Job market looking up for new grads (but some majors are still hurting)

Hey, Class of 2015, you should be feeling pretty good right now.

According the Labor Department, unemployment in February of this year was just 2.7% for those holding a college degree. For those with nothing more than a high school degree? 5.4%. And for those who don’t even have a high school diploma, unemployment is 8.4%.

“The recovery goes across the board,” says Nicole Smith, Senior Economist at the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce. “Even recent college grads are finding it a lot easier to attach themselves to the job market.”

And what's encouraging is last year's graduating class did pretty well in a less healthy labor market.  According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 'First Destination Survey for the Class of 2014,' nearly 53% of new bachelor’s degree holders had a full-time job within six months of graduating. Another 7.3% were working part-time, and 16.8% were enrolled in graduate school. Just 18.7% were still looking for a job or waiting to get into graduate school. An estimated 67,000 students graduated with a bachelor's degree in 2014.

Fast-forward one year, and the economy is stronger. But good news doesn't always come with good advice. A graduate's first real job matters-- a lot.  Smith says the goal should be finding the right job and at the right salary associated with a course of study.

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“From the beginning, you want to make sure that you attach to the best possible job you can, something that is in field, something that is related to your major,” says Smith. “For the most part, you know, it sets the pace for your resume,” Smith says.

But you need to be realistic. It’s important to note, Smith says, not all college degrees are created equal. According to the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce, starting salaries vary greatly depending on major. Recently graduated engineering majors for example make a median salary of $55,000 a year. But those who graduate with degrees in fields like psychology and social work and the arts make a median $30,000 a year.

Unemployment rates in these fields? 5.4% in engineering and 7.3% in psychology and social work. The highest unemployment among recent graduates is 13.9% for those who majored in Architecture. The collapse of the construction and home-building sectors is still affecting that field.

Something else to note: the more education attained, the better grads do in the job market. The overall unemployment rate for people with a graduate degree is just 3% according to the Georgetown center.

So if you’re a new grad and can’t find your dream job, should you hold out? “I would advise against holding out to find one that is more appropriate,” says Smith. Instead take a long hard look at what you studied exactly and how it can be applied in various jobs. Smith says in that case “self-examination” is important to really decide on what your skills are.

Ask yourself, she says, “’What are your core competencies that you have developed in studying a particular major that you pursued in undergrad?’ For the most part, many of us find that those core competencies might be transferable across a job that you hadn’t thought about in the first place so it’s a good idea to sort of branch out.”

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