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Monday, April 15, 2024

[Career Coaching] Over 50% of College Graduates Struggle to Find Degree-Worthy Jobs

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James Pak

By James Pak
The author is head counselor of Academic & Career Mentors


According to a recently published study by labor analytics firm The Burning Glass Institute and nonprofit Strada Education Foundation, 52% of college graduates find themselves in positions that don’t utilize their degrees, highlighting a significant underemployment issue.

Despite a historically tight labor market, the underemployment of college graduates remains stubbornly high, with profound implications for their career trajectories and financial well-being. The report uncovers several critical insights into the nature of underemployment among college graduates, revealing the lasting impact of initial job placement, the significant variation in underemployment rates across different majors, and the substantial financial costs associated with underemployment.

Here’s a closer look at key findings from this study:

Prevalence of Underemployment: A staggering 52% of graduates are underemployed a year after graduation, with a slight improvement to 45% a decade later.

Importance of the First Job: Securing a college-level job immediately post-graduation is crucial for long-term career success, with a majority maintaining college-level employment years later.

Persisting Underemployment: Once graduates start off underemployed, the majority remain in that state a decade later, emphasizing the stickiness of underemployment.

Financial Implications: The disparity in earnings between those in college-level jobs and the underemployed is significant, affecting the financial stability of graduates, especially those with student loans.

Variability by Major: The study highlights the importance of major choice, with fields involving quantitative reasoning and certain professions experiencing lower underemployment rates, while others face higher challenges.

The Complex Reality of STEM Fields: Not all STEM fields guarantee low underemployment, with variances observed between different specializations within the STEM umbrella.

Impact of Internships: Internship experience is strongly linked to higher rates of college-level employment post-graduation, underscoring their value across degree fields.

Demographic and Institutional Factors: While college major and internships play a significant role in employment outcomes, institution type, race/ethnicity, gender, and geography also influence underemployment rates, albeit to a lesser extent.

Considering these insights, I strongly advise the families and students I work with to start career planning before the student even attends college. It’s essential to ensure the college they choose offers the right majors and opportunities tailored to their interests, even if these interests might change over time. This isn’t just about getting a degree; it’s about making informed decisions that pave the way for future success. Starting this planning process early, ideally before college, is a step I consider crucial for all students. By adopting this proactive stance, students are better positioned to navigate their career paths effectively.


Reference: Burning Glass Institute and Strada Institute for the Future of Work, Talent Disrupted: Underemployment, College Graduates, and the Way Forward, 2024.


James Pak
Academic & Career Mentors


(949) 630-8729