Eye on Education

Best College Majors if You Want to Find a Job

Supertobor / Flickr

Holly Howard graduated from Bowling Green University nearly three years ago. When we talked to her for a recent story, she was still looking for a permanent job. Oh, and she majored in pop culture.

That might have been where she went wrong.

A study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that what you major in is closely related to whether you have a job. (Scroll down to read the full study and see unemployment rates by major.) That holds true for both recent college graduates and for those with graduate degrees.

Looking at national 2009-10 data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the researchers found the lowest unemployment rates among recent and experienced college graduates who majored in:

  • Education,
  • Health, or
  • Agriculture and natural resources.

The highest unemployment rates were for architecture, arts and humanities majors.

(The study just looks at whether people were employed, not whether their job required them to have a certain degree or major.)

Other key findings:

  • People who make technology are better off than people who use technology.
  • Unemployment is lowest where the ties between majors and occupations are highest.
  • At the same time, majors that are closely aligned with occupations and industries in low demand can misfire.

So is college still worth it?: The unemployment rate for recent college graduates with bachelor’s degrees (9 percent) is much lower than for those with only a high school diploma (23 percent). But:

A major conclusion of the new report is that it all depends on your major. And while a college degree gives job seekers a formidable advantage over those without, the study points out, not all degrees are created equal, and there are a number of factors that prospective students should consider before sending off their college applications.

Unemployment Rates by College Major

Recent College Graduate
Experienced College Graduate
Graduate Degree Holder
Agriculture and Natural Resources7%3.5%2.4%
Communications, Journalism7.3%6%4.1%
Computers and Mathematics8.2%5.6%4.1%
Humanities and Liberal Arts9.4%6.1%3.9%
Industrial Arts-4.7%-
Law and Public Policy8.1%4.5%3.5%
Psychology and Social Work7.3%5.9%3.2%
Science - Life/Physical7.7%4.7%2.2%
Social Science8.9%5.7%4.1%

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce | Download data

Not All College Degrees are Created Equal

Note: Did you major in pop culture too and now can’t find a job? Or maybe you majored in viticulture and are now happily employed? StateImpact Ohio is interested in talking to people who chose to major in fields that don’t necessarily promise secure or remunerative employment to learn about their decisions and experiences. To be part of the story, email ohio@stateimpact.org. (And thanks, but we’ve already heard from plenty of journalists.)


  • Haze

    why didn’t they show job rate in Accounting field ??!!???!!

    • Katy Z

      I think that would go in the business category.

  • Anonymous

    The full study has a detailed breakdown of unemployment rates and earnings by specific majors. The unemployment rate among recent college grads majoring in accounting was 6.8 percent. See the “detailed unemployment…” section here: http://stateimpact.npr.org/ohio/2012/01/05/best-college-majors-if-you-want-to-find-a-job/#study.

  • Anonymous

    Online learning is not the complete solution for everyone, but it can help many of them greatly. You go to education with the tools you’ve got and one the tool is the online High Speed Universities go research yourself

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/R-J-Clark-Studio-gallery/1032877413 R J Clark Studio-gallery

    Great news, arts it third!

  • Herb Silverman

    There has to be something wrong with these numbers

    I am a very qualified educator in FL and I haven’t been able to land a teaching job for these past two school years

    Is the author of this study aware of the massive cuts and layoffs in education over the past few years?

  • RR

    I understand the purpose of this article and I’m glad that these numbers out there, but it’s important to recognize two ideas:
    1) For right now, it’s what you make of it. I majored in philosophy and have not had to go without a job for more than 1-2 months in the 5 years that I have been out of college. I have about 20k in loans which I pay monthly, make less than that amount per year and have always paid my own rent. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Go out there and get your job, you artists and ‘manatees. Unfortunately our current society’s values are all screwy (see #2) and for now (unless you have a trust fund or a gainfully employed spouse) you’ll have to write the Great American Novel after work. Get creative with your creativity and think about how it can be applied to the jobs available around you. There’s even a name for it now – the “creative class” they call us. Catchy!
    2) As for the future, arts and humanities will need to be recognized as equal in value to hard sciences if humans are to survive. This thing we call science wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for “out there” creative thinkers. Oh, what’s that you say? You wanna thank me with an arts grant?! Haww-gee, thanks for throwing a bone! Woof!
    I only hope that full financial recognition of these “useless” majors (and housework too, but that’s another topic) will come sooner rather than later, but sadly don’t believe that I’ll live to see it. But maybe, just maybe, by pushing our way into regular jobs and showing off what a beautifully flexible and creative brain can do, we’ll expedite the process.
    Just don’t be late to work, ‘k?

