A recent Associated Press study shows more than half of young college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, while a National Association of Colleges and Employers study projects an increase in hiring of new college graduates by more than 10 percent this year.
The feelings about the job market are similarly mixed among Marietta College upperclassmen approaching the end of their undergraduate careers.
"That's not encouraging," said Sean Hoover, a Marietta College junior from Kent, of the AP study.
"My standards are definitely lower for seeking a job," said Hoover, who plans to become a teacher. "I can't exactly be as picky as I would like to be."
But MC psychology major Sam Thomas, of Cleveland, said she's not worried at all - in part because she's going into the health care field and in part because she feels under-employed is "a relative term."
"I don't need a lot, and I wouldn't mind being in the service industry," she said. That includes the Peace Corps, which is one of the post-graduate options she's considering.
Jobs report at a glance
An Associated Press study indicates about 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed.
In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent.
There's strong demand in science, education and health fields, but not in arts and humanities.
Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.
According to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers expect to hire 10.2 percent more new college graduates this year than last year.
Source: Associated Press, NACE.
Marietta College Career Center Director Hilles Hughes said the media tends to be overly negative in its portrayal of the job market, which can be discouraging to young people entering the working world.
"What I have been seeing is things are better than they were ... pretty much across the board," Hughes said.
She didn't have specific data on the fields in which Marietta graduates were the most successful in finding work. But she said in general the health care industry continues to hire and accounting students get snatched up pretty quickly. Petroleum engineering always has a high placement rate, although Hughes said concerns over low natural gas prices may mean there's not quite the boom in that field some are expecting.
"What I'm seeing is those students who know what they want to do and are using the job search resources and networking resources strategically are getting job offers, and they're not unemployed and under-employed," she said.
Hughes took issue with the AP article's interview of a 2010 college graduate who said he didn't know what type of job he was seeking.
"You are setting yourself up to fail with that mindset," she said. "It's kind of like searching for a needle in a haystack."
MC senior Aaron Lopreste, of Belpre, has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do. He's going into athletic training and sports medicine and has a job lined up this summer providing first aid at cheerleading camps around the country. After one more semester at the college, he'll graduate and look for work as an assistant athletic trainer at a small college or perhaps with a private gym.
"Really nothing 100 percent as far as a job after I graduate, but really the network is pretty expansive," he said, noting the athletic training program is good at helping students make connections in the industry.
In the past, having a diploma opened doors for people, but that's often not enough these days, Hughes said, citing recent economic volatility as well as a general shift in how employers size up potential hires.
Work experience is often more valuable than a student's grade point average or, in some cases, major, Hughes said. That's why internships are so important, plus they show a person has taken initiative outside the classroom.
Internships also provide an opportunity to network, Hughes said, noting one student who got an internship with Hertz thanks to a connection through a Marietta alumnus. That work led to the student getting a job prior to graduating.
"Qualifications plus connections equals success," she said.
Even the job search itself can build those connections.
Hughes said she recently received 90 applications for a job at the career center. One of them already stands out to her because a peer who contacted her through an industry networking site recommended the candidate, having interviewed them for another post.
"I am going to make sure that I interview that person," she said.
In addition, job-seekers should do "informational interviewing" of their own, Hughes said, finding out what they can about the industry from people working in it.
Junior Josh Askew said he needs to do a better job of networking, but he will be heading home to New Hampshire for an internship this summer. He's majoring in sports management.
"I feel (the job market is) slightly slim, but I still feel fairly confident because the sports business is growing," he said.
MC junior Sandra Gilcrist, of Marietta, is majoring in finance with a minor in marketing and working in an internship with Chartwell's, the company that provides the college's food service. She's already had interviews with some local organizations about future internships and jobs, but she admits she's a little concerned about finding work after college because she wants to remain in the valley.
"If I go out of the area, I think it might be easier for me, but I'm not really looking to move," she said.
Hughes said location can come into play, and some students might need to be willing to change their goals in that regard to find the kind of work they want.
But they should also be flexible in other areas too.
Education major Sarah Brunner, a junior from Philadelphia, said she's open-minded about where and what grade levels she might teach.
"I'm willing to go almost anywhere younger than fifth grade," she said. "I don't feel as nervous as some people who are very narrow-minded in the job search."
Hughes also emphasized the importance of enlisting the aid of career centers like Marietta's.
"You have to go out and get help," she said. "You can't just sit behind your computer and go, 'Oh well, I'm not getting a job."