’s graduates are more “willing to look at the nonprofit sector, public service, internships ... things like independent school teaching.”

Mussadiq Akram, who graduates from Syracuse University on May 16, is one who veered from his plan to get a job, instead heading to Cornell for a master’s degree in energy economics.

It’s too soon to know how many in the class of 2010 will go to grad school, but last fall saw new graduate student enrollment rise nationally by
6 percent, says the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington.

Of 16 chemical engineering seniors at Syracuse, Mr. Akram says, one had a job contract by late April. Three others plan to go to graduate school, and most of the rest “have no idea,” he says. “One is going to do ski instructing in Chile for the summer.... Others have tried and tried [to find work] and not really gotten anywhere.”


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