    • Gzzjbanz

      Since when is creative thinking contingent upon advanced studies in the arts and humanities? Science may trace its beginnings to philosophies and religions, but it is something fundamentally different in that it relies upon inductive reasoning from falsifiable claims. When making those inductive jumps, or trying to disprove a claim, there is a lot of creativity involved; science isn’t just mindless lab work.

      Now, policies regarding scientific output do benefit from ethical considerations and debate, but this does not require a careful reading of all the classics or deep appreciation for fine arts. So how can you say humanities must be regarded equally with science (besides coming from a humanities background, of course)?

      Perhaps the reason science is prioritized over the humanities is that it has tangible benefits and makes measurable predictions which any entity capable of following the scientific method may dispute. The humanities and arts, on the other hand, are fundamentally authoritative in that claims are not empirically derived; they are, at their core, subjective, and in being subjective, require deference to some authority in order to interpret things correctly.

      • Ewa Twardowski

        I do not think that the previous commentator was stating that the sciences DON’T require creative thinking. It should also be added that there is a lot of overlap–and potential for more overlap–between the arts and sciences. I am studying art conservation and my artist friends collaborate with scientists in their artworks.

        In fact, the arts, humanities, and sciences all can learn something from each other. You mention that science is objective and humanities are subjective, but science also needs a human eye to determine its place in the world–how others can use and apply it. As you say, scientists do utilize creative thinking.

      • Julie Story

        Enter the 21st century! We have moved beyond the dark age’s argument of qual vs quan, soft vs. hard sciences, creative vs. critical thinking. Each research problem has a context that many times requires a blend of research methodologies and designs.

    • Eulers_Ghost

      Just one comment regarding your second point: I am quite confident that “hard” sciences such as Mathematics or Physics would and will survive regardless of the existence of arts or humanities. Reason: there are plenty of “out there” creative thinkers in Mathematics who have absolutely nothing to do with either “soft” science.

      In fact, one could argue that every discipline has its own set of “out there” creative thinkers and, as such, these are the creative geniuses that drive them further and farther. Further, for all of you doubters regarding the creativeness needed in Mathematics or Physics, just ponder such disciplines as Knot Theory (or Algebraic Topology as a whole) or the creative thinking required to extend and expand the notions of Quantum Theory. Sure they are not artistically masterful but, it takes one seriously creative mind in order to wrap your brain around such concepts.

      Anyways, get your idea and your direction, just wanted to point out the homogeneity with respect to creativity that exists between the various ‘majors’. Peace!

    • Tamara

      I’m glad to see that there are people who still see value in the arts, not just in the study thereof, but also in their application. I’m a big subscriber to the philosophy of, as you put it, “Get creative with your creativity and think about how it can be applied to the jobs available around you.” I’m part of a team of bloggers who write about how creative & geeky hobbies can be applied on the job or in the job search. Our blog (updated daily) is here.

    • Jsusanmay

      the simple fact of the matter is that easy majors like Women studies, Sociology & the like attract more students than challenging majors like Computer Science & Engineering, and after graduation the law of supply & demand dictates who will get a job & how much he/she will be compensated.

      • Nadine

        They attract more people because our schools do not emphasize math, science, technology enough and do not do a good job of teaching these subjects. It would then be difficult to go into college and decide you’re going to major in computer science, statistics, or petroleum engineering with such a weak background. In terms of “softer” majors, I also think that our society does not create enough of a spirit of entrpreneurship- in other words, great- you van write, design clothes, dance, etc. We don’t teach enough how to create demand, increase value for the services/creative products we provide.

