The Class of 2023

The Class of 2023:
A Story of Resilience

The Covid pandemic hit during their Freshman year, upending everything from classes and college housing to sports and campus jobs. Now—having endured setbacks, adapted, and persevered—the Class of 2023 is about to graduate and enter the workforce.

A new ZipRecruiter survey of 2,000+ graduating seniors finds that the class of 2023 has great expectations—for high pay, flexible work arrangements, and rapid career growth—but also serious concerns about inflation and the risk of a downturn. They express a remarkable readiness to embrace emerging technologies and gig work, and to rethink their career plans—traits that will give them an edge as they navigate a shifting job market.

"The way companies work is changing at a blistering pace. In this dynamic environment, employers are putting a premium on trainability and soft skills. New grads are well positioned to succeed in the first step of their professional lives as they look ahead to a career defined by continuous learning. Setting any short-term macroeconomic uncertainty aside, the optimism new graduates feel about their career prospects is well founded."

- Ian Siegel, ZipRecruiter Co-Founder and CEO Tweet This Quote

The Class of 2023 is entering the workforce at a peculiar time in the labor market. Many businesses are still citing acute labor shortages and actively recruiting students ahead of graduation. Others—particularly, businesses in financial services, technology, consulting, and entertainment—are reducing headcount, with some scaling back college hiring or delaying start dates for new recruits.

Employers plan to hire about 3.9% more new college graduates from this year’s class than they hired from the Class of 2022, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. However, that’s down significantly from earlier projections: In the fall, employers said they would boost hiring roughly 15% year-over-year.

A new ZipRecruiter survey finds crosscurrents in the job search experiences and expectations of graduating college seniors. While 57% of the class of 2023 feels excited and optimistic about their job prospects, others report finding job search overwhelming, confusing, alienating, or even depressing. The vast majority have already connected with potential employers and feel prepared to start their careers, but many are concerned that the potential arrival of a widely anticipated recession later this year could upend their plans.

The findings are based on a nationally representative survey of 2,000+ college seniors who expect to graduate this year. It was fielded between March 17, 2023 and March 29, 2023 to an online sample administered by Qualtrics.

Highlights of the Survey of the Class of 2023

The Impact of the Pandemic

The Class of 2023 was shaped by a global crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic was hugely disruptive to the class of 2023. One in three graduating seniors (33%) surveyed said that it caused them to fall behind on their studies, and 31% said it caused them to give up a subject or activity. 27% said it caused them to take longer to graduate than initially anticipated. 

Despite disappointments, the Class of 2023 found a path to graduation. Some even credit the pandemic with encouraging them to rethink their career plans. For example, more than one in five (21%) said that the pandemic encouraged them to move into science, healthcare, or public health. 

The Economic Outlook

Now, graduating seniors are facing uncertainty with resourcefulness

Now, amid heightened risk of an economic downturn following a period of decades-high inflation and rapid interest rate hikes, the Class of 2023 is ready to meet the challenges of today’s job market. While many report feeling extremely concerned (55%) or somewhat concerned (40%) about how a recession would affect their careers, 83% say that inflation and living costs have made them think about ways to adapt their post-graduation plans. With uncertainty comes creativity: 33% of graduating seniors are looking to move to a cheaper city, 30% are planning to move back with their families, 29% are planning to live with a roommate, and 28% are planning to take on side jobs, such as gig work, to supplement their income due to inflation. 

Even though 70% of graduating seniors say they plan to have a full-time job in the coming year, more than 9 in 10 overall expect to take on some form of “side hustle” (whether prompted to do so by inflation or for other reasons). 52% expect to work in the gig economy and 34% expect to work as social media influencers. Nearly half express a willingness to move to a new city or town to pursue career opportunities as they arise, or to further their education. 78% said they found the idea of being a digital nomad—that is, working online from various locations of their choosing—appealing. 

Wage Expectations

Most have high wage expectations

Among graduating seniors, women expect to earn $69,200 and men $71,900 per year right out the gate, on average. In other words, women have average expected earnings 96% as high as those for men. That would be a much smaller gender wage gap than what is found in the wider U.S. population, where women earn 84% as much as men, on average. The gap in expected pay disappears after controlling for college majors. 

Across graduating seniors who are otherwise similar in terms of demographic characteristics and college major, those who have already started applying for jobs expect to earn $8,300 less than similar students who have not yet begun actively searching. The gap could suggest that students have unrealistic earnings expectations which they update as they gain exposure to the labor market. 

Historically, the employment and earnings of low-wage workers have fallen most during recessions. But strikingly, it is those college seniors who expect to be the highest earners who report the greatest anxiety about a potential recession harming their careers. Their concern likely reflects that, to date, demand for labor has remained strong in lower-paying industries while recently softening in technology, financial services, consulting, the media, and other relatively high-paying fields. 

