Many of today's college undergrads have gone through school knowing student loan payments were on pause indefinitely and the prospect of widespread cancelation was closer to becoming reality than ever.
But that all comes to an end soon — interest accruals resume on Sept. 1 and payments will be due in October for the first time in over three years. Now, the class of 2024 is already preparing for a financial shock.
Just over half of next year's college graduates expect to carry student loan debt, and within that group, almost 70% say their debt will influence the jobs they consider after graduation, according to Handshake's latest report that surveyed 1,148 students in the class of 2024.
A remaining 17% of students said their college debt would not impact their career choices after school, and 14% said they are neutral on the matter.
Not only are today's college students concerned about how student debt will impact their finances after school, they also have to contend with a high-inflation environment, says Monne Williams, chief impact officer at Handshake.
As a result, many students say finding a job with a high salary and with a company that offers attractive benefits, like student loan repayment benefits, are all "top of mind," Williams tells CNBC Make It.
Young workers with debt also want flexibility in where and when they work, though many say it goes beyond the matter of preference. Rather, they plan to use that flex time to work other jobs to cover their bills.
More than 40% of college seniors expect to pursue gig or freelance work after graduation, with nearly a third saying they'll do it on top of a full-time job. Nearly half say they plan to put in these extra hours because they'll need the additional income to pay for their everyday expenses and debt.
Concerns about that debt, and logging more working hours to pay it off, could exacerbate a growing burnout problem.
A majority, 80% of the class of 2024, report that they've felt burned out as undergrads, marked by feelings of persistent exhaustion, a lack of motivation, and unusual negativity or cynicism. And burned-out students are already worried those feelings will persist as they start their careers — 25% of seniors say they're "highly worried" about being burned out once they start working.
Given all these financial stressors, many of today's college seniors say it's "deeply important their future employer offer work-life balance and mental health support," according to the Handshake report. Students say flexibility isn't just about being able to work remotely or on nontraditional hours, but they want their employer to allow them to "step away from work to deal with major life events and personal responsibilities."
As for where they want to work, 41% of college seniors say they're more likely to apply to a hybrid job, nearly double the share of the 22% who say they want a remote job most.
Williams says employers already recruiting for the next crop of early-career talent should "think about needs this class has and double down — communicate programs you have for loan repayment and mental health benefits. Think about flexibility being important to this class, and make those things clear as you talk about opportunities and the culture your company has to offer."
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