EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is the first in a three-part series examining the effects of the economy on college students.
CHESTNUT HILL, MA (RNN) - With bleak employment opportunities, college graduates are turning toward volunteer and graduate study options in larger numbers than before.
Edwin W. Koc, director of strategic and foundation research for the National Association of College Employers (NACE), said that a survey of 2010 college graduates indicates that more are interested in working in the nonprofit sector than in any previous year.
Andrew Velasquez, a 2010 graduate of Boston College, is one student who tried to volunteer in the face of a weak economy.
"It was one of those things where I heard it would be hard to find a job," he said.
Velasquez tried to volunteer with AmeriCorps, a federal program that works to address the nation's needs in areas like education, health, and the environment.
He applied to numerous organizations affiliated with the program, which he found attractive because of its limited time commitment, living stipend, and the flexible options awarded for paying back his student loans.
Velasquez was discouraged, however, when the organizations he applied to weren't calling him back. He said he had one good interview, but the conductor told him that there were a record number of applications. Ultimately, he said he was not offered a volunteer placement because of the competition.
"I'm stuck in the real world where nothing is certain anymore," he said.
Now, Velasquez is working his second temp job and hoping to start graduate school in the fall like his college classmate, Jeremy Chow.
Koc said that like Velasquez and Chow, many graduates are hoping to stay in school while the job market attempts to recover from the recession.
"The percent going to graduate school has certainly increased," said Koc. "For the class of 2010, it was 27 percent compared with just 20 percent in 2007."
This is a traditional response to the labor market.
"Whenever the market is poor, the number seeking a graduate or professional education increases," Koc said. "When the market gets strong, that percentage will likely decline."
Chow hopes to go to graduate school to earn a Master of Fine Art degree in writing. He hopes to teach English to high school prep or college students, and the education graduate needs the degree to teach at these upper levels.
Much to his dismay, Chow has received an eighth and final rejection from the graduate programs that he applied to in April.
Now he's stuck in the same situation as Velasquez. He can't find volunteer work at the hospitals he has applied to because of the large numbers of applicants. And he can't find steady employment.
A NACE survey issued last month revealed a more positive outlook for the class of 2011, with 13.5 percent more hires.
"This is positive news, but it is important to understand the data in context," NACE Executive Director Marilyn Mackes said in a press release. "While the overall hiring projection is positive, less than half of those surveyed anticipate an actual increase in hiring."
Twelve percent of employers said they planned to cut hiring even further, and those in the West and Midwest will hire in larger numbers than those in the East.
Koc said that these numbers aren't unusual. Even in strong years a good number of employers won't increase their recruiting numbers from the previous years.
"The positive numbers in our current survey are very similar to the rebounds we saw in previous recessions," Koc said. "If history is any indication, then the college recruiting market may well increase substantially in the next couple of years."
Velasquez and Chow are using these numbers to remain optimistic. But they still fear every day that a year will go by without a college acceptance or steady employment.
Chow's greatest fear is not getting into graduate school in 2011.
"If I get rejected, I'm back where I was a year ago," Chow said. "And I don't know what I'd have to do in that situation."
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