After two years of pandemic-disrupted learning, recent college graduates are facing their latest challenge – navigating a job market reeling from resignations, inflation, and major shifts in workplace norms.

They’re also joining the 45 million Americans who owe a collective $1.7 trillion student loans, likely leading to questions about whether their educational experience was worth it.

To find out how recent college graduates are faring with employment in these unusual times, surveyed 1,000 young adults who graduated in Spring 2022 or Fall 2021 from post-secondary institutions, including community colleges, four-year colleges, and vocational/trade schools.

Key Findings

  • 28% of recent college graduates are working at jobs that only require a high school diploma; 6% have jobs with no education requirements at all
  • 1 in 5 recent grads are working at jobs that are unrelated to their major
  • 84% of recent grads say finding a job was ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ difficult
  • 40% recent grads still seeking employment have lowered their salary expectations

34% of employed college grads could have gotten their current jobs without a college degree

The good news – at least on the surface – is that 89% of respondents are gainfully employed, with the remaining grads still job-searching.

However, digging deeper reveals that, for a portion of grads, their jobs aren’t necessarily letting them use their new degrees to their best advantage.

Twenty-eight percent of employed college grads are working at jobs that only require a high school diploma, while 6% work in positions with no education requirements at all.

The percentage of graduates who are working at jobs for which they’re overqualified varies based on the type of degree they hold.

A whopping 63% of graduates from vocational or trade schools, and 61% of individuals who completed master’s degrees since 2021, are underemployed. Fifty-two percent of PhD grads are working at jobs they could have gotten with a master’s degree or less.

Forty-three percent of graduates from associate degree programs are working at jobs they could have gotten with a high school diploma or less.

Bachelor’s degree students are doing the best, but a full 40% of them are working in jobs they would have been qualified for with an associate’s degree, high school diploma, or no specific education at all.

According to career strategist and job search coach Stacie Haller (LinkedIn), a number of factors are likely contributing to this trend.

“With the current economy and rising inflation, college grads are probably anxious to get to work, move out of their parents’ homes, and start their lives,” she says. “I also work with college grads who don’t understand the job market or how to search for a position that’s aligned with their education. Very often, their resumes aren’t representative of the reasons a prospective employer would reach out to them. There are many entry-level positions unfilled due to these disconnects.”

There’s also the question of whether graduates are working in positions related to the area of study in which they earned their degree.

Roughly one-fifth of recent graduates, 21%, are working in jobs, either full or part-time, that aren’t related to their major area of study. Among those who are working in their field of study, another 21% are currently working part-time.

Despite the current hot job market, less than half of recent graduates, 47%, have been able to secure full-time employment in a job related to what they studied in college.

Haller notes that working in a field outside of their area of study can still be beneficial to college graduates.

“If a student graduates with a degree in an area they are no longer interested in, working in a different field may help them figure out what kind of career is right for them,” Haller says. “And even if a graduate seems overqualified for a position, they can still gain valuable practical knowledge that can be applied to future positions.”

Employment in field of study varies by major

The specific major that a graduate pursued has some influence on what type of job they’ve procured.

Those that are most likely to be working either full or part-time in jobs related to their majors are those that studied film and television (79%), healthcare (78%), business (78%), technology (76%), and finance (75%).

Conversely, only 38% of graduates who studied humanities, liberal arts, or foreign language are employed in their respective fields, as are 53% of those who graduated with degrees related to social sciences.

2 in 3 recent grads earning less than $60K

According to a recent survey, college students expect to make about $103,880 in their first post-college job. However, the average starting salary is about $55,260 for a college grad.

Our survey found that 61% of employed recent graduates are earning salaries that are roughly equal to or less than this average. For 13% of employed respondents, their gross annual income is $19,999 or less. Twenty-one percent earn between $20,000 and $39,999, and 27% make $40,000 to $59,999.

An individual’s earning potential does tend to increase with their level of education. Fifty-eight percent of those who recently earned master’s degrees are making more than $60,000 annually, as are 50% of newly-minted PhDs, and 42% of bachelor’s graduates.

By comparison, only 27% of those with a vocational certificate or diploma, and 25% of those with an associate’s degree earn more than $60,000 annually.

8 in 10 recent grads had difficulty finding a job

Given all this, it’s not surprising that the majority of recent grads describe their job search as ‘very difficult’ (25%) or ‘somewhat difficult (59%).

The difficulties they encountered in their job searches included job postings without salary info (45%), lack of responses from jobs (40%), job offers with inadequate salaries (34%), and jobs without minimum education requirements (33%).

The more resumes individuals had to send before procuring a job, the more likely they are to say finding a job was ‘very difficult.’ Thirty-six percent of graduates who applied for 50 jobs or more before being hired say finding a job was ‘very difficult,’ compared to 22% of graduates who applied to less than 50 jobs.

A lack of knowledge about the job searching process can make it harder than it needs to be, Haller says.

“Like any venture, knowledge is power,” she says. “College grads and new job seekers need to understand job searching and the job market in order to get into the career they want. There are many resources, like a job search coach, that can help position recent graduates with a plan for their search, a resume to attract hiring officials and an understanding on how to articulate what they bring to the table.

40% of unemployed grads willing to expand job search, accept lower pay to gain employment

As for the remaining recent graduates who are still searching for work, 40% are willing to accept a job with a starting salary of less than $40,000, below the average starting salary for college graduates.

If their unemployment continues through the summer, 40% of graduates say they will consider accepting a job with a lower salary than they want. Thirty-eight percent are considering starting their own business. Thirty-six percent will expand their hunt to jobs outside of their field of study, and 25% will consider returning to school for more education or training.

For those who are still seeking employment, Haller has some words of advice.

“Re-evaluate your search to make sure your resume reflects your skills and experience and is written in a way to generate responses,” she says. “Your LinkedIn profile is just as important as your resume, so make sure you have a professional photo and accurate information.”

She also says graduates should seek out help preparing for interviews. “Many times, it’s during the interview process that something goes south, and a job search coach can work with recent grads to elevate their interviewing and follow up skills. All are just as important to land the job you want.”


All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,000 Americans who graduated from a post-secondary institution in Spring 2022 or Fall 2021 were surveyed. 1,250 American adults were surveyed. Appropriate respondents were found via Pollfish’s screening tools. a screening question. This survey was conducted on June 24-25, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email Content Marketing Manager Kristen Scatton at [email protected].