NEW YORK — The class of 2012 is leaving college with something that many graduates since the start of the Great Recession have lacked: jobs.
To the relief of graduating seniors — and their anxious parents — the outlook is brighter than it has been in four years. Campus job fairs were packed this spring and more companies are hiring. Students aren't just finding good opportunities, some are weighing multiple offers.
In some ways, members of the class of 2012 got lucky. They arrived on campus in September 2008, the same month that Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, touching off a financial crisis that exacerbated the recession.
On campus, they were largely insulated from the collapsing U.S. economy. While older brothers and sisters graduated into a dismal job market, they took shelter in chemistry, philosophy and literature classes.
They used their college years to prepare for the brutal realities of the job market that would await them. They began networking for jobs much earlier, as freshmen in some cases. They pursued summer internships not simply as resume boosters, but as gateways to permanent jobs. And they developed more realistic expectations about landing a job in the ideal place and at the ideal salary.
On campuses across the country, spirits are more upbeat this spring, and the employment outlook is especially promising, according to interviews with three dozen seniors and career center directors.
"It's just been such a dramatic change from what we saw in 2008," says Mercy Eyadiel, who oversees career development at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Back then, openings disappeared overnight and companies were calling recent graduates to rescind offers. "It was a very bad, ugly situation."
The job market remains tough, even for those graduating from the best universities. Hiring is not back to its pre-recession level and plenty of seniors are leaving campuses without jobs. Yet this year's graduates are less likely to face the disappointment of moving back in with mom and dad, or being forced to work at a coffee shop to pay off loans.
"I was nervous that my college degree would go to waste," says Laura Mascari, who arrived on the University of Delaware's Newark campus in the fall of 2008. Mascari, who received two job offers, will work in marketing — her major — for chemicals giant DuPont.
Between September 2008 and August 2010, 6.9 million American jobs were eliminated. In the last year and a half, 3.1 million jobs have been created. The strengthening job market has made a big difference to seniors who are job-hunting in their final semester.