Recent Grads Struggle to Find Jobs--And Say Colleges Didn't Prepare Them Well

Last Updated May 18, 2011 12:43 PM EDT

Recent college grads say that, overall, they're pleased with the education they received, even though those educations don't seem to have done a great job of preparing them for the job market. Only 53 percent have full-time jobs, and more than half-some 62 percent-say they'll need more formal information to be successful in their careers. Those are some of the conclusions of a new study of 571 people who graduated from college from 2006 to 2010.

Part of the problem, of course, has to do with timing and the Great Recession. "Young college graduates entering the labor market between 2006 and 2010 are competing with millions of unemployed college graduates -- who may be just slightly older -- in one of the worst economies in a generation," says Carol Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and a co-author of the study. "They are struggling to find full-time work and many are working in jobs that do not require a four-year degree."

Among the study's findings:

  • Full-time jobs are hard to come by: Only 53 percent of recent graduates say they are working full-time. Some 21 percent are in graduate or professional school. Seven percent are unemployed; another seven percent are working part-time while they look for better jobs.
  • Internships help. So does a Y chromosome. Recent grads who did internships were earning a median of $34,680, compared to a median of $28,000 for those who didn't complete and internship. The men in the study are earning median pay of $33,150, compared to $28,000 for women.
  • Compromise is key. Between a quarter and a third of grads said they made significant accommodations to land a job: taking a position that paid much less than they expected, working outside their intended field, or working at a job that they felt was below their level of education.
  • Graduates blame placement offices. Three-quarters of these grads say they have no second thoughts about their decisions to attend a four year college, and, paradoxically, they say their degree is fully as valuable as they thought it would be when they enrolled. But 68 percent say their schools' career services departments didn't prepare them well for their own job search.
  • Low expectations are the norm. The majority of recent college grads do not think they will earn as much as their parents. One in five expect to do less well, financially, than their parents. Another 31 percent say they will do as well, but not better, than their parents.
  • Economically, parents remain a lifeline. A college grad from the years 2006-2010 graduated with a median of $20,000 in debt. Half of them say their parents helped pay for their educations, and the parents are still helping. Almost half of these recent grads get financial assistance from their parents, and nearly a quarter of them live with their folks.
When will things look up for these graduates? What do they need to do to get ahead?

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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.