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Bucknell University senior Caitlin Delaney studies for mid-term exams and writes her resume in preparation for graduation in May. The double major thought she?d have a job awaiting her. ?I?m now applying to internships, not just jobs,? the Spanish and economics major says. ?I haven?t taken a step forward. I?ve taken one backward.?

Bucknell University senior Kathryn Brownstone has interned with Visa, worked for Lehman Brothers in London and aced every economics class she’s ever taken.

Despite experience in economics, a field long considered a sure path to a high-paying position, she may graduate in May without a job lined up, thanks to the economy.

The prospects did not brighten Friday, as the Labor Department reported that employers cut 651,000 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate jumped to 8.1 percent. The government also revised its December and January job loss figures upward to 681,000 and 655,000, respectively.

Brownstone, like many college students, faces graduating into one of the worst job markets in years. Companies are closing left and right, and qualified graduates are competing for jobs with more experienced workers who have been laid off.

“When I was accepted as an intern with Lehman, I was told historically they offer jobs to 80 to 90 percent of interns. I thought I’d have a job going into senior year,” Brownstone said. “Then everything exploded. I absolutely do not expect to have a job by graduation.”

Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy after Brownstone’s internship ended, leaving her with no professional prospects after graduation.

And while university career centers try to help seniors find jobs during the final months of their undergraduate studies, students are facing the prospect they may have to move back with their parents to continue searching want ads or pick up temporary work.

Uncharted territory

“We’re dealing with uncharted territory as far as the economy and the industries impacted. It’s every industry,” said Pam Keiser, director of Bucknell’s Career Development Center.

Since she got back to school in August, Brownstone has attended on-campus interviews, taken online tests for European companies and sent her resume to financial businesses in America and abroad.

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s masochistic to apply for jobs,” she said.

Bucknell senior Caitlin Delaney had always assumed she’d secure a job by her senior year, but has yet to do so. After double majoring in Spanish and economics and studying in Argentina, she’d like to work for an international nongovernmental organization influencing humanitarian policies.

“Today I have to be open-minded, rather than focus on a specific industry, because of the economy,” Delaney said.

“I’m now applying to internships, not just jobs. I haven’t taken a step forward. I’ve taken one backward.”

Plans changing

Susquehanna University senior Julie Elk and Bucknell senior David James have changed post-graduate plans after evaluating their options in the slumping economy.

Elk, a theater performance major, is leaning toward attending graduate school.

James, a management major with plans to work on Wall Street, will work in the Teach for America program placing college graduates in low-income city schools.

“So many theaters are having trouble. I am very nervous about work right out of college since no one has money to see shows,” said Elk, who gained experience working at a theater and performing in Susquehanna shows.

James stayed busy in the fall and winter applying to jobs in wealth management, investment banking and sales, with no results.

He’s excited about embarking on a possible teaching career, but admits it was not part of his plan when he began thinking about jobs.

“It can be frustrating when you had your eyes on finance for the past three years and watch the markets crash around you just as you apply,” he said.

Networking key

Keiser, Bucknell’s Career Development Center director, and Brenda Fabian, director of Susquehanna’s Center for Career Services, are encouraging students to look for jobs by networking with alumni, internship managers and employers visiting campus.

“We also suggest broadening their geographic preferences,” Fabian said.

Keiser said most seniors are coming to the career center with “realistic” perspectives of the market.

“They know it’s going to be tough,” she said, “and they’ve got to work hard on finding a job.”

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