At Nlyst, we set out to learn more about the career goals of students at top universities by surveying 100 current college students. While some of these revelations neatly fit the pattern of findings in larger surveys, we identified five major trends that will help companies attract and retain talent from the classes of 2019-2022.
1. Private sector employment remains the destination for most college graduates, however the jobs available might surprise them
As expected, we found that approximately three-quarters of students will pursue employment following graduation, and as many as 85%-90% of those will enter the private sector. However, when we compared the degrees and industry preferences of these students, we found that nearly twice as many students plan to go into careers in banking, consulting, and technology (~80%) as there are graduates who ultimately enter those fields (40-45%). We expect that there is more work that universities and employers can do to educate students about roles outside of those narrow career pursuits, to prepare students to apply to private sector roles in sales, HR, customer success, and operations.
2. A glut of Computer Science degree holders will drive higher salary expectations for graduates from top schools
We asked students about their salary expectations for their first job following graduation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, underclassmen in particular had the highest expectations, with about half expecting to make over $95,000. This is driven in large part by the relatively higher share (25%) of underclassmen studying computer science versus seniors (10%).
When controlling for majors we found that most traditional liberal arts majors had relatively realistic salary expectations, however students in all other majors had expectations above what all but the most highly compensated positions (software development, investment banking, management consulting) offer. Even at top universities, we found that only 30-40% of students typically land roles in these fields. (Brown Class of 2018 by the Numbers, Yale Final Class of 2018 Report)
While the renewed focus of universities on technical degrees that prepare students for high-paying careers in frontier industries, it’s difficult to imagine that there isn’t going to be an impending bubble for computer science degrees as more qualified candidates enter the market through retraining programs (e.g. coding bootcamps) and university undergraduate programs.
3. Students prioritize interest in the work itself, their team, and company mission over pay, career path and perks
Companies are continuing to invest heavily in programs aimed at employee retention, and in particular, programs to help attract and retain entry-level team members.
Plenty has been written about how companies are refreshing their offices to foster collaboration and comraderie amongst junior team members, and larger companies have invested heavily in improved corporate perks like wellness programs, subsidized food, and student loan repayment support—however when asked how students ranked six items around whether they cared more about it than a paycheck, we found that:
1- Passion for the work, an inspiring team, and alignment with company mission were consistently ranked as more important than a paycheck
2- Students were approximately indifferent to choosing between a paycheck, a clear career path, and an invested boss, while they consistently ranked cool offices and perks as lower importance than a paycheck
We find that this is consistent with a lot of other research about the newest generation entering the workforce, where they are able to choose among many opportunities and will select roles based on alignment with their values over some of the more traditional employer selling points.
4. Student Loans, Health Insurance of critical importance to minority of elite university students
While quite a bit of attention is paid to health insurance benefits, barring changes to the Affordable Care Act, most recent graduates (85%) from top universities will continue to receive insurance through a parent or guardian until they are 26—this generally means that carrying robust health insurance options, while important, will make little difference to most entry level candidates.
We also found that while many students will be paying off student loans, the amount borrowed for undergraduate studies is relatively low compared to the entry-level salaries paid for many of the roles these individuals will be pursuing.
So while companies might put in place programs for loan repayment support, these will benefit a smaller portion of the overall incoming class (and might be more meaningful from a PR standpoint than attracting the best candidates.
5. Sabbaticals most highly valued perk
We asked students to choose between three options of perks, between the ability to work from anywhere, the ability to take an annual paid mini-sabbatical, and the ability to receive credits towards continuing education, and we found that the class of 2019 values continuing education more highly (+21%) than underclassmen, however overall, nearly half of students would prefer paid sabbaticals over the other two options.
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