If your new sheepskin says "bachelor of chemical engineering" then the world is your oyster.

The chemical and oil companies likely will beat a path to your lab locker. At Washington University, they're plunking down job offers that average $39,000 in starting pay.Chemical engineering is among the hottest of the hot-ticket degrees this year as the latest batch of college seniors prepares to hit the bricks.

The same goes for newly minted electrical engineers with a heavy dose of computer science training. Accountants, nurses, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists are also being snapped up, although at lower salaries.

Agronomists - scientists who study crop production - are eagerly harvested by corporate recruiters.

"It's a very hot area and we can't seem to graduate enough students, " said Dana Brown at the University of Missouri's College of Agriculture. Food scientists also can waltz into jobs.

But if your new bachelor's degree is in history, English or another of the liberal arts, you might consider ducking into grad school until the job market improves.

There is, after all, a recession. Corporate recruiters are still trooping onto campuses, but they're offering fewer jobs.

As of December, corporations expected to hire roughly 1 percent fewer graduates this spring, according to a Northwestern University survey. Starting salaries were expected to be up 4 percent, slightly below the year's inflation rate.

Sales seems to be the warmest part of a lukewarm market for liberal arts grads. Quite a few drug companies are prowling for salesmen these days, placement directors say.

Despite the economic slump, some degrees are still golden. And Darren Klug has one.

"Now it's payoff time," said Klug, the 23-year-old son of a heating contractor. "I feel I've earned it."

Klug is finishing a double major in computer science and electrical engineering at Washington U. His first offer was a $32,000 job at McDonnell Douglas.

The offer came in December, as Mac was laying off nearly 10,000 people including thousands of engineers.

Klug turned it down and snapped up an offer from Southwestern Bell. The phone company offered to pay his entire tuition as he gets his master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University - and add $25,000 a year in spending money.

In trade, Klug agreed to work for the company after graduation at a starting salary of more than $32,000 per year.

Klug, who has a B-plus average, considers it a fair reward for four years in a "perpetual onslaught" of study that limited his sleep to five hours a night.

The recession is putting the fear of unemployment into this year's graduating class.

"Students have been on their toes. They're much more motivated and aggressive," said Linda Glassner, associate director of placement at Washington University's business school.

"There's a worry there. It's `Oh, my gosh! What if I don't find it?' " said Kathy Bersett, a soon-to-be business graduate who owes $8,000 in student loans.

Bersett routinely spends hours studying a prospective employer, then she spends another hour preparing her clothes and dressing for an interview.

"It's so intense. There are second interviews and third interviews and always looking nice," she said.

With the number of job offers down, the struggle for grades takes on new meaning, schools report.

"Everybody wants the brightest students - someone with a 3.0 average or better, who is articulate and assertive without being obnoxious," said Debbie Kettler, placement director at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"If there's a hot button, it's the kid who is a minority (student), has good grades and majors in computer science," she said.

The Northwestern survey showed the strongest demand for chemical and electrical engineers and computer science graduates.

But the highest starting salaries - an average $43,200 - went to graduates with master's degrees in business administration.

Nurses, pharmacists and therapists are in strong demand. Physical therapists are landing salaries ranging from $28,000 to $54,000, and a new pharmacist starts at an average of $33,000, according to the National Association for Health Care Recruiting.

"We're forecasting huge shortages in those fields," said Karen Hart, association director.

Recruiters in most areas also like to see strong familiarity with computers, placement directors say.