Survey shows college graduates have unrealistic expectations for first-year salaries

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — As universities begin their graduation ceremonies next month, college graduates have high expectations for their first job. A recent study finds that these expectations often do not match reality.

Everyone hopes that a college degree is the ticket to a great salary, but that first job doesn’t always pay what today’s graduates expect.

“The average starting salary for a college graduate is about $55,000, and our survey found that college graduates expect to earn $104,000 upon graduation,” said Danetha Doe, an economist who wrote part of the study for Clever Real Estate told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.

Delano: “A six-figure salary straight out of college? Do you really believe that?”

Doe: “That’s what the poll showed. That was her expectation.”

Talk about a gap between expectation and reality – about $50,000.

Just three years ago, that gap was just $10,000.

According to Doe, Gen Z graduates are aware of today’s economy and high costs.

“Generation Z graduates are entering an economy where, frankly, it costs a lot of money to enjoy the financial comfort that previous generations enjoyed,” says Doe.

Dorene Ciletti, a professor at Point Park University, says today’s graduates know that many employers can’t find the qualified employees to fill all the vacancies they have, which can contribute to high expectations among today’s graduates.

“I think they are optimistic at this point. They recognize that there is some demand in many areas and they are excited about the possibilities,” says Ciletti.

But a six-figure starting salary is rare without a university degree.

It’s also true that Gen Z is looking for more than just a good salary, says Point Park professor Sandy Mervosh.

“Students actually approach their future employment differently overall. I know when I talk to my seniors, they’re very interested in benefits, which is something students might not have been that interested in three or five years ago. They realize there is value in benefits.”

These include perks like good medical care, a decent vacation and sick leave policy, reasonable promotion expectations, and time off to pursue various Gen Z causes.

Economists say these are more realistic from employers today than a six-figure starting salary.

Computer science graduates are proving to be the most realistic, expecting a salary of $95,000 out of an average salary of $75,000.

Most unrealistic are journalists and communications majors, whom the study called “delusional” for expecting $107,000 when they averaged $45,000.

“It’s very difficult to generalize about this kind of information. It really depends on the geography of where you are in the country — Pittsburgh versus California, New York,” says Mervosh.

That’s certainly true, but one thing is probably universal: Nobody is really happy about their salary.

This survey found that of the college grads of 2022 who are lucky enough to have a job after graduation, about half are already dissatisfied with their salary before they start work.

University graduates have high expectations of their salary

02:04 Survey shows college graduates have unrealistic expectations for first-year salaries


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