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Published: May 14, 2015 5 min read
college grad
Jonathan Fernstrom—Getty Images

College students planning to graduate in 2015 are overwhelmingly confident in their career preparations and chances of getting hired.

Maybe it’s harsh to rain on their parade so shortly after they've tossed their graduation caps in the air, but surveys show new college graduates are probably viewing their professional lives through rose-colored lenses.

An online survey of about 2,000 recent college graduates shows disparities between career expectations and the reality of entry-level jobs. The survey, which included 2013, 2014, and 2015 graduates, was the third annual College Graduate Employment Survey conducted by Accenture Strategy.

Eight in 10 members of the Class of 2015 said they felt their education prepared them well for the workforce, compared with 64% of 2013 and 2014 graduates.

Perhaps most striking is that more than half of the soon-to-be graduates don’t think they’ll have trouble finding a job, even though only 12% had one lined up.

Among the older graduates in the survey, 49% said they were underemployed or were working in a job that doesn’t require a college degree.

About three-quarters of new college graduates said they expect to receive formal training in their first job, whereas only half of 2013 and 2014 graduates report having had such opportunities.

The positive outlook stretched into salary expectations, too.

Just 15% of this year’s graduates think they’ll earn $25,000 or less in their first job. But almost three times as many 2013 and 2014 graduates report a salary at or below that level.

Some of the 2015 graduates’ optimism may reflect an increased emphasis on measuring college outcomes and improving career services on campuses. Eighty-two percent of the 2015 group said they considered job availability before selecting a major, up from 75% of 2014 graduates.

The Class of 2015 also was more likely to participate in internships or apprenticeships and to pursue a degree in the science, technology, engineering or math fields. Recent graduates reported receiving more help from their college in finding job opportunities, too.

Accenture blames the discrepancy between expectations and reality on the employers.

By choosing majors in fields with robust job offerings and taking on internships, students are doing what they can to be prepared for their careers. The study suggests that employers are dropping the ball with a lack of investment in entry-level jobs.

This isn’t the only recent survey to suggest upcoming college graduates are overestimating their readiness and success in the workplace, though.

A paper published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in January reported wide disparities in the career strengths students said they had versus what employers reported.

An online survey of 613 students that was part of that report found 65% of students were confident they’d get a job that fits their interests after graduation. And nearly three-quarters thought their college was doing a good job giving them skills they’ll need for their first professional role.

But while 59% of students said they were well prepared to apply their knowledge to the real world, just 23% of employers said so.

In fact, employers gave recent college graduates low grades in all 17 career-learning outcomes that the survey asked about. In 15 of them, the percentage of students who felt they were well prepared was at least double the percentage of employers who felt the same way.

Of course, the survey respondents aren’t a scientific sample, and so it’s possible that the students who answered the career-oriented questions were the best prepared for the demands of the workplace.

But assuming there’s some truth to the survey results, soon-to-be college graduates be advised: the honeymoon phase of your first post-college chapter may be short-lived.

To help you land that first job after graduation, follow these four tips.

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