• Fri, May 31 - 11:30 am ET

Here’s What To Major In If You Actually Want To Get A Job

imagesDoes your college major affect your future unemployment prospects? As a political science major who’s now a journalist who doesn’t write about politics, I’ve always pooh-poohed the idea. But a new report from Georgetown finds that different college majors fare quite differently in the workforce after graduation.

Some of their findings include:
  • Experienced workers with an undergraduate degree in architecture earn an average of $65,000, compared with $44,000 for equivalent workers with an education degree
  • On the other hand, recent architecture majors had a 12.8% unemployment rate, compared to just 5.7% for recent education majors.
  • People who majored in the arts, and in law and public policy had unemployment rates above 9%, compared with math majors’ 5.9%.
Then again, I’ve always been skeptical of the importance of college major, unless you’re dead set on going into a technical field that absolutely requires a certain set of skills be acquired by graduation. (Or if you’re deciding more broadly between a STEM major and a humanities major.)
For me, college was about reading widely and critically, and dabbling in a whole bunch of things that I thought I might be interested in. In other words, if you’re panicking about choosing between and English degree and a sociology degree, don’t. You probably won’t “use” either of them. Just work hard, do well, and pursue what you love.
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  • Lastango

    I’ll confess I’m getting very little that’s useful from that report. First, it doesn’t appear to say anything about which grads are working in their fields of study. Second, it defines “recent grad” as up to age 26, which feels like an effort to construct a category that hides reality.

    To my eye, it reads like a piece of advertising for the powerful university industry, perhaps as a response to a spate of very bad news. I’m reading more and more about the threats to that group, particularly from online education and from new discussion about adopting the Nordic technical school model. Students are figuring out the bricks-and-mortar college system doesn’t deliver value, and hasn’t for a long time.

  • Beth

    The report doesn’t really say anything that common sense won’t already tell you.

    If you want to maximize your potential for a job after you leave college, concentrate on the hard or applied sciences. If you want to have a very hard time getting a job after college, major in anything that ends in the word “studies” (African American Studies, Women’s Studies, Goldfish Studies, whatever)

  • Ann Sutton

    Here’s the thing that bugs me: If liberal arts degree=slinging burgers, as so many suggest, then are they actually saying that none of the thousands upon millions of people who’ve gotten liberal arts degrees, over decades, have gotten good jobs? In any graduating class, a huge percentage of students have liberal arts degrees, yet they all seem to find employment and generally enjoy life. Of course, many of them get jobs outside of their “field” (where their “field” is medieval literature?), but they wouldn’t have gotten the jobs without a degree. Either way, it all worked out.

    Universities are not *supposed* to be job training–they never were. If they were, they’d be teaching us how to file and how to write nice e-mails and put together Powerpoint presentations and comply with federal regulations and fill out forms….we don’t use most of what we’re taught there, except insofar as what they “teach” is the ability to think (a skill so many lack).

    For the record and in the interest of disclosure, I have an English degree, so I’m resentful of everyone who says that kids who major in English are throwing away their lives. And I USE my degree–I’m an editor.

    • Lastango

      Perhaps one of the causes for heightened concern now, compared to decades ago, relates to the vastly higher cost of getting a BA. When someone has $250-300K worth of tuition+room/board (not to mention opportunity cost) in a medieval literature degree, that can be a problem that complicates many aspects of life and compromises opportunities. I’ve even read about relationships breaking up when one partner find out how much debt the other is carrying.

    • Andrew Cole

      You can’t teach somebody how to think. Smart people go to college, and have the drive to finish. College cannot make somebody smart. Correlation is not causation in this case.

    • Andrew Cole

      Also, I’m glad to see you using two hyphens for a dash, instead of one—that irritates the hell out of me. Thankfully, Unix let’s you input Unicode anywhere, so I can use a ‘real dash’ instead of a stand-in.