Smart Graduate School Choices that Improve Job Prospects

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While newly graduating college students have grown accustomed to reports of their grim job prospects in recent years, economic data is finally beginning to illustrate a more optimistic picture. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recently released survey results indicating that employers expect to hire 13% more graduates from the Class of 2013 than they hired from the Class of 2012. Yet, even while job prospects improve, an evolving global economy only underscores the importance of long-term planning and higher education among young job seekers.

Between September 2008 and August 2010, 6.9 million American jobs were eliminated. Since September 2010 through May of 2012, though, 3.1 million jobs have actually been created. For recent graduates, the difference has been especially pronounced. From January onwards, the average employment rate for college graduates 24 and younger has been about 7.2%, down significantly from 9.1% in 2011 and even 7.8% in 2009. It is also below the national rate of approximately 8.1%.

Amidst this growth, some majors are faring far better than others. NACE found that 63% of employers who plan to offer jobs to college graduates this year will hire engineering majors, while 61% will look for business majors and 48% accounting majors.

The demand for jobs requiring advanced degrees is largely leading the economic recovery. Data from the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the number of jobs requiring a master’s degree or higher for entry will increase by 22% from 2010 to 2020, far exceeding the expected 14% overall growth projected for all occupations between 2010 and 2020.

The US health care industry is expected to continue growing at an exceptional rate for at least the next decade, making a graduate degree in health or sciences a very secure investment. In the coming years, it will be increasingly difficult for doctors to keep the pace with patient need, creating a significant market for master’s degree-holding physician’s assistants. The average annual salary of a physician’s assistant is $81,230, more than the average of $73,738 for graduate degree-holders and well above the $60,000 average for those with bachelor’s degrees.

While averages indicate graduate school is still a wise investment, not all graduate degree programs greatly impact annual salary. The average annual income for meteorologists with graduate degrees, for instance, is often only a 1% improvement over peers who only ever attained an undergraduate degree. Undergraduate degree holders in studio arts and petroleum engineering also only take home average annual salaries of 3% and 7% less than master’s degree holders in their respective fields. While approximately 52% of education majors go on to earn a master’s degree, the increase in annual salary is only about $6,000 more than teachers who have only attained a bachelor’s.

Young people entering the job market should be aware that while conditions are improving, things are still more difficult than they were prior to 2007. Though American employers are increasing their hiring, they also have a far broader pool of workers to choose from, as technology and education advancements in developing nations creates a fiercely competitive global marketplace.

More than ever, employers are looking for individuals with an advanced skill set and sincere passion for the job and company. Job seekers with specific companies they are interested in working for should first actively reach out to companies they admire. Contacting a few companies with genuine enthusiasm and interest can often be far more effective than sending out dozens of generic resumes and cover letters.

While the economy continues its slow but steady growth, new graduates should be aware that while opportunities are available, the most proactive job seekers will be the ones that land the most coveted positions. Yet, by choosing graduate programs with an eye toward both potential job growth and security, as well as finding a major that best utilizes an individual’s skill set, young people entering the job market can find jobs that are gratifying careers with long-term security.

About the Author:  Sophia Foster is a writer and researcher for Feel free to check out more of her writing!

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