1 in 3 Unemployed 2020 Grads Are Taking on More Student Debt & Heading Back to School

Updated January 19, 2021

If there was ever a time to not graduate college and enter the working world, it was this past spring when the Class of 2020 received their diplomas in a world dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic has triggered a global economic crisis and an official recession in the United States.

This had led to unemployment numbers not seen since the Great Depression, in addition to a hiring freeze as companies must balance their books to weather the storm.

For Class of 2020 graduates, the timing couldn’t be any worse.

With many struggling to find employment in an economic wasteland, quite a few are heading back to school to enhance their resumes and stay occupied until things bounce back.

Data from National Student Clearinghouse found that while undergraduate enrollment is down 4.4% year-over-year, graduate enrollment is actually up 2.9%.

Resume Builder’s new study confirms this trend, while also finding 2020 grads are piling up student debt to head back to school despite more school not being in their original plans before COVID-19 struck.

Key Findings

All data that can be found in this report derives from an online survey conducted by Pollfish and commissioned by Resume Builder. 1,000 adult Americans that graduated from a 4-year undergraduate college as part of the Class of 2020 participated in the survey.

At Least 25% of 2020 Grads Haven’t Been Able to Land a Full-Time Job Since Graduating in the Spring

Here at Resume Builder, we first wanted to see what percentage of 2020 college graduates have been able to find full-time employment since receiving their diplomas in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and recession.

While 58% of 2020 college grads have landed a full-time job since graduating, at least 25% have not.

The key word is at least, because 17% of respondents opted not to say one way or the other, which leads one to reasonably assume many from this cohort have yet to find employment as well.

The employment rate for 2020 college graduates is unusually low due to the coronavirus pandemic and recession. Historical data shows the employment rate for 25 to 34 year olds with a bachelor’s degree is 87%, a far cry from the 58% our study found.

Even between 2007 and 2009 when the U.S. was in a different recession, the employment rate for this group was 73%.

Amongst our poll participants who haven’t been able to find a job, quite a few have already returned, or are planning to return, to school to enhance their resume and boost their job prospects with no other options available.

34% of Unemployed 2020 Grads Heading Back to School, With Many Still Considering It

When we asked those 2020 college graduates who couldn’t secure a full-time job due to the pandemic recession if they are heading back to school to boost their resume, here’s how they answered:

34% of 2020 grads have already returned, or are enrolled to return, to school to further their education and enhance their resumes to improve their job prospects in a post-COVID world.

Another 20% opted not to say either way.

And 46% from this cohort said they have not returned, nor are they enrolled to return to school.

However, we followed up with that last group and asked them if they are at least considering returning to school to enhance their resumes, and 35% answered “yes,” while 33% said “no,” and 32% weren’t sure either way.

Circling back to the 34% that have returned, or plan to return to school, Resume Builder asked them what type of education program they have enrolled in.

Most applicable respondents are heading back to school to get their Masters Degree (28%), while 14% are going for a Doctoral Degree, 12% are going for a technical, professional, or career program, 8% apiece for either a Doctor of Medicine or Associates Degree, and 7% for a Juris Doctor Degree.

For those 2020 grads heading back to school, we then wanted to see if more school after their undergraduate education was always part of the plan or became part of the plan due to the coronavirus pandemic and recession.

For Most 2020 Grads, Going Back to School Was Never Part of the Plan Until the Pandemic Made It Impossible to Find a Job

For those 2020 graduates who have made the decision to continue their education after already receiving their bachelors degrees, was more school always part of the plan or did COVID-19 leave them with no other option?

For the plurality of applicable 2020 graduates, 45%, going back to school to enhance their resumes and boost job prospects was not part of the plan until the coronavirus pandemic made it just about impossible to find a job.

This compared to 39% of 2020 grads who indicated more school was always part of the plan even before the pandemic struck, and 17% who did not really know either way.

It’s tough to hear that so many 2020 college graduates literally had no other options but to head back to school to stay busy and enhance their resumes, especially when we then found out many from this group are also taking on student debt to continue their education.

To Continue Their Education, Majority of Grads Have to Take on More Student Loan Debt

Due to the outrageously high cost of higher education in the U.S., it’s no secret the country is battling a student loan debt crisis.

And for many 2020 grads that couldn’t find employment and have had to head back to school due to the coronavirus pandemic and recession, that student loan debt crisis is getting worse.

Amongst respondents that are heading back to school after receiving their bachelor’s degree in 2020, 52% are taking on student loan debt to do so, while 33% are not, and 15% opted not to say.

And when applicable respondents were then asked how much student loan debt they anticipate taking on to continue their education, the average amount was $40,564.

That’s a significant amount of student loan debt to be taking on to continue one’s education, especially if it wasn’t part of the original plan or if it’s getting added to student loan debt already accumulated from undergraduate studies.

Amongst those that are taking on student loan debt to continue their education because of the pandemic and recession, 57% already had taken on student loan debt to pursue their undergraduate degrees.

