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Survey of New College Grads Gives Insight into Job Reality

News of young people's continuing struggle to get a foothold in the job market might have incoming college students thinking about how to improve their odds after graduation.

If higher education is going to remain relevant, some would argue that the hard reality of today's economy should also prompt educators to find ways to better prepare young adults for the workplace.

Words of wisdom from a survey of recent college graduates: Be intentional. Do some career research. Get job experience in college.

A nationally representative sample of 444 college graduates from the classes of 2006 through 2011 conducted by Rutgers University researchers finds that nearly two-thirds of graduates said that they would have done something differently in college if they had to do it over. About 37 percent said they would have been more careful when selecting their major.

What major they would have chosen in hindsight? Many said a professional major, such as education, communications, nursing, or social work.

Chasing the American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession by Charley Stone, Carl Van Horn, and Cliff Zukin, gives a glimpse into the job-search process and early-workforce experience.

Half the new grads surveyed said they felt less prepared to enter the workforce than the generation before them, and almost two-thirds thought they will need to get more education. One factor that helped:an internship. Those who got real-world work experience in college felt more prepared to enter the job market. Those who had internships also made more money in their first jobs, the report found. Looking back, many the respondents wished they had started their job search much earlier and taken more career- related classes.

Although unemployment is nearly twice as high for Americans younger than 25 than the overall jobless rate, three-quarters of those in the Rutgers survey reported having at least one full-time job since graduation. They may be employed, but many graduates were disappointed with the quality of their first job. Only 40 percent reported that it required a four-year degree, and 30 percent considered their first job as being on their career path.

About one in four graduates took a job making a lot less than they had expected. This money crunch has made it difficult for many to repay their student loans, the report found. Because of the amount of debt they graduated with, about one-quarter of those surveyed moved back home with their parents. About 40 percent said they were delaying a major purchase, such as a home or car. Another 25 percent took a job they were not enthusiastic about so they could pay down their loans. The debt burden also meant some (28 percent) put of furthering their education.

A series in the New York Times this week looks closely at the impact of student-loan debt on Americans. While drawing many sympathetic comments, it has also spurred criticism for overstating the percentage of students taking on debt (94 percent, according to the Times analysis). Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education, maintains it's closer to 60 percent. (See Inside Higher Ed article.) The repeated theme that students are uninformed about the loans they take out also underscores the need for increased financial literacy in high school and on campuses.

New grads in the Rutgers survey are hopeful about their future, but 40 percent still believe that having a job where they earn enough to have a comfortable life is quite a ways off.

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