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Selecting A Major that Will Lead to Successful Employment

Choosing a major that will lead to a successful career after graduation is an essential component of your education.  Certain majors are much more likely to be struck by unemployment in today's job market, and some majors will have a much easier time getting a job because their skills are currently in high demand.

Those with a bachelor's degree already have a jump over those with only a high school diploma in obtaining employment:  unemployment for recent bachelor's degree graduates is at 8.9 percent, while those who have recently graduated from high school with no higher degrees face a 22.9 percent unemployment rate. However, it's vitally important to choose a major for your degree that will be applicable to the current job market.

  • Architecture majors face the highest unemployment rates at 13.9 percent due to the severe decline in the construction and building industries.  Unemployment is also high in non-technical majors such as the arts (11.1 percent), humanities and liberal arts (9.4 percent), social science (8.9 percent), and law and public policy (8.1 percent).
  • Education and health care are excellent fields to get into now, with low unemployment rates at 5.4 percent for recent college graduates.  Both of these industries are stable and growing.
  • Business majors also have relatively low unemployment (7.4 percent), except for those who specialize in hospitality management, where unemployment is at 9.1 percent due to the suffering tourism industry.
  • Unemployment among those who major in computer and information sciences also varies greatly. Those who design software and invent new computer applications are still in high demand in the current economy, with unemployment among computer science and mathematics majors at 7.8 and 6.0 percent, respectively.  But employers are not hiring as many information specialists who use that software to interpret and understand information.  Unemployment for information systems majors has shot up to 11.7 percent.

However it's also important to keep in mind that these statistics vary based on level of experience in any given industry.  For example, experienced college graduates holding a degree in information sciences have an unemployment rate of only 5.4 percent.  So while it may be difficult to get work as an information specialist currently, the data suggests that this major will become much more employable as the economic recovery continues.  Across the board, those who are experienced in their field face much lower levels of unemployment than recent college graduates.

Graduate degrees also make a significant difference in getting hired in our current economy. The overall unemployment rate for those with an undergraduate degree is 5 percent, versus a 3 percent unemployment rate for those holding graduate degrees.  When you rule out architecture and the arts as graduate degree major options, their unemployment ranges only from 1.9 to 4.4 percent.

The difference in unemployment for specific majors who hold undergraduate versus graduate degrees can be quite staggering.  Take a major in recreation for example; recent undergraduates face unemployment at a hefty 8.3 percent, while those with graduate degrees in the same field have only 2.0 percent unemployment. A great strategy to increase your worth as an employee and make it more likely that you'll be hired in an economy where unemployment is high can be to continue on with school.

Take a look at our table and chart below for more information on these trends.

Yearly Earnings by Major

Major Recent College Grads Experienced College Grads Graduate Degree Holders
Agriculture and Natural Resources $32,000 $50,000 $65,000
Science - Life/Physical $32,000 $60,000 $87,000
Architecture $36,000 $64,000 $71,000
Humanities and Liberal Arts $31,000 $50,000 $65,000
Communications, Journalism $33,000 $54,000 $64,000
Computers & Mathematics $46,000 $76,000 $91,000
Education $33,000 $43,000 $56,000
Engineering $55,000 $81,000 $100,000
Law & Public Policy $34,000 $55,000 $70,000
Social Science $37,000 $60,000 $85,000
Industrial Arts   $71,000  
Health $43,000 $63,000 $81,000
Psychology & Social Work $30,000 $45,000 $60,000
Recreation $30,000 $50,000 $61,000
Arts $30,000 $46,000 $55,000
Business $39,000 $63,000 $84,000


Unemployment rates by Major

All data in this article comes from the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workfoce study entitled "Hard Times:   Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal:"