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As they enter their final year of college, the class of 2024 is focused on setting themselves up for success in an uncertain, fast-changing economy. Our latest survey shows three key goals are top of mind for this year’s seniors.
Adapting to the rise of generative AI
The vast majority of 2024 graduates are familiar with tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E, and 50% plan to build new skills in light of the emergence of generative AI. A third of this year’s seniors—and more than half of tech majors—say they plan to use generative AI in their career. 
Charting a path to financial security
More than half of this year’s graduates expect to carry student loan debt, and of those, almost 70% say their debt will influence the jobs they consider upon graduation. Additionally, almost a third plan to do gig or freelance work on top of their full-time job, often because they believe they’ll need the extra income.
Finding a sustainable balance between work and life
COVID-19 and economic instability have taken a toll on this year’s seniors. Eighty percent of the class of 2024 have felt burned out as undergrads, and many are worried about burnout in their careers. Not surprisingly, a majority say it’s deeply important that their future employer offer work-life balance and mental health support.

The class of 2024
by the numbers


are more likely to apply to a company that offers job stability


are more likely to accept a job at a company with a diverse leadership team


are more likely to apply to a job with a flexible schedule


are more likely to apply to a hybrid job; 22% are more likely to apply to a fully remote job


spent their summer pursuing an internship; 37% had a part-time job, and 27% worked full-time 
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Generative AI
Generative AI
sparks apprehension, excitement, and action
Awareness of generative AI has increased rapidly over the last few months, and the majority of 2024 grads are now familiar with tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E. This class remains split on the impact of these tools, with roughly equal shares saying they’re concerned vs. unconcerned about how generative AI will affect their careers. One thing is clear, though—worried or not, this year’s seniors are already thinking about how they’ll adapt to an AI-enabled future, from building new skills to seeking out opportunities to use generative AI tools in their first job.
Sentiment about generative AI is solidifying, but remains split
Eighty-five percent of this year’s seniors have heard of tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E, up from just 61% of 2023 graduates who were familiar with these tools just a few months ago. Similar to the class of 2023, the class of 2024 is evenly divided between positive and negative feelings about generative AI—but they are more likely to have made up their mind about the impact they expect these tools to have. Only 8% of 2024 graduates feel unsure about how generative AI will affect their careers, compared to 16% of the class of 2023 last spring. 
“I think AI is a great tool. Especially good to get you started on something. I'm not super worried about its emergence but I realize this may necessitate me learning some skills.”
Class of 2024 student (Arts and Design major)
“I am afraid of what AI can become, but if used correctly I think it can be a good thing.”
Class of 2024 student (Business, Entrepreneurship, and Human Resources major)
“I feel generative AI is a powerful tool, but I don't personally feel it's at a place where I can reliably use it yet. I'd like to learn to do things myself first, so that when I do use AI, I will know if it has made a mistake.”
Class of 2024 student (Computer Science, Information Systems, and Technology major)