And how much student loan debt did this cohort take on for their undergraduate education?

We found the average amount of student loan debt accumulated from undergraduate studies was $40,824 for this cohort that is taking on more student loan debt to continue their education due to the pandemic.

This means that for those respondents who took on student loan debt for both undergraduate studies and post-grad studies, the average total amount of student loan debt they are taking on is a whopping $81,388.

That’s a student loan debt balance that will likely take close to a decade to pay off for most, so let’s hope going back to school is going to be worth it for these folks. Otherwise, a good number of 2020 grads are going to be in severe financial and career trouble down the line, and it’s almost entirely due to the coronavirus pandemic and recession.

What Role Did Majors Play in Getting Hired as a 2020 College Graduate During the Coronavirus Pandemic and Recession?

As the last part of this study, we wanted to see if there was a noticeable role that majors were playing when it came to 2020 graduates getting hired during the coronavirus pandemic and recession.

Here’s what we found:

There were a few noticeable differences in major choices between those 2020 graduates who have found jobs despite the coronavirus pandemic and recession and those who haven’t.

The one that jumps out right away is that 13% of those who have found jobs indicated their major was “Health Professions,” while that percentage was 8% for those who have yet to find a job since graduating.

With an unprecedented pandemic taking place for just about a year at this point, health professionals are in high demand so this data-point makes perfect sense.

Other differences of note included 15% of those employed having an Education major compared to 8% of those unemployed, and 3% of those employed having a Psychology major compared to 8% of those unemployed.

Further, 12% of those employed had a Computer & Information Services major compared to 8% of those unemployed, and 4% of those employed having a Communication & Journalism major compared to 8% of those unemployed.

Methodology

This survey was conducted from January 9, 2021, to January 11, 2021. The survey was paid for by Resume Builder and conducted online by online survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,000 adult Americans that graduated from a 4-year undergraduate college as part of the Class of 2020 participated in the survey. These respondents were found with the help of Pollfish’s age-filtering feature and a screener question.

Full Results

Q1. Since graduating from your respective 4-year undergraduate college as part of the Class of 2020, have you landed a full-time job?

  • Yes — 58%
  • No — 25%
  • I’d rather not say — 17%

(If “No” to Q1) Q2. Since you did not land a full-time job after graduating during the coronavirus pandemic and recession, have you returned, or are enrolled to return, to school to further your education and enhance your resume to improve your job prospects? 

  • Yes — 34%
  • No — 46%
  • I’d rather not say. — 20%

(If “No” to Q2) Q3. Are you considering returning to school to further your education and enhance your resume to improve your job prospects?

  • Yes — 35%
  • No — 33%
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say. — 32%

(If “Yes” to Q2)  Q4. Was going back to school to further your education and enhance your resume to improve your job prospects always part of your plan after graduating from an undergraduate college or did the coronavirus pandemic and recession change things?

  • Going back to school was always part of my plan after graduation, even before the coronavirus pandemic and recession — 39%
  • Going back to school was NOT part of my plan after graduation, but the coronavirus pandemic and recession has made it difficult to find a job. — 45%
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say. — 16%

(If “Yes” to Q2) Q5. What type of education program are you currently enrolled in, or enrolled to be in, to further your education and enhance your resume to improve your job prospects?

  • Masters Degree (MA, MS, MFA, MBA) — 28%
  • Doctoral Degree (PhD) — 14%
  • Juris Doctor Degree (JD) — 7%
  • Doctor of Medicine Degree (MD) — 8%
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree (DDS) — 5%
  • Associates Degree (from community college or 4-year institution) — 8%
  • Bachelor’s Degree (from community college or 4-year institution) — 4%
  • Technical, Professional, or Career Program/Certification — 12%
  • None of the above/Other — 14%

(If “Yes” to Q2) Q6. Are you taking on student loan debt to afford this additional education program you are currently enrolled in or enrolled to be in? 

  • Yes — 52%
  • No — 33%
  • I’d rather not say. — 15%

(If “Yes” to Q6) Q7. How much student loan debt do you anticipate taking on to afford this additional education program you are currently enrolled in or enrolled to be in?

  • The average amount was $40,564.

(If “Yes” to Q2) Q8. Did you have any student loan debt after graduating from an undergraduate college as part of the Class of 2020?

  • Yes — 47%
  • No — 35%
  • I’d rather not say. — 18%

(If “Yes” to Q8) Q9. How much student loan debt did you take on from your undergraduate education?

  • The average amount was $54,303.

Q10. What did you receive as a major when you graduated from your undergraduate college as part of the Class of 2020?

  • Business — 16%
  • Social Sciences & History — 7%
  • Biological & Biomedical Sciences — 9%
  • Communication & Journalism — 5%
  • Education — 13%
  • Health Professions — 11%
  • Engineering — 7%
  • Psychology — 6%
  • Visual & Performing Arts — 5%
  • Computer & Information Sciences — 11%
  • None of the Above/Other — 12%