Work-Life Balance Tops List of College Student Priorities in Job Search: Survey

By Jane Nam

As the class of 2024 enters the workforce, college students are speaking out about what they want and expect in a job.

BestColleges surveyed 1,000 current undergraduate and graduate students, and more than 3 in 4 (76%) say work-life balance is a top priority for them when considering a job. Only 6% disagree, and 18% neither agree nor disagree.

Additionally, 3 in 5 students (60%) say salary or pay is their top priority in considering a job.

Around 1 in 3 students (34%) agree that working remotely is a priority for them, another 35% disagree, and 32% are neutral.

It’s hard to get into the headspace of working when home and work are the same place,¬†says Jayna Yoo, 22. Yoo is a current senior at the University of Oregon and plans to graduate in June 2024.

Yoo says her challenges with online classes during the pandemic motivated her to apply to in-person jobs, adding that¬†you don’t make as many human connections¬†in a remote setting.

College students want and expect fulfillment from their jobs, be it the human connections Yoo references or some other intangible benefit. Nearly 7 in 10 (67%) say their work or job should be a major source of personal fulfillment and satisfaction.

And, the majority of students are willing to put in more work ‚ÄĒ provided appropriate compensation. More than 6 in 10 students (63%) say that if a company were to increase their pay, they’d be willing to work beyond designated work hours or responsibilities.

However, most students (57%) say it’s unacceptable to work extra hours without additional compensation.

Overall, students’ salary expectations generally align with national norms. Three in 10 students (30%) expect to earn salaries in the $60,000-$79,000 range, 28% expect to make more than that, and 35% expect to earn less.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average starting salary for college graduates was $61,870 in 2023.

One in 10 students (11%) expect to earn $100,000 or more upon graduation.

Personally, I think it’s important to be loyal to a company because when you join a company, you will spend [the] majority of your time in a day working,¬†explains Anthony Ro, 22.

Ro, a junior at the University of Oregon, adds, The least someone could do is respect company culture and be loyal since employers pay their workers wages.

Overall, I’d say that I consider loyalty to be personally important but not applicable in all fields,¬†says Vanderbilt sophomore Janice Lee, 20.

As a student pursuing medicine, I would consider loyalty to be highly beneficial, especially considering mentors along the journey and additional connections, Lee says. However, Lee notes that students could benefit from a variety of companies and work experiences on their resumes in computer science and similar fields with less stable markets.

Data Counters Stereotypes About Gen Z and the Job Market

On the surface level, it may seem that Gen Z is lazier than other generations, Lee says, addressing the different stereotypes associated with Gen Z.

More than 7 in 10 college students (72%) ‚ÄĒ including 72% of Gen Z students, themselves ‚ÄĒ say Gen Z has different expectations for job flexibility and work-life balance than previous generations. However, survey data tells a different story about the younger generation.

Gen Zers are slightly less likely than millennials to prioritize work-life balance (75% vs. 78%), far less likely to prioritize working remotely (29% vs. 54%), and about as likely to expect personal fulfillment at work (67% vs. 68%) and prioritize salary (60% vs. 60%) above other factors.

Additionally, millennials are more likely than Gen Z to say it’s unacceptable to work beyond their designated hours or responsibilities without additional compensation (65% vs. 55%).

Millennials are less likely to say they would work beyond their hours or responsibilities if their company paid them more, compared to Gen Z (60% vs. 63%).

It is difficult to summarize the overall culture of Gen Z workers, Lee says. However, she notes certain hallmarks of this generation, including, higher levels of mental health awareness and recognizing the need [for] balance rather than a constant hustle mentality.