But everything that is known about the job market points to the fact that Mr. Wells and his cohort are feeling the pinch. Many of the country’s largest companies make most of their entry level hires on campus, meaning there are no slots for the hapless person who had the misfortune of graduating in 2011. And historically, those who graduate during a recession earn far less than their peers who do not, and it can take a decade or more for them to catch up. Many have been forced to settle for lower-wage, lower-skill jobs, which has in turn helped increase joblessness among the high school graduates who previously held those jobs.

In 2000, about 60 percent of employed college graduates were working in jobs that required a degree, said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Now fewer than half are.

Campus recruiters at a variety of institutions said that those who graduated in 2013 have had a relatively easy time finding jobs, in part because the prolonged economic downturn has made them more focused on preparing themselves for the workplace. Alumni who graduated in the previous few years continue to trickle in, asking for help.