It looked like 2020 was going to be the year for "a really good job market" for U.S. college seniors, according to one college career counselor. Then COVID-19 hit.
With the outbreak, colleges emptied out across the country. Many students never even returned to campus after an extended spring break.
Instead, collegians finished the semester at home. While completing their coursework remotely, seniors now look at a very different job market.
"This was a really good job market before the outbreak," said Scott Crawford, executive director of the career center at Knox College in Galesburg.
"Seniors would have received multiple job offers in many cases. Now students must stay engaged if they want an offer. There's a lot of angst out there. It's a scary time," said Crawford, pointing to the high unemployment figures with the business shutdown wrought by COVID-19.
Marissa Akers, a Knox senior who lives in Shelbyville, Ind., initially received three offers for an internship in her major of forensic science. Two of those offers evaporated this spring. "In March, companies in Fort Lauderdale and Dallas said they were no longer hiring," she said.
While still mulling over a possible offer in Galesburg, Akers admitted the job picture had changed. "It's hard right now. I never thought about the health industry before but medical positions are what's open," she said.
"I would need training. Hopefully, I'll still find something in forensic science," said Akers, noting that a summer internship would suit her best since she plans to return to Knox in the fall to play for the school's volleyball team.
"I'll graduate in June but I missed two semesters with Hodgkin lymphoma," she said, explaining that she wants to make up for her time away from the sport.
"I've been cancer-free for three years now," said Akers, who gets a check-up every two weeks due to a diminished immune system that makes her more susceptible to COVID-19.
While Akers does her job search from her home in Indiana, Sophia Post, a Bradley University senior, ponders her future from the family home in Little Rock, Ark.
"I'm using the time to build up my portfolio," said Post, an animation major who dreams of making cartoons for a major production house.
The graphics editor on the Bradley Scout, the student newspaper, Post said she'd also be willing to work in graphic design. "I just know I want to eventually head back to the Midwest," she said.
The present editor of the Scout, Tony Xu, another member of the class of 2020, is one of the lucky ones, having secured a summer internship at a law firm in the Washington, D.C. area.
After the four-month internship, Xu, who hails from China, said he hopes to land a job. He's also considering grad school. "I want to wait a bit on the applications until things settle down," he said.
Xu came to the United States in 2013. Before coming to Bradley, he attended high school in Florida where he lived with a host family.
"I'm on my own here," he said, acknowledging the difficulties on a return to China right now.
Crawford said uncertainty was one of the biggest problems facing employers and college prospects. "We don't know how long this down period will last," he said.
While challenging, the job market still exists, said Crawford, who's handled career counseling at colleges across the country before coming to Knox a year ago.
"Recruiters have pivoted. Virtual internships are now available but students have to up their game. It's time to look at plan B or plan C," he said.
A wide cross-section of people are working on plans to honor the Class of 2020 at Bradley, said university spokeswoman Renee Charles.
The goal is to find a safe substitute for the May 16 commencement that was canceled due to the virus outbreak, she said.
"We're reaching across the board to different schools and disciplines at the university to come up with some kind of virtual commencement, some virtual ways to recognize the seniors," said Charles.
"Right now we're just exchanging ideas," she said. "Do we show a video with a message from the school's new president (Stephen Standifird)? Do we plan something along the lines of the NFL draft that was presented virtually this year?"
Charles said the school is also mulling over the possibility of inviting seniors back for a special commencement around Labor Day or the winter commencement in December.
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