  • Harold Whalen (Glencoe)

    I advise students about to apply to college and invariably tell them “Take some accounting.” This is ironic since I did not. I majored in history and received a PhD in that field and even forty-five years ago jobs were almost non-existent. So, I went into business, struggled but, ultimately, did very well. Had I known some accounting to begin with, I would have done better!

    College faculties are very self-indulgent. My alma mater — which charges $50,000 a year — has removed freshman composition as a requirement and substituted a full semester of watching, and then commenting on, vampire movies. Still, this is better than the solipsistic slop dished out by Gender Studies or allied Victims Studies departments.

    The Man Who Would Be (Philosopher) King type may warn us that “college is not about getting a job — it is about learning to think.” My guess, though, is that, like the rest of us, he, too, requires money to buy whiskey.

    No major guarantees employment. But with today’s B.A. not much better than 1962′s high school diploma in terms of rigor, with the cost of “higher education” astronomical and with everyone and his brother sporting a sheepskin, it may be wise to read a little Darwin and adjust one’s curriculum accordingly.

    In today’s exploitative educational environment (the Predatory Pedagouges!) what is important is not what one does right but what one does NOT do wrong! DON’T go to an expensive, private liberal arts college unless one has a trust fund. DON’T equate what is trendy with what is employable. (My alma mater offers a major in “Environment Advocacy.” It’s not law and it’s not science. I suppose he expects to get paid for saying encouraging things to trees.) DON’T buy into the contempt for business evinced by tenured faculty who wouldn’t last a week in corporate politics. DON’T be seduced by “follow your bliss” claptrap. Maybe this works for proctologists but it sure as hell won’t repay your college loans.

    Students bearing bachelor degrees are today’s lemmings: like those cuddly rodents they are cute as can be, countless in number, of little value except as fodder and in their student-debt habits, largely self-destructive. Most of them are headed straight for that cliff called “The Real World.”

    • Ewa Twardowski

      Business is not the only sensible major, and not every liberal arts student wastes time with writing about Nosferatu (I know this because I am one–working towards a career in art conservation). The idea that you can aspire to be anything you want to be if you only work hard is a myth, but the idea that you should dictate your life based on the most viable career and not on doing what makes you happy is not a structurally-sound philosophy for everyone either.

      • Crawford Robert

        Business is definitely not the only sensible major. In fact, I often wonder if it was a sensible major at all.
        I have an M.B.A. and am, for all intents and purposes, grossly under-employed and unemployable. It really hit home wen I was passed for the job of shift-manager at a hamburger franchise because I lacked experience.
        I often regret not having majored in History. If a person is going to spend their working life wandering form one minimum-wage job to the next, it really doesn’t matter what they major in.

        • Crawford Robert

          And yes, re-reading my post, I spotted the typo

    • Anonymous

      As a graduate of a private liberal arts college, I do not think you understood the goal of your institution. The point of a liberal arts degree is to acknowledge the overlap between all professional fields. Yes, business is a respectable major but limits a student to America’s overemphasis on production and efficiency. We have humanities for a reason- we’re humans. Art, religion, and history have always and will always shape and influence our society. To separate and rank all the different pieces of society is fruitless. I graduated with both an Economics and Sociology degree for that reason.

    • Laura

      I’ve advised bright kids that don’t know what they want to do to get a skill – sales, plumbing, electrical, bartending, hairdressing…These jobs can really pay the bills (depending on where you live); they can’t be outsourced; and they can wake up the adolescent into the real world of how to get what you want and still pay the bills.
      IMO, the European model of a gap year between high school and college also is well worth exploring. And finally, I’ve noticed many successful entrepreneurs didn’t get a college degree.

  • doo

    Interesting. I’m in the arts. I have a full time job, I’m engaged to be married, I’m looking for a house, and my company has grown 24% in the last year. Just sayin’.

