A few months back, I wrote an article that didn’t go over too well. It was titled, “A Question for all you Communications Majors“. The article was initially meant to focus on how kids are going to college, taking on massive debt and graduating with majors that leave them unable to pay it down given their prospects upon graduation. And for whatever reason, I went off on a tangent about Communications degrees, renamed the article as such and well, that’s history. I wrote it, I own it now. So, after being toasted all over the web for that one (primarily by bloggers who majored in Communications), here’s the actual data that matters. This comprehensive report from the Wall Street Journal shows what the unemployment rate is by major based on 2010 Census data. While I picked on Communications majors for whatever reason, there are several degrees that fare much worse (Communications actually fared relatively well compared to my preconceived notions). Rather than make you sift through the 10 page slide decks at HuffPo and other outlets that picked up this story, here are the screen shots of the data that I thought were interesting – sorted by Highest Unemployment Rate by Major and Highest Salary by Major with a focus on the 75th percentile. I felt that salary bucket was most telling since many of my readers tend to be in their prime earnings years, or live on the coasts where the cost of living’s a bit higher. The 25% earnings is not real relevant for most readers and median takes into account the rest of the country and employees with less tenure. So, I picked the 75% column assuming it’s most representative of 30-40-somethings OR where readers plan on being in the near future.
But First, Unemployment by Education Level
It’s important to note the stark difference in unemployment rates nationally by level of education. Primarily, by virtue of even having a college degree, your rate should be much lower than the national average. So, with a 9.0% rate nationally (which wildly misrepresents the actual jobs situation since jobs added aren’t even keeping up with birth/death model; they simply stop counting workers that have stopped looking and exhausted benefits), even a degree that’s not in demand that highly should still have a single-digit rate. So, when you see degrees with double-digit rates of unemployment, that definitely calls into question the value that those students derived from that choice. It’s a double-whammy. Not only did you spend a large sum of money to obtain the degree, but you’re LESS likely to find work in that field than not going to college at all?! That doesn’t make sense (barring skilled trades which ARE in demand in much of the country), but, well, that’s what the data shows for particular degrees.
Unemployment by Major:
The trend, as you probably anticipated is mainly in the arts, humanities and such. I was a bit surprised to see some degrees in there that I assumed might have had more demand due to their names, right? Like Military Technologies? We’re in the midst of two, three wars (I’m losing count, we’re about to bomb Iran, right?), so you’d think degreed military majors would be in demand. But I don’t know what that really means. Also, International Business? I just assumed this would be pretty hot given all the outsourcing of services and global competitive forces out there.
Salary by Major – 75th Percentile:
One can’t help but notice all the “engineering”, “computer”, and science majors in there. I don’t highlight because I happen to be an engineer (in fact, I don’t do anything having to do with engineering, so it’s not really relevant), but simply, that the common theme has been for years – and probably will continue to be the following: The majors that are HARD, have a focus on MATH and PROBLEM SOLVING will continue to be the ones in high demand and at least have pretty good pay. Granted, most of my buddies who partied hard in college and eventually went to work on Wall Street after B-school started off with lower salaries than I did but they’re all making double-triple what I make now. So, longer term, Finance/Accounting has continued to be where it’s at on the East Coast and of course, programmers are killing it with startups and social media on the West Coast. But I’m not sure those jobs are always going to continue to flourish given the financial crash, regulation and political sentiment hitting Wall Street. (See a Rebuttal to Occupy Wall Street).
Side note – even though Military Technologies had a real high unemployment rate, the pay is also quite high – seems to be a bit of an outlier in that it ended up on both screenshots.
So, the one qualifier here is that many people I know don’t even have a job “in the field” that they majored in after 10 years or more. But undergrad degrees to tend to carry some sort of weight throughout a career, even when shifting into other disciplines in the workplace.
What are Your Thoughts On this Data?
Make sure to check out the CAREER section for salary info, career tips and more.