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Survey finds college graduates have unrealistic expectations about first-year salaries

Survey finds this year's college graduates have unrealistic expectations about their first-year sala 02:59

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - As universities begin to hold their graduation ceremonies over the next month, college graduates have high expectations for their first job. A recent study finds that those expectations are often quite out of line with reality.

Everyone hopes a college degree is the ticket to a great salary, but that first job does not always pay what today's graduates expect.

"The average starting salary for a college graduate hovers around $55,000, and our survey found that college graduates expect to earn $104,000 after graduation," Danetha Doe, an economist who developed part of the study for Clever Real Estate, told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.

Delano: "A six-figure salary right out of college? Do they really think that?"

Doe: "That's what the survey found. That was their expectation."

Talk about a gap between expectation and reality -- about $50,000.

Just three years ago, that gap was only $10,000.

Doe says Generation Z graduates are well aware of today's economy and high costs.

"Gen Z college graduates are entering an economy where it frankly costs a lot of money to enjoy the financial comforts that previous generations have been able to experience," says Doe.

Point Park University professor Dorene Ciletti says today's graduating students know that many employers cannot find the qualified employees to fill all the job openings they have, which may contribute to high expectations among today's graduates.

"I think they're feeling optimistic at this point. They recognize there is some demand in a lot of fields, and they're excited about the possibilities," says Ciletti.

But a six-figure starting salary is rare without a graduate degree.

It's also true that Gen Z is looking for more than just a good salary, says Point Park professor Sandy Mervosh.

"Students are actually approaching their future employment differently overall.  I know when I speak to my seniors, they are very interested in benefits, which is something maybe three to five years ago students weren't quite as interested in. They realize that there's value in benefits."

These include benefits like good medical coverage, a decent vacation and sick leave policy, a reasonable expectation of promotion and time off to pursue various Gen Z causes.

Economists say these are more realistic from employers today than a six-figure starting salary. 

Computer science graduates turn out to be the most realistic, expecting a salary of $95,000 while averaging $75,000.

The most unrealistic are journalists and communications majors whom the study called "delusional" for expecting $107,000 while averaging $45,000.

"It's very difficult to generalize this type of information. It really depends on geography, where you are in the country -- Pittsburgh compared to California, New York," says Mervosh.

That is certainly true, but one thing is probably universal: nobody is ever really happy about their pay.

This survey found that of the 2022 college graduates who are lucky enough to have lined up jobs after graduation, about a half – even before they start work -- are already unhappy with their salary. 

College graduates have high expectations of how much they'll earn 02:04
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