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New college grads are enjoying the best job market in years

CNBC logo CNBC 4/19/2019 Jessica Dickler

It's a good time to be a graduate.

Those armed with a newly minted diploma will enter a job market with unemployment near the lowest level in 50 years and job prospects up significantly from just last year.

Employers plan to hire nearly 11% more graduates from the class of 2019 than they did from the class of 2018, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. This also marks the first time since 2011 that hiring projections are in the double digits, NACE said.

Improved job opportunities were spread across most industries, including accounting and professional services, NACE said, with wholesale trade as the only exception.

In addition, many job offers come with pay better than they did last year in nearly every degree category ranging from business to social sciences.

Once again, STEM degree holders are projected to earn the most overall as the demand for workers in science, technology, engineering and math occupations continues to increase, NACE said.

Engineering was the top paid major this year with an average starting salary of $69,188, followed by computer science and math. In 2018, grads earned an overall average of $51,022, NACE found.

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However, the tighter labor market is giving recent grads more confidence to pursue a career that is not based on salary alone, according to a separate report by job site Indeed, allowing them to prioritize other interests rather than following a more conventional track.

That is steering some students away from traditional high-paying positions in business or finance in favor of careers in the arts and social service, said Nick Bunker, an economist with Indeed.

In fact, the occupation that garnered the most interest among grads this year was graphic designer, where the typical worker makes $48,700 per year, Bunker said.

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But students leaving school are not free from financial burdens. Recent college graduates must also weigh massive student loan balances as they make their way in the real world.

Over the last decade, college loan balances in the U.S. have jumped to a record $1.5 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. The average outstanding balance is about $30,000, according to the most recent data from the Institute for College Access & Success.

For job seekers eager to land a position as commencement nears, networking is still your best bet, experts say.

To stand out from the crowd, work around the automated screening process that most large employers use these days, advised Mark Beal, the author of "Decoding Gen Z."

"Try to bypass the technology,"Bea said. "Leveraging connections will help you succeed."

"See if, through that, you can get in front of someone face to face," he added. "You'll have a better success rate."

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