Still, some students said the government’s encouragement of the pursuit of higher education would only strengthen those expectations.
“Everyone has their own ambitions, even a little bit of arrogance,” said Bai Jingting, an economics student in eastern Anhui Province. Ms. Bai, 20, said she had visited her college’s job fair in the fall but hadn’t found any positions that seemed exciting enough. “Since I decided to apply for graduate school, of course I will think about how it should be easier to find a job afterward, and easier to find a job that I want.”
Further fueling the competition is the fact that many students who had planned to study or work abroad no longer have that option.
Before the pandemic, Fan Ledi, a recent graduate from the western province of Qinghai, had planned to move to Ireland for a one-year master’s program in human resource management. He wanted to work there afterward, excited by the prospect of learning about a new culture.
But he has scrapped that plan and will look for jobs at home when he finishes his program, which he is completing online because of travel restrictions.
“Irish people are having trouble finding work, let alone foreigners,” Mr. Fan said. He added that he was worried about discrimination, as anti-China sentiment rises in many Western countries. “I think going abroad to find work right now is decidedly impossible.”