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Purpose and Pay Define a 'Good Job' for College Grads

Purpose and Pay Define a 'Good Job' for College Grads

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Less than a third of recent college graduates (30%) say they had a good job waiting for them when they graduated. When asked for the main reason they characterized their first good job as "good," these recent graduates primarily said it was the pay, followed closely by the mission and purpose of the job.

Among all U.S. college graduates, nearly the same percentages chose purpose and pay as the primary reasons they considered their first good job to be a good one.

U.S. Graduates' Perceptions of What Characterized Their First "Good Job"
Which of the following is the MAIN reason this job was a "good job"?
All graduates Recent graduates
% %
Mission and purpose of the job 25 22
Pay 20 25
Opportunity to learn skills 17 17
Opportunity to grow at the organization 16 13
Opportunity to do what you do best 15 11
Brand of the organization 3 4
Culture of the organization 2 3
Flexibility of the organization 3 5
Gallup Alumni Survey, 2019

These results are based on interviews with more than 19,000 U.S. college graduates, including approximately 1,600 who graduated between 2010 and 2019.

Three in 10 Recent Grads Had a Good Job Waiting

In addition to the 30% of recent graduates who report having a good job awaiting them upon graduation, another 26% said they found a good job within six months of graduating. About one in six said it took them more than a year to find a good job.

Length of Time It Took U.S. Graduates to Find a Good Job
About how long did it take for you to obtain a good job after you completed your undergraduate education at [University]?
All graduates Recent graduates
% %
Had a good job waiting when I graduated 31 30
Two months or less 15 12
Three to six months 13 14
Seven months to a year 7 6
More than a year 15 17
Not applicable because I was not seeking employment upon graduation 18 19
Don't know 1 2
Gallup Alumni Survey, 2019

Gallup research shows that applied learning experiences -- including internships that allow students to put what they are learning in the classroom to practical use in the workplace -- increase the odds that they'll obtain a good job immediately upon graduation.


For many graduates, a "good job" is one that has high mission and purpose; for others, it's primarily about the pay. Regardless of how they define it, what matters more is that they obtain what they believe to be a good job -- because getting one is their principal expectation of higher education, particularly at a time when a college degree is more expensive than ever before.

How can higher education institutions prepare graduates to obtain that good job? Three important experiences remain critical to getting a good job immediately upon graduation, according to Gallup research:

  1. applied learning experiences, including internships that allow students to apply their classroom learning to the real world
  2. conversations with employers who are already in the student's field of interest
  3. conversations with faculty members about students' career options

Among these three experiences, the first and second are not accessible to all students. In particular, first-generation college students are less likely to have access to these types of internships and are less likely to know and have connections or access to employers in their field of interest. The third experience -- having conversations with faculty members -- is available to all students and therefore critical to foster and encourage. But these conversations take time and must be prioritized so that faculty understand their importance in relation to the many other expectations of them, including instruction, research, and other priorities and initiatives.

Learn more about the Gallup Alumni Survey.

Learn more about Gallup Education.

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