  • JN

    Not being a math expert, is there a statistical point to be made in comparing these unemployment rates to national unemployment rates… in this case a graduate degree in the arts looks pretty good with a national unemployment rate above 8%… but I’m no math expert. any help out there from an expert in the field?

    • Anonymous

      Well, the unemployment rate among graduate degree holders is generally lower than the unemployment rates for those with just bachelor’s degrees. And that gap grows as you look at those with only a high school diploma and then high school dropouts. So in the area of just being employed this study suggests you’re better off with a graduate degree than without.

  • JN


    Many Arts jobs are also education jobs… how does that figure in? do the arts stats here get the credit or does education snag the numbers?

    Just curious…

    • Anonymous

      The study just looks at what people majored in. It doesn’t take into account field of work. So an art major counts as an art major, whether he or she was working as an artist, in a school, at a fast food restaurant or not at all.

  • jane hardin

    As a history major (who went on to earn an MA in history) I’m disappointed to see the the umbrella term “humanities” instead of separate listings for history, english, philosophy, and religion. For the most part, the history majors I’ve known have all gone on to find very good jobs in various fields, esp. in market research and consulting. They’re often much better at it than all the people who majored in “business” or “communications” where the classes are a joke and the profs hand out A’s like candy. A good history major will take a broad range of courses and emerge as excellent critical thinkers and writers. English and philosophy degrees can do this too, but I find those people are often much more introverted and less willing to apply their degrees to unrelated fields. These majors are all very different. I bet if you analyzed each one, the unemployment figures would be different too.

    • Anonymous

      The detailed unemployment rates and earnings are actually at the end of the report. It shows a 10.2 unemployment rate for recent college grads who majored in history. That figure is 10.8 for philosophy/religion majors and 9.2 for English majors.

  • Cher

    I will never regret my English degree or the fine liberal arts education I received because through it I was able to appreciate the intersection and overlap of many disciplines. After leaving the teaching profession, I found rewarding work in healthcare administration, but volunteer in several arts organizations. I also support the area literacy council where I encourage young people to discover their passion, then find a career that will allow them to focus that passion in a pragmatic but meaningful way.

  • Stuart Lumpkins

    No, an undergrad alone is not enough in some areas. Check out the ones that went to grad school. That is where you must go to get a secure job.

  • sagewitch

    Yeah, hey, nobody needs artists, well designed buildings, parks or libraries. And perhaps we need more humanities majors to take a better look at the people who come up with these twisted reports.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Juan-Ldw/100002191200664 Juan Ldw

    Well that explains why i cant land any job at an architecture office :P

  • Sinisterniik

    Based on our national unemployment rate, we have must have an overwhelming number of architects.

  • Chaossurfette

    There seems to be a persistent view that “arts” and “sciences” are mutually exclusive. There are visionaries and there are craftspeople with varying degrees of skill– and they are found in all fields. Perhaps it’s the rigor with which the processes are taught in schools that accounts for the biases. In terms of how they’re taught, the sciences seem to demand an idea-stifling degree of accuracy, and the arts seem to expect new thoughts & ideas to appear from thin air regardless any mastery of skill. But really, new scientific ideas are as profound as artistic ideas, and new artistic ideas are as applicable as scientific ideas– they’re all the same thing. If we’re producing science geeks who have no curiosity about the way things work in the world, and starving artists with no skills to speak of, what do we expect? Wouldn’t it be refreshing if universities taught artistic mastery & scientific creativity?

  • DrGeneNelson

    A significant flaw in the American Community Survey (ACS) data cited is that it fails to identify if the survey respondent is employed in the field they trained in, or if the respondent is simply holding a “survival level” position that makes scant use of their training or experience to keep a roof over their head. [The problem with many salary surveys is sample bias in the form of surveying **only** people who are still employed in a particular "high tech" field.] There is abundant hard evidence based on a detailed study of the 2002 ACS data that many experienced workers with a Ph.D. over the age of 50 are either unemployed or underemployed. I presented this data at the 2004 annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.The graph is presented in my new investigative report regarding this topic, which also investigates root causes, at http://tinyurl.com/74cc64p. Please contact me if you wish to review the data tables.

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