Maine college students have many reasons to worry about whether they will find work when they graduate this May. Jobs are scarce, underemployment rates are high, and heavy college debt provides more stress.

The Associated Press reported recently that about half of new college graduates in the United States are either jobless or employed in positions that don’t match their skill level. What the analysis found — that 53.6 percent of those under the age of 25 who hold bachelor’s degrees are unemployed or underemployed — is scary.

How can Maine students prepare themselves? They can start with a resource they are already paying for: their school’s career center. It’s difficult to find a good job — there’s no disagreement there — but students throughout their years in school should, and have the tools available, to treat their job search like another rigorous class.

Colleges and universities are already working hard to ease students’ transition into the work force, and they should continue to devise creative ways for students to network and gain real-world experience.

Colby College in Waterville, for instance, has started Colby Connect, a four-year program that about 60 percent of students are taking. In it, they learn what career path will suit their skills and interests; explore online resources to find potential mentors and work; analyze their industry of choice and the organizations within it; and are taught how to communicate confidently, Career Center Director Roger Woolsey said.

The goal is to connect students to a network of parents, alumni, community members, employers and faculty, he said, and the program appears to be working. Upon graduation in 2009, 50 percent of students were employed, and 20 percent were planning to attend graduate school. In 2011, the percentage increased to 60 percent employed, 20 percent attending graduate school and 3 percent receiving a fellowship for research or teaching.

Whether for credit or not, internships and job shadowing are essential ways for students to gain experience. The Ladd Internship Program at Bates College in Lewiston pays students to work during the summer at specific organizations and companies. Colleges regularly post new job openings online. At the University of Maine, students access CareerLink; at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, it’s eBear.

Timothy Diehl, director of career planning at Bowdoin, said it’s important for students to seek applicable internships, network and remain committed to their job search. Bowdoin, in return, does not wait for students to contact the career center. It meets with students in their residence halls during their first year to explain how the center can assist them.

Thomas College in Waterville goes so far as to guarantee their students a job. If students are not employed within six months of graduation, they can come back to school for up to two more years and not pay tuition, or the school will pay their federal loans for up to one year until they get their first job.

Tom Novak, director of the career services center at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, said over four years, people at the career center will meet with all graduating students. In order to improve, the college will continue to develop relationships with employers, both to make it easier for students to get internships and future full-time jobs.

While it may be difficult for recent graduates to find work, their prospects are much better than those who don’t further their education after high school. About 88 percent of college graduates were employed in 2010, according to the Brookings Institution. In comparison, high school graduates had a much lower employment rate of 64 percent.

Recent grads: We don’t envy your position. Finding a full-time job is often a full-time job in itself. But your perseverance will be valuable in your new position. Colleges: Don’t stand still. Keep innovating and growing your career-related programs. Your own viability depends on it.