The Class of 2017 are in for a harsh reality check to their salary aspirations when they graduate from college this summer.

Salary expectations among this summer’s graduates are way out of line with what employers are willing to pay for entry-level jobs, and the gap is getting wider, according to a new survey.

And the research suggests that most employers expect new recruits to have completed at least two internships by the time they graduate.

College seniors expect to earn an average of $53,000 in their first job after college, a rise of almost $7,500 on the figure anticipated by the Class of 2016.

More than half thought they would earn $50,000 or more in their first job, according to the survey, carried out for iCIMS, an HR recruiting software provider.

Men were particularly bullish about their salary. While 62% of men expected to earn $50,000-plus, among women only 49% thought they would reach that level.

But a parallel survey of recruiters suggests these figures were wide of the mark. Companies expected to pay entry-level recruits on average of just over $45,000.

While it is natural that we all think we’re above average, the result will be that many seniors will end up disappointed.

The survey also shed light on the growing importance of internships in helping graduates get their first job.

Even relatively recently, few students did more than the odd week or two of work experience. But internships are now a crucial step on the career ladder.

Just 7% of employers said new graduates did not need at least one internship under their belts to be considered a good candidate for a job.

Almost two thirds of employers – 65% – were looking for two or more internships, while 35% felt three internships was the minimum students should have completed by the time they graduate.

Recruiters and college seniors are increasingly valuing internships above academic record, according to the survey. Seven in 10 said internship experience matter more than college grades when applying for a job.

The rise of internships threatens to put students from less affluent backgrounds at even more of a disadvantage in the jobs market. With many internships unpaid or attracting only modest rewards, students who need to earn money during vacations will increasingly find themselves shut out of the most desirable graduate jobs.

But the other side of the coin is that those who undertake internships reap the rewards in terms of developing their skills. Two thirds said they learned better organizational skills from their placement, while for a quarter it led directly to a job offer.

Salary is not the only area where the Class of 2017 display misplaced confidence. The survey found that while 91% of college seniors thought they had the skills to get the job they wanted, 98% of recruiters get resumes from applicants who are not qualified for the position. And six out of 10 recruiters thought entry-level applicants needed to improve their familiarity with the company and its industry before interview.

Again, confidence was higher among men, with 96% saying they were confident in their interview skills, compared with 88% of women.

STEM graduates remain in short supply. More than 60% of recruiters are most interested in hiring graduates with STEM majors, while 23% of the Class of 2017 will have STEM degrees.

But the good news for graduates is that, despite anxiety over the growing cost of a degree, employers think it is still worth it. Eight out of 10 recruiters said they frequently screen out applicants without a degree, while 87% said a four-year degree would instantly make an entry-level applicant competitive in the jobs market.

Source: Forbes