College career centers across the country are reporting seeing more students and seeing them earlier.
At the University of Chicago, just 46 percent of freshman sought advice in the 2008-2009 school year. This year, it is expected to be more than 80 percent.
Students' expectations have also changed. That dream job might just be a dream. Seniors are instead focusing on stepping-stone positions that will hopefully lead to better opportunities.
Jonathan Fieweger, a senior at New York University, doesn't have a long-term job offer. But he was able to turn a public relations internship with TV network Showtime into a year-long, post-graduation job.
Others are willing to move to less desirable locations and settle for lower salaries. Pay for new graduates fell 10 percent during the recession, according to the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Few expect it to climb back soon.
Despite the lower pay, students today have more confidence in the job market. Two years ago, career directors say, seniors were so afraid of the recession that they flocked to graduate schools to wait out the dark times.
"This is a generation of kids that got trophies whether they won or lost the soccer game," says Farouk Dey, director of career development at Carnegie Mellon University. "They were afraid of being rejected. What would that say about them? Would their parents be disappointed?"
That trend is reversing. The number of U.S. students taking admissions exams for graduate business school and law school are down 8 percent and 16 percent.
This year's grads also have an advantage over those a year or two out of school with equal qualifications. Employers would rather have somebody fresh out of college than somebody who spent two years working at a local book store waiting out the market.
"As a matter of convenience - and you can call it a bias if you will - a lot of employers have said: let's get started quickly by going back (to campus) and getting the new graduates," says Philip D. Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. Companies cut their recruiting staff during the recession. Instead of sorting through thousands of resumes, it's easier to do targeted searches on a few campuses.
Gardner estimates that about 7 percent more college grads will find jobs this year than last year, based on a survey of 4,200 companies.
The recovery is not consistent across all majors. Students seeking jobs in architecture - hit hard by the collapse of the construction industry - are having a tougher time finding employment than those in education and health care, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education.
Colleges say the strongest growth in job offers has come from Fortune 500 companies, investment banks and consulting firms, all of whom make offers in the fall for jobs that don't start until the summer. Most smaller employers hire much closer to when an employee is needed. That means graduates won't get offers until late spring or summer. But college career directors say that, based on conversations with employers, it will be a strong year.
At Florida State University in Tallahassee, the number of job listings jumped from 1,379 last spring, to 2,299 this year. That is down from 5,000-plus listed before the recession.
At Arizona State University's Tempe campus, 1,698 companies have attended job fairs or interviewed on campus, up from 1,357 two years ago but below the roughly 2,000 that visited before the recession.
"We're about halfway back," says Matthew Brink, director of career services at the University of Delaware.
Packed career fairs and increased job listings don't necessarily translate into employment, warns Sheila Curran, a career consultant who used to run career centers at Duke University and Brown University. Companies might take the time to meet potential employees in case they start hiring again, but it doesn't mean they are going to make job offers.
Those seniors who do have offers say they treated their search like a full-time job and, after some setbacks, managed to secure employment.
Max Gompertz, a senior at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, with degrees in psychology and communication, knows how hard it can be. Many of his friends who graduated last year are still nearby, working in bars and restaurants. Gompertz, however, got an offer in the middle of October for a job he'll soon start providing customer support for financial data provider FactSet.
"I was lucky," he says. "The stars aligned."