Some students are less likely to be exposed to generative AI

While 91% of students attending institutions with “selective” admission standards are familiar with AI tools, the same is true for only 79% of students at schools with “inclusive” standards. There is also a significant gender gap in familiarity with generative AI; 94% of men are familiar with AI tools, compared to 79% of women. This gap exists even among tech majors, who are more likely to be familiar with generative AI overall. And among tech students who are aware of these tools, women are more likely to worry about how they will impact their careers—53% of women are “somewhat” or “highly” worried, compared to 41% of men. 
Have you heard of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and DALL-E?
Many 2024 grads are eager to put generative AI to work
Of 2024 graduates who are familiar with generative AI tools, about 1 in 3 plan to use these tools in their career, and 1 in 5 would be more likely to take a job where they have a chance to experiment with generative AI.
These numbers are highest for students majoring in tech fields such as computer science, data analysis, and engineering. However, a significant share of students in non-tech fields rated as highly exposed to generative AI automation—including business and the humanities—also plan to use AI in their careers.
interest in ai by major graph
The Class of 2024 is motivated to adapt to an AI-enabled workplace
Half of 2024 graduates, including 64% of tech majors and 45% of non-tech majors, say they plan to develop new skills in light of the emergence of generative AI. Notably, students who are worried about the impact of generative AI on their careers are even more likely to plan on upskilling to adapt. 
plan to develop new skills graph
Employer support for upskilling is on the rise
With technology changing faster than ever, employers are recognizing the importance of helping new grads upskill on the job. The share of job descriptions mentioning professional development support (e.g., learning stipends) has more than doubled on Handshake in recent years, and almost 50% of 2024 graduates say they’re more likely to apply to a company that provides employer-sponsored upskilling resources.
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Financial security
Financial security
is top of mind
The Class of 2024 is carrying formidable student loan debt, and almost half say the current economic news makes them feel pessimistic about their job search and future career. So it’s no surprise they’re anxious about their financial future. We dug into how that sentiment is influencing their decisions around which jobs to consider, whether to take on additional gig or freelance work, and how to approach negotiating their salary. 
“I will have to rule out certain jobs in industries that won't pay me enough to pay back my student loan debt and afford to live.”
Class of 2024 student
Student loans loom large for this year’s seniors
Unsurprisingly, more than half of 2024 grads anticipate holding student loan debt, which has a real impact on their career trajectories. Of students who expect to carry debt, almost 70% say it will influence the jobs they consider upon graduation. Debt can be a particularly significant burden for women and Black students, as well as first-generation college students, who are more likely to need to take out loans to finance their education. 
“As much as I would love to choose a job based on passion and work life balance, I do not think that will be possible due to loans and finances.”
Class of 2024 student
Student loan assistance is emerging as a standout employer benefit 
The share of job descriptions on Handshake mentioning student loan repayment programs has more than doubled since 2019, as companies look for ways to distinguish themselves with top talent and relieve the pressure student loans place on early-career hires.
Many students plan to pursue gig work to make ends meet
More than 40% of this year’s seniors expect to pursue gig or freelance work after graduation, with almost a third saying they’ll do this work on top of a full-time job. And 70% of students say having the flexibility to pursue side gigs is important to them, regardless of whether they plan to do so right away. 
Motives for taking on gig work vary, but the decision most often comes down to finances. Of students in our study who shared specific reasons for pursuing gigs and freelance projects, about 45% mentioned motives related to income, debt, and expenses. Students who said their student loan debt would influence their job choices were more likely to plan on pursuing gig work in addition to a full-time job.
“I want to work in graphic design and I know that in a corporate setting I will have to produce work that follows brand guidelines etc. By having freelance on the side, I can create work that resonates more with me personally, develop my brand, and network.”
Class of 2024 student
“I want to be able to live on my own when I graduate. Having more than one stream of income will help me be able to afford rent and have savings in my account.”
Class of 2024 student
“I will be $50K in debt the day I graduate. Without a full time job and supplemental income I will not be able to pay off my loan and afford groceries and rent.”
Class of 2024 student
Salary matters, but
negotiation feels risky
Seventy percent of 2024 graduates would be more likely to apply to a job with a high starting salary. But when it comes to negotiating an offer, this year’s seniors are hesitant—only 24% say they definitely plan to negotiate their salary. The most common reason for not negotiating is fear of an employer rescinding a job offer, closely followed by concern about making a bad impression.
Women are less likely to believe negotiating is worth the risk
Women in the Class of 2024 are significantly less likely than men to plan on negotiating their salary. They’re also more likely to say their reasons for not negotiating are related to fear of negative consequences or uncertainty about how to negotiate successfully. Only about a third of women are confident they can negotiate the highest salary possible at a job they’re qualified for, compared to almost half of men. Sadly, these concerns are often justified. Research shows women are less likely to get what they ask for when they negotiate, and more likely to receive negative feedback, such as being labeled “bossy” or “aggressive.”
“As a Latina-Asian woman with piercings, I feel that my requests for negotiation may be compromised by superficial judgement of my appearance, especially in an industry dominated by white men.”
Class of 2024 student
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Work-life balance
Work-life balance
is a priority in
uncertain times
This year’s graduates are no strangers to stress. They weathered profound anxiety and isolation during COVID-19, and they’re entering the job market at a moment of economic uncertainty. As they take the first steps in their careers, they’re looking for employers who will support their well-being and help them find a sustainable balance between work and life.
“As a future teacher, I do worry that I will experience burnout. Prioritizing my mental health is extremely important to me.”
Class of 2024 student
“Life is hard, and everyone needs breaks. Sometimes people need extra support and resources, and it’s beneficial if those are offered by an employer. It builds a strong sense of loyalty and belonging.”
Class of 2024 student
“Employees who are experiencing burnout are typically less productive. I think it is important for employers to recognize that having good mental health and access to resources will create more productive employees and a healthier workspace.”
Class of 2024 student
Feelings of burnout are common among this year’s seniors
More than 80% of 2024 graduates have experienced symptoms of burnout—such as persistent exhaustion, lack of motivation, and unusual negativity or cynicism—at some point during their undergraduate career. A similar share are worried about experiencing burnout once they enter the workplace, and about 25% say this is a major concern.
The Class of 2024 places a premium on work-life benefits
An overwhelming majority of this year’s seniors say it’s important that their employer offer work-life balance resources and time off for mental health. And while the flexibility to work remotely or set their own hours isn’t critical for most 2024 graduates, 67% say it’s “very important” that they have flexibility to step away from work to deal with major life events and personal responsibilities. 
Work-life balance benefits matter to students even if they aren’t personally concerned about burnout. Of 2024 graduates who are “not at all” worried about experiencing burnout in their career, a majority still say it’s very important that their employer offer support to help them effectively balance work and life demands.  
Employers are stepping up to support mental health
More than 15% of job descriptions on Handshake now mention keywords related to mental health, employee well-being, and work-life balance—a dramatic increase from about 6% in early 2019. 
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The future workforce is ready to take charge
The Class of 2024 is gearing up for graduation on their own terms. They’re putting themselves first and focusing on their personal and financial well-being as they look to launch their careers. They’re acutely aware of the rise of generative AI, and determined to learn how to use it. In short, this year’s seniors are taking charge of their next chapter, shaping the future of work for themselves—and the rest of us—in the process.

Student sentiment surveys
Between June 26–July 12, 2023, Handshake randomly invited students across the platform to participate in an online survey. After cleaning, 1,148 Class of 2024 students pursuing bachelor’s degrees from 440 institutions completed the survey.
Survey weighting
In order to provide a more representative snapshot of student sentiment across four-year college students in the US, survey responses were weighted by gender, race and ethnicity, and selectivity using institutional enrollment numbers from federal NCES datasets.
Selectivity data was derived from the selectivity field of the Carnegie Classification for four-year undergraduate institutions. Selective institutions were those that were classified as “selective” and “more selective” (40th percentile or above among all baccalaureate institutions based on admissions), while Inclusive institutions included those defined by Carnegie as “inclusive” as well as those not classified.
Job description data
To determine change in the share of jobs mentioning professional development support, student loan assistance, and mental health benefits, Handshake analyzed full-time job descriptions that were active on a given week on the Handshake network between 1/1/2019 to 6/27/23. A job was flagged as relevant if the description contained any of the unique keywords related to the topic of interest. For the mental health topic, job roles and industries explicitly dealing with mental health were excluded from the analysis.
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