Despite a largely disrupted college experience, nearly all soon-to-be college graduates (93%) are hopeful for their future, according to a new survey.

Four years ago, most students in the Class of 2023 were less than a year into their college career when the global pandemic brought everything to a halt.

With their hopes and dreams of a “normal” college experience dashed students faced a steep learning curve to navigating new pandemic-era norms both inside and outside of the classroom. Now in the wake of the pandemic, nearly eight in 10 (79%) graduating seniors say COVID-19 impacted their workforce preparedness, and a majority (68%) cite the pandemic’s impact on their mental health as their No. 1 reason for feeling less prepared, according to a news release.

Nearly three-quarters (71%) of the nearly 700 students surveyed nationwide say they are somewhat (58%) or very stressed (13%) about entering the workforce. Still, 88% of those earning two- or four-year degrees feel prepared to do so, crediting personalized workforce development support from their campus career services (81%) as well as AI résumé writing assistance from ChatGPT (59%).

“This is the first group of students to graduate whose college experience was fully shaped by COVID-19. These survey results affirm what students using TimelyCare demonstrate daily – that the Class of 2023 has shown incredible resilience and growth in the last four years during unprecedented times, and they should be applauded for it,” said Luke Hejl, CEO and co-founder of TimelyCare. “Employers should view the Gen Z passion for self-care and their insistence for mental and emotional health support in the workplace as a unique strength that has the potential to change American work culture for the better.”

Employee Expectations – Prioritizing Mental Health is a Non-negotiable
Nine in 10 seniors say mental health resources are a necessity for college students, and this survey makes abundantly clear that the need extends beyond their college experience.

  • Top senior stressors: 61% of the Class of 2023 are stressed about finding and keeping a job after graduation. Half are worried about being independent and self-reliant for the first time, and 49% are concerned about supporting themselves financially and paying bills.
  • Weary but workforce-ready thanks to investments in career development: As of early April, 59% of students report having a job secured ahead of graduation, a slight dip compared to the Class of 2022 (62%), but still strong despite current economic uncertainty.
    • 88% of students feel prepared to enter the workforce, and 81% said that’s thanks to their school’s career development office, resources, or programs.
      • About half of graduating students said their career development offices helped them write a resume or cover letter (54%) and find a job (53%). Networking with professionals and employers in the fields they want to work in (35%), improving their interview skills (34%), and coaching them to figure out what they wanted to do after college (27%) rounded out the top five ways the career services office helped them.
    • Some seniors are turning to AI tools to build their resumes and cover letters, with about six in 10 students (59%) using ChatGPT for help in their job search.
  • Built-in support systems: 92% of students say employers should offer mental and emotional health benefits, and more than a third (36%) prioritize those companies during their job search.
    • In general, 82% of students plan to use resources to support their mental health after graduating.
    • While their support mechanisms vary, it is evident that students crave connection. Similar to the results of a previous TimelyCare survey, six in 10 students plan to lean on their family for support, 47% will turn to their friends, and about four in 10 (39%) plan to seek support through in-person counseling.
  • Flexibility = a key benefit: The Class of 2023 prefers the flexible work options that have gained favor during the pandemic.
    • Graduating students said the two most important factors other than salary when considering jobs are flexible work hours (72%) and a flexible work environment (49%). Those factors ranked ahead of medical benefits (45%) and vacation time (39%).
    • Though the majority (53%) prefer a fully in-person work environment, 26% would like a hybrid position and 21% want to be fully remote.

“The survey results make clear that COVID’s long shadow continues to impact today’s students as they transition into tomorrow’s employees, so both colleges and employers must invest in their mental health, basic needs, and overall well-being,” said Jerrod Hinders, Counseling Center Coordinator at Amarillo College, whose students have access to TimelyCare. “During the pandemic, we had to reshape our approach to mental health in colleges, businesses, everywhere due to having more immediate means of accessing these services. As our culture and society evolve, there’s more of an expectation for students to have more options for connection – in-person, telehealth, evenings, and weekends. It’s our job to be responsive and meet students where they’re at and be more equitable in our approach to getting them the services when and where they need it.”

Source: TimelyCare