Working Conditions

Many expect attractive working conditions

Having lived through a transformative shift towards more flexible work arrangements, 44% want a hybrid work arrangement, 33% want to be fully remote, and only 23% want to work in an office or workplace every day. The top three things they are looking for in their first post-college jobs are career advancement opportunities (54%), pay (48%), and job security (45%). When it comes to benefits, the top three that they say matter most are medical insurance (50%), retirement benefits (44%), and paid time off (44%).  

Education (20%), marketing (18%), technology (17%), and finance (16%) are the top industries that graduating seniors report wanting to work in. When asked to select just one, technology was the top choice, despite the spate of recent layoffs. 

Job Search

College seniors are sophisticated job seekers

99% of college seniors say they feel either very prepared (69%) or somewhat prepared (30%) for the current labor market. 92% reported that they had already started actively looking for, and applying for, jobs. 86% said they have already spoken with potential employers, and 85% said they have already been recruited for a job. On average, they have had 9 job interviews. 

22% said their top go-to job search resource was online job search sites, 18% said social media, 17% said career fairs and hiring events, 10% said search engines, and 10% said their friends and family. 79% said they had optimized their resume for online job search and ensured it was compatible with online applicant tracking systems. Many are already familiar with online job search, with 83% of those who have worked previously saying that they found their first job online. 

Work Experience

Most graduating seniors have some work experience

97% of graduating seniors said they worked for pay at some point during college, with 81% working during the semester and 42% working over summer or winter break. The jobs they have held vary widely, including gig work (49%), college work-study programs (43%), traditional payroll jobs (36%), paid internships (34%), and jobs for households (21%), such as babysitting or caregiving. 83% said they were multiple jobholders at some point during college. While 16% said that they would not advise other college students to work for pay during their studies unless they have to to make ends meet, 83% said that they would recommend it because it provided valuable work experience. 


Most graduating seniors are upbeat about internships

The vast majority of graduating seniors (86%) said they had an internship at some point during college, and 98% of those who did said it was beneficial. 42% said their internship gave them an opportunity to practice skills they learned at school, 37% said it taught them new skills, 36% said it helped them discover what they want from their career, and 24% said it resulted in a full-time job offer. 

The Value of a College Education

Almost all graduating seniors believe going to college was worth it

In the wider U.S. population, many Americans are skeptical about the value of a college degree and pessimistic about its long-term benefits. But of those surveyed who had just gone through the experience, 98% said they believe going to college was worth it. That share was as high as 99.4% among white students, and lower but still high at 93.8% among black students. Among the small minority of graduating seniors surveyed who said that going to college was not worth it, some said they could have acquired the same skills more cheaply elsewhere. Some also felt the benefit did not justify the debt they had accumulated, and some regretted not having started their own business instead.  

College Majors

Three in ten graduating seniors regret their college major

While extremely few graduating seniors regret going to college, 3 in 10 regret what they chose to study there. Having switched majors during college doesn’t help. In fact, among the 1 in 3 seniors who changed their major, 69% regret their current major, compared to only 13% of students who have stayed the course. 32% of students in business-related majors, and 32% of those in the social sciences regret their major choice. Rates of regret are slightly lower in healthcare sciences (25%) and STEM subjects (27%). 

Among those who regret their majors, 35% said the reason was that good jobs in their field require further education, which they do not want to pursue; 23% said there are few jobs available for people in their major; 21% said the jobs for which they are eligible do not pay well; and 19% said they jobs for which they are eligible are unfulfilling. 

Among those who switched majors, 52% said they switched because their interests changed, 43% to pursue a field with better job opportunities, 38% to save money on tuition or graduate early, and 28% because their initial major was too difficult.  

Generative AI

77% of graduating seniors report using ChatGPT for their job search

51% of graduating seniors said they have used ChatGPT for help with college homework assignments in just the few months since its release. 77% say they plan to use it in their job search, with 66% using it to draft their resume, 56% to draft cover letters, 56% to discover jobs, and 43% to prepare for job interviews. 

Overall, graduating seniors were more optimistic than worried about generative AI. 51% said they expect it to create more, higher-paying jobs in their occupation; 23% said they expected no impact on their job; and 29% said they worry ChatGPT could eliminate a future job. Students with business-related majors (58%) and STEM majors (56%) were most likely to expect to see ChatGPT create higher-paying jobs in their field, whereas students in the humanities and arts (33%) and in health sciences (33%) reported being most concerned about having their jobs replaced. 

Throughout our survey, the overall impression made by the Class of 2023 is of a resourceful cohort, well prepared to navigate a rebalancing labor market and potentially disruptive technological change with grit, technological savvy, and a willingness to explore new opportunities. With work experience, an average of nine job interviews under their belts, and experience using some of the latest emerging technologies, today’s graduating seniors are well on their way to success in the job market.

"In an economy defined by a constant drumbeat of disruptive innovations, new graduates are less likely to have predictable and linear careers. Embracing change and remaining open to new opportunities is critical in the near term labor market."

- Ian Siegel, ZipRecruiter Co-Founder and CEO Tweet This Quote

2022 Report

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