College Students Are Optimistic About Employment Despite Recession

In the face of a pandemic and economic recession, college students and recent graduates remain optimistic about finding employment in the coming year.
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Jessica Bryant
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Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Updated on August 22, 2023
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  • Nearly three-fourths of 2021 college graduates are optimistic about securing a job within the next 12 months.
  • Most college graduates feel confident about entering a remote workforce.
  • Despite confidence in their abilities to secure employment, graduates worry about the current job market.

Even in the face of an ongoing pandemic and economic recession, graduating college students are displaying a surprising amount of optimism. A new survey of 500 U.S. college students who have either graduated or will graduate in 2021 found that 73% of students seeking employment feel optimistic about securing a job within a year of graduating.

Forty-five percent of students and graduates in this group felt strongly about their ability to land a job over the next 12 months, even though nearly half (49%) are not currently employed in their field of study.

Despite this confidence, students remain concerned about the state of the workforce and how the consequences of COVID-19 will impact their employment for years to come. Fifty-two percent of respondents reported feeling apprehension about entering the job market.

While it's clear students and recent graduates are hopeful about what may come next, they still fear a loss of opportunities and an inability to make student loan payments.

Students Remain Enthusiastic About Higher Education

Amid campus closures, remote learning, and declines in students' mental health brought on by the pandemic, it'd be easy to assume most students wouldn't want to further their education at this time. But even with these pandemic-related complications, 2 in 5 students plan to continue their education after receiving their undergraduate degree in 2021.

Those pursuing an associate degree were more likely to plan to continue their education than those pursuing a bachelor's degree (54% vs. 35%). Women were also more likely than men to plan to further their education after graduating (44% vs. 35%).

More Than Half of Students Feel Prepared to Work Remotely

After more than a year of remote learning, it's no surprise that graduating students feel prepared to enter a virtual workforce. About 59% of respondents said they felt strongly or mostly confident that they're prepared to work remotely post-graduation.

Just over half of students (51%) feel adequately prepared to enter the working world in general, and 58% reported having an optimistic outlook about their future employment.

However, students' confidence in their abilities to navigate a virtual work environment did not rid them of their concerns about graduating in the current economic climate. Fifty-two percent of respondents reported feeling apprehension about entering the job market as it stands now.

Most Students Fear Loss of Opportunities Due to COVID-19

The majority of this year's graduating students felt the impact of COVID-19 on their job preparation activities. Only 15% felt they were able to participate in all of the career preparation activities they wanted to pursue before job hunting.

Although less than one-third (29%) of survey respondents planned to participate in internships this year, internships were the most common career preparation activity that students felt they'd missed out on due to the pandemic.

Students and graduates were also overwhelmingly concerned about the pandemic and the recession's impact on their post-graduation plans: 42% believe COVID-19 altered their plans after graduating, and 45% worry that graduating during an economic recession shifted their plans.

More than half (56%) of respondents believe the circumstances caused by COVID-19 will have impacted their immediate employment goals. Additionally, 41% believe these circumstances will have a lasting impact on their career trajectories.

In an effort to take a more active role in achieving their professional goals, many students are utilizing their institutions' career services, with around 70% planning to take advantage of these services after graduation. Students of color were particularly likely to plan to use career services (79%).

While nearly a quarter (22%) of respondents were unsure whether their institutions offered any career services for graduates, more than half (57%) felt their schools provided adequate support to graduates seeking employment.

A Quarter of Students Unsure About Ability to Pay Off Debt

Despite students' confidence in their employment prospects, nearly a quarter (23%) feel uncertain about their ability to make student loan payments when scheduled to begin. White students were more likely to report confidence in their ability to make payments than students of color (51% vs. 42%). Men were also more confident than women (53% vs. 44%).

Students Relied On Family and Friends for Mentorship

Of the students who participated in networking and developed mentorships as career preparation activities in the last year, many did so through their family and friends. Outside of those closest to them, students most commonly sought out professional relationships through professors and employers, and by individual outreach.

Students of color were nearly twice as likely as white students (30% vs. 17%) to use memberships through professional associations and organizations to network and develop mentorships.

Students also overwhelmingly called on family and friends for guidance about post-graduation life.

White students were more likely to seek advice from their peers (43%) than students of color (35%). White students also looked to employers and/or co-workers (34%) more than students of color (21%). Students of color were most likely to rely on family (68%), friends (55%), and professional mentors (41%).

The optimism new college graduates have exhibited in this time of uncertainty is noteworthy. Despite concerns about the professional paths that have been forged during COVID-19 and an economic recession, graduates remain confident in their abilities to navigate a new normal. As the economy strengthens over time, college students' and graduates' confidence will likely grow along with it.


The survey was conducted April 30-May 7, 2021. Student respondents were fielded by Lucid LLC. Survey participants included 500 college students who have graduated or will graduate with an undergraduate degree in 2021. Respondents were 18-25 years of age; currently or recently enrolled at a college, university, or community college; and currently or recently pursuing a bachelor's or associate degree. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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