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US College Students Salary Expectations Down 6% in early 2023

By Universum, 2023-07-17

– Students rethink "ideal employers" for 2023. – Students are drawn to traditional industries. – Quality of life factors remain strong.

Universum’s Talent Research study reveals young people in the US are prioritizing compensation and secure employment as they face a slowdown in hiring. 

Universum’s Talent Research study shows US college students are shifting their priorities – searching for high future earnings, job stability and work-life balance above all else in the coming year. And for US computer science majors specifically, who are entering the workforce amidst news of hiring freezes and layoffs in tech, stability is the top priority. 

In the US, students are moderating expectations because they’re faced with a significantly more challenging job search than their peers experienced in 2022,” explains Kortney Kutsop, Managing Director Americas. “With top players in the talent market either slowing or freezing hiring, lesser known companies now have an opening to attract top talent in sought-after fields.” 

Universum, the global leader in Employer Branding, surveyed over 57,000 students from the United States. The Universum Talent Survey (also known as the Career Test) is distributed by more than 300 US universities through their career centers as well as via partnerships and social media. Each year, students share their opinions and views on their career goals, aspirations and perceptions of 200 employers.

Employers get listed on the survey based solely on student nomination. There is no fee for participating and employers cannot nominate themselves to be included. Each year students indicate which employers they think are most relevant on campus and this feedback forms the basis of the list of companies the students are asked about. From this list, students select employers that they are considering working for and identify up to 5 ideal employers per field of study. These student candidates then provide detailed insight on where they are learning about a company, their preferred communication channels, what they think of the company as an employer, their perceptions of the company’s culture, reputation, approach to DE&I, work environment and more.

Notable findings from the 2023 US research include:  

Students rethink “ideal employers” for 2023: US engineers are still strongly focused on innovation – seeking out employers like Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Boeing – while US computer science students are in search of job security after widely publicized Big Tech layoffs. This retreat to security presents an opening for financially stable but less well-known companies to access top tech talent. 

According to John Heyliger, Vice President Lockheed Martin Talent Acquisition, “Early career talent is critical. We value our engagements with students on campus and to receive recognition as the Top Ideal Employer for Engineering Students by Universum is an honor. Emphasizing career growth and flexibility has been a meaningful differentiator that we often hear through feedback from both early career and experienced professionals.

Students drawn to traditional industries: Given economic uncertainties, students are prioritizing industries that are more stable and financially secure. For example, banking is up among business students, and management consulting has increased among computer science students.

Quality of life factors remain strong: In previous economic slowdowns, quality of life factors tended to drop down the priority list; yet in 2023, flexible work and work-life balance remain at #3 and #4 – a sign these two issues are non-negotiables for many young people.

Salary expectations down for 2023: After the increase of 15% seen in 2022, this year US college students’ expectations have dropped  in tandem with a drop in inflation. Currently the average expected starting salary for US college students is $72,211. Computer science majors have the highest salary expectations of the students Universum tracks: $87,231. 

Gender pay expectation gap widens: Among college students surveyed, men expect a $80,314 starting salary and women expect $68,118 – a 15% gender gap. Though both men and women reported lower salary expectations in 2023, men’s expectations dropped just 3%, compared to a 7% drop for women. 

With so many cross-currents affecting preferences and perceptions, it’s essential that companies closely track their critical talent groups,” says Jeff Rugg, Senior Employer Branding Advisor, US. “For example, many organizations are now focusing less on issues like employee well-being and flexible working conditions because both are now baseline expectations. We believe 2023 will be a pivotal year to take stock of emerging talent’s shifting career priorities and make sure the EVP is keeping pace.”

To view the full list of the Most Attractive Employers in the US, click here

About Universum   

Universum is a data-driven employer branding agency. Founded in Stockholm, we are now active in over 40 markets, with key hubs in Zürich, Paris, Berlin, London, New York, Singapore and Shanghai. The Universum Talent Survey, conducted in over 60 markets worldwide, surveyed more than one million students and professionals about their preferences among potential employers, their career ideas, and communication preferences. Leveraging this, we provide our clients with the research, strategy, and creative solutions they need to compete more effectively for talent.   

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