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Higher Ed

College Students Feel Prepared for Careers, But Uncertain About Job Prospects

Barnes & Noble Education survey reveals most (61%) students are confident they will find a job in their field, though 66% concerned about finding one that meets salary needs

Basking Ridge-based Barnes & Noble Education, Inc., a solutions provider for the education industry, announced findings that show college students and recent graduates are fairly optimistic about their career readiness despite the impact of COVID-19 on their education, though salary and college debt concerns remain. Conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights℠, the survey looked at the perspectives of college students across the U.S. as they navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and volatility in the job market. Key findings include:

  • Almost half of students (48%) are optimistic about finding a job within 2-6 months after graduating. Roughly equal amounts believe job searches will be shorter or longer than that – 15% expect to find a job within one month, while 14% expect it to take six months or more.
  • Seeking employment is still the most common next step for students completing undergraduate programs. Within six months of graduation, 62% of students expect to work at a full-time job, 27% a part-time job, and 22% a full-time internship.
  • Recent graduates are likely to keep to their expected career paths. More than half (56%) are confident they will be able to find a job in the field they want, compared to 24% who are uncertain.

This confidence may be attributable to how well students feel their college courses have prepared them for the future. Despite a semester interrupted by the pandemic, 74% of students feel their courses are or have prepared them well for their respective industry, and 73% say the same for the job or role they want. And while almost half (46%) of students expect the current situation will impact their ability to find a job in the months following graduation, only 13% say they plan to make adjustments to their career path, suggesting confidence in their current skills sets.

“Students are very aware of the connection between their coursework and career prospects. They appreciate classes that are specific and specialized to their field or industry, often viewing these as the most ‘useful’ portion of their studies,” said Lisa Malat, president of Barnes & Noble College. “At a time when colleges and universities are focused on demonstrating value, ensuring students understand how their coursework is directly preparing them for their desired career can make a major difference.”

While students seem to feel an overall sense of preparedness, the pandemic has not come without concerns. More than half of students say the transition to online learning (53%) and completely virtual interactions (52%) has negatively impacted their academic confidence. Students report struggling to study from home, with 56% saying they are less motivated to get their work done, and 40% saying they now spend more time on homework. In fact, 62% of students say they would be willing to give up TikTok for the ability to cut homework or study time in half, followed by Instagram (57%) and Netflix (53%). While most students (61%) are turning to their professors for homework help, they are also looking at other resources for support. More than half (57%) are turning to digital tools and resources such as bartleby, while 54% are turning to classmates for help.

“Even as campuses move to reopen, it’s clear we’re preparing for a fall unlike the ones we’ve seen before. With social distancing requirements limiting in-person access to professors and other campus resources, we see more and more students turning to bartleby and other digital resources for homework and writing help. These apps are not limited by office hours or physical locations, allowing students to navigate around shifting lectures and work schedules,” said Malat.

With the majority (74%) of students working either part-time or full-time while they are enrolled, they also have concerns outside of lecture and study time. Even as campuses make plans to reopen, many of these students are facing furloughs, lost wages, or even unemployment. Four in ten (44%) students say COVID-19 has impacted their ability to pay for college. This percentage is even higher for first-generation students, of which more than half (56%) are impacted. Financial security is also a big factor when weighing career prospects, as the top concern for more than half of students (66%) is being able to find a job that meets their salary needs. Repaying the college expenses needed to get them ready for their field is likely a major factor in this salary concern, as 58% say they are worried about being able to pay off their college debt.

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