William Phillips graduated from Southwest Tennessee Community College in May with a dream of working at a graphic design firm.
"My classmates and I had high hopes that we were going to conquer the world," Phillips said. "But now we're just doing what we can. I've talked to a few classmates since then, and it's a tough job market. Some of us have had prospects and leads, but it's hard to get [employers] to follow through."
Phillips and his classmates face a grim statistic from the National Association of College and Employers' 2009 Student Survey: Just under 20 percent of 2009 college grads who applied for a job actually have one.
Compare that to 51 percent of those who graduated in 2007 and 26 percent of 2008 graduates.
Rather than settle for a fast-food job in the meantime, Phillips is putting his degree in multimedia graphic design to work by taking freelancing jobs every chance he gets.
"I've teamed up with local filmmaker [Matteo Servente], and we're working on a low-budget film," Phillips said. "I have friends who own businesses ,and I'm trying to help them out with designing websites."
Besides taking on freelancing work in these tough economic times, many without jobs are opting to pursue their master's degree or another bachelor's degree in a new field.
Southwest Tennessee Community College and the University of Memphis have both experienced growth since the economic downturn.
"It's been a traditional trend that when the economy has a downturn and unemployment goes up, enrollment at universities also goes up," said Ralph Faudree, U of M provost.
Statistics on job placement for recent U of M and Southwest Tennessee grads aren't available.
"We have some professional schools, like the U of M Law School, that measure the percentage of our students who get jobs, and there doesn't seem to be any problems with students getting jobs in that field," Faudree said.
Brenda Williams, the career services director at Southwest, encourages graduates not to give up on finding jobs in their chosen fields.
"Good positions are out there. Graduates just have to be more proactive in order to find them," Williams said. "Those students who have prepared themselves by maintaining a good GPA and getting some job-related experience along the way will have a real advantage in this extremely competitive market."
Faudree says the U of M encourages students to take on internships while they're enrolled in school to gain experience in their prospective fields. Internships also may help with job placement after graduation.
"Employers look at internships as one of the top things they consider when they're deciding who to employ," Faudree said. "Right now, about 40 percent of our students have internship experience before they graduate."
Freelancing, as Phillips is doing, is another way to gain useful experience and learn new skills that may help with future job placement.
"You've got to be versatile. Things are so competitive these days," Phillips said. "I'm trying to take advantage of opportunities when they come.