This year's college graduates face bleak employment prospects

(CNN) - New college graduates were set to enter the best job market in half a century. But that all changed in their final semester.

Graduates are facing the grim reality of the job search amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Source: SHADAE LESLIE/CNN)

For newly minted Boston University graduate Shadae Leslie, senior year didn't end quite as expected.

"I walked down the street and I finished my finals. And I was hoping I would, you know, see somebody that I know and say 'Hey! We did it! Like, we're done!' And there isn't really much of that experience that's there," she said.

Aside from pomp and circumstance, there's another thing missing from Leslie's life now: a job.

When college seniors entered their final year just last fall, the national unemployment rate was at a near record low of 3.7%. Today, it's at a jaw-dropping 14.7%.

The jobless rate for those aged 20-24 is even higher, at 25.7%.

As a result, an exciting job Leslie had planned to take in real estate after graduation has been rescinded.

"Unfortunately, when I wake up, it's straight to the email. I have my alerts on for LinkedIn, various different websites," she said.

"Many of the responses I've gotten have been, 'Hey, we don't know if this position is ever even going to reopen again. We appreciate your interest. Best of luck,'" Cory Sanning said.

He finds himself in a similar position. The University of Tennessee grad has long held aspirations in sports media. Before the pandemic, he had many promising job leads. Now he has none.

"It's, it's definitely been - whew - life altering, I would describe it as," Sanning said.

If history is any guide, this year's college graduates are part of a demographic that economists worry could bear the brunt of the coronavirus recession. Graduates entering the labor market during a recession are shown to earn less than those who enter during a healthy economy for at least 10 to 15 years.

Those job market challenges are leading some colleges to take matters into their own hands.

"What we're trying to do is identify job opportunities for all 500 of our graduating seniors and to be able to do that in one of the toughest job markets we've ever seen," Colby College President David Greene said.

The college in Maine is already making good on its promise to get job offers for 100% of its graduating seniors, "to find a way to say, 'Hey, can we get together and call on our entire network of alums, friends and others to help these students?'" Greene said.

No one should bet against the class of 2020. If anything, the current crisis has some graduates even more determined.

"I applied to jobs in Cincinnati, Charlotte, Memphis, Kentucky, Florida," Sanning said. "I'm willing to drive as far as Seattle, Washington, to anybody that will hire me because I'm willing to start from the ground up and do whatever they need."

"Maybe a potential positive of this, if there can be any positives is that years from now, decades from now, whenever we all reflect back, we will all have this common and shared experience, and you will always be able to say - 'Oh, you're class of 2020? I know what happened!'"

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