College seniors graduating this spring will be in a unique position when it comes to finding their first jobs out of school. Not only has the pandemic made remote work the norm for many industries, but an ongoing labor shortage has made hiring difficult for all types of employers.

In light of these shifts, we surveyed 385 college seniors to see how they are feeling about their job prospects and found that:

  • Close to 40% expect to make at least $70K at their first job
  • 54% would work for a company they morally disagree with for a six-figure salary
  • Half believe that the labor shortage will work in their favor for finding a job

37% of College Seniors Expect a $70K+ Starting Salary

It would seem that Gen Z is not worried about its financial prospects even in this uncertain time of inflation and supply chain shortages. According to the Summer 2021 NACE Salary Survey, the average starting salary for the class of 2020 was $55K/year.

This means that close to 40% of this year’s seniors believe that they will make at least $15K more at their entry-level jobs than the average college graduate. In fact, almost one in five college seniors expect to make more than $90K/year at their first job.

“A starting salary of $70K may be reasonable for some graduating seniors depending on their individual experience and expertise, but I don’t believe it’s realistic for 40% of this cohort,” explained career consultant Stacie Haller. “In most occupations, entry-level salaries start somewhat lower, but the good news is that in this market, with a few years of successful experience, the next move can bring a much higher salary in the marketplace,” she said.

Male Students Even More Confident About Financial Prospects

When looking at just the survey respondents who identified themselves as male, their salary expectations are even higher. Nearly one-third (30%) of male college seniors believe they’ll make upwards of $80K at their first entry-level job vs 22% of female-identifying college seniors who believe they will make the same.

Democratic Students More Cynical About Their Financial Futures

Interestingly enough, there was a notable difference between the salary expectations of students identifying as part of the Democratic vs Republican party. 45% of Democratic-leaning students believe they will have a starting salary of less than the national average of $50K/year. This is 15% higher than the 30% of Republican-leaning students who believe they will make less than $50K/year.

College major does not appear to play a role in this outlook, as close to an equal number of students in both parties intend to major in traditionally high-paying fields like business, engineering, and biomedical sciences.

“If money is the most important factor, then college students should choose an entry-level position where they can quickly climb the ladder with proven success so they can accelerate the increase in their salary and compensation,” continued Haller.

54% Would Work for a Company They Morally Disagree With For a Six-Figure Starting Salary

Although Gen Z is well-known for being more socially-minded than previous generations, it would appear that this social consciousness can be compromised if the price is right. More than half of college seniors surveyed say they are somewhat likely (30%) or very likely (24%) to accept a job at a company they morally disagree with for a six-figure starting salary.

“The current climate seems to have fueled college grads to believe in and seek high starting salaries regardless of whether or not they feel a moral fit with the organization,” stated Haller. “They have been hearing about open jobs and the need for talent, but have not actually been in the workforce. I have worked with many candidates who have chosen high-paying careers during college and pursued law and medicine occupations only to find out later on that this is just not for them and the money does not offset their unhappiness with their chosen occupation.”

High Salary Also Trumps Passion for Work for 60% of Seniors

In addition to working for a company they don’t believe in, the majority of college seniors would dump working in their area of interest for more money. 35% say they are somewhat likely to accept a job unrelated to their major for a higher salary, while 25% say they would be very likely to work outside their field of interest for higher pay.

“Money may seem like the most important reason to choose a profession now, but this rarely has staying power as ultimately they may make the change when it gets untenable for them. I have actually seen many people leave occupations in finance, medicine, law and even pursue an MBA degree only to leave the profession and become recruiters in those fields,” added Haller.

Salary is the Largest Motivator for Job Search

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the previous two points, salary is the number one factor college seniors will consider when looking for a job. The least important factor to college seniors is the ability to work remotely. Perhaps many are sick of remote learning and are looking forward to joining the workforce in person.

50% Believe the Labor Shortage Will Work in Their Favor

Half of college seniors say that the current labor shortage will make their job search somewhat (26%) or much (24%) easier. 54% also believe that it will be somewhat (34%) or very (20%) easy to find a job that pays their desired salary and is also in their field of study. Data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce indicates that they may be right, as companies in professional and business services have the highest percentage of unfilled job openings.

“It’s a great market for graduating seniors as there is still a war for talent and many job openings available,” agreed Haller. “Now is the time for these seniors to get ready for their job search, start putting together their resumes, network, gather references, and review job postings as the end of the semester will bring a huge influx of new candidates to the market.”

Overall, college seniors have high expectations for their first jobs after graduating. The majority believe they will make more than the national average for college grads, be able to find a job in their field that pays what they want, and that the labor shortage will work to their advantage. However, Gen Z also demonstrates a surprising lack of concern about how their skills will be put to use as most would compromise their morals and passion for work in return for a high salary.


This survey was commissioned by and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish between February 15 and February 25, 2022. In total, 385 participants in the U.S. were surveyed. All participants had to pass through screening questions to ensure they were currently a senior in college between the age of 20 and 25. 42.3% of respondents identified as affiliated with the Democratic party, 32% as affiliated with the Republican party, and 25.7% as other.

The types of schools attended by survey participants include: liberal arts (14.3%), state university (25.7%), ivy league (11.7%), community college (13.3%), career/vocational college (12.2%), art college (10.1%), and other (12.7%).

Intended majors identified by respondents include: business (11.4%), healthcare-related (11.4%), social sciences (7.8%), engineering (10.1%), biomedical sciences (11.2%), psychology (10.1%), communication/journalism (7.3%), visual/performing arts (7%), computer science (7.3%), education (8.6%), and other (7.8%).