Jon Piliser is employed, but that doesn't mean he knows what he wants to do for a living.
"I don't really have any career objectives right now," he said. Piliser, 22, graduated from Columbia University last spring. Now he teaches 11th grade and AP English at a high school in New Mexico for Teach For America, a program that recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities.
But Teach For America isn't a long-term plan. It requires only a two-year commitment from its members.
After his two years are over, Piliser doesn't know if his career plans will be any clearer.
"I would love to have a year where I could just travel, relax or figure out more on what I want to do," he said. "I don't know what I'm doing after TFA."
Career counselors are observing a generational shift in students' attitudes toward work.
John Hotard, a career counselor at Hotard Associates and the former Director of Career Services at the Stern business school at NYU, said today's college graduate is more altruistic and looking for fulfilling jobs over higher salaries.
"I've noticed the younger generation, the last five years, is much more open minded," Hotard said. "They're definitely open to adventure, and they're looking to be happy."
Seeking Out the Service Industry
In the last few years, nonprofits have begun hiring more people according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. While 45 percent took jobs in the private sector in 2008, only 38.8 percent did the next year. In the nonprofit sector, hiring grew from 13.9 percent to 17.1 in the same time period.
Hotard thinks this trend is influenced by both the economy and Generation Y's preferences.
"The economy is kind of bad anyway, so there's no reason to go into unpleasant work," he said. "They instinctively try and make the best with what they're offered. I've also noticed the younger generation is much more concerned with giving back."
Short-term service programs, such as Teach For America and the Peace Corps have seen a growth in applications over the last five years.
This year, TFA received 48,000 applications for about 4,000 slots. Over the past five years, TFA has seen its applicant pool grow an average 20 percent each year.
The Peace Corps is seeing similar numbers. The number of applicants grew 33 percent in the six year time period between 2003 and 2009.
Even smaller, local organizations are seeing increased interest.
The Language Corps, a Massachusetts-based program that coordinates teaching English abroad, is reporting a 38 percent increase in applications and a 25 percent increase in enrollment from last year.
Mike Cahill, Director of Career Services at Syracuse University says he's observed students seeking short-term service oriented positions over the last few years.
"It's so much of a change from what students 20-30 years ago were looking at," he said. "It used to be, 'I want to work for an employer that I like, rise up through the ranks, and stick with them for awhile.' We're not really seeing that interest in that level of commitment anymore."
Hotard is seeing more Gen Y's looking for happiness and fulfilling jobs over the highest paying positions.
"Their grandparents generation were much more nervous about money, and their parents in their 50s-60s are more anxious about their retirements and economy and more conservative," he said. "Young people, it's a good trend that they want to do nonprofits, go abroad and teach, and I don't think it's just because the economy is bad, but I think it's a real generational shift."
Today, 75 percent of Gen Y's career choices are motivated by a work-life balance, according to survey by TNS Global Market Research, an international consulting company that researches market trends.