College & Workforce Readiness

Majors Matter in Job Prospects for Recent College Graduates

By Caralee J. Adams — January 04, 2012 2 min read
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Americans with a college education fare better in the job market than those with just a high school diploma or less—but just how much better depends on their field.

A new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released today finds unemployment for recent college graduates is 8.9 percent, compared with 22.9 percent of job-seekers with just a high school education and 31.5 percent among high school dropouts.

Looking more deeply, the analysis finds that choice of major matters. Majors that are more closely aligned with particular occupations and industries tend to have lower unemployment rates, although there are exceptions.

The study found those with the highest jobless rates included:
Architecture graduates (13.9 percent unemployment) - likely linked to the hard-hit construction industry in the recession
Arts majors (11.1 percent)
Humanities and Liberal Arts (9.4 percent)
Social Sciences (8.9 percent)
Recreation (8.3 percent)
Computers and Math (8.2 percent)
Law and Public Policy (8.1 percent)

Those with the most success in today’s job market:
Health-care-related majors (5.4 percent unemployment)
Education (5.4 percent)
Agriculture and Natural Sciences (7 percent)
Communication and Journalism (7.3 percent)
Psychology and Social Work (7.3 percent)
Business (7.4 percent)
Engineering (7.5 percent)
Life and Physical Sciences (7.7 percent)

The authors note that unemployment rates are relatively low for recent college students who majored in education and health care because these majors are attached to stable or growing industry sectors. While jobless rates are encouraging for education, psychology, and social work majors, those fields do have earnings that are also low and only improve marginally with experience and graduate education, the study says.

The high cost of college that forces many students to go into debt has many questioning the value of a degree. The Georgetown report on lifetime income by major this summer showed the gap in earning power over a lifetime. It found recent college graduates in engineering make $55,000 compared with $30,000 for those with degrees in the arts, psychology, and social work.

What about taking the next step in higher education? Consider this: The unemployment rate for people with graduate degrees is just 3 percent.

For the full report, Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings Not All College Degrees Are Equal by Anthony Carnevale, Ban Cheah and Jeff Strohl, click here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.