Not all degrees/jobs are created equal
By Max Ehrenfreund February 23
Wondering what to major in? If you’re a college student wondering what you’ll do after you graduate, it might be good to know that young workers with degrees in agriculture, mining, teaching and medicine are in high demand. So are those who studied physics or chemistry. But if you major in architecture or a social science, you might find it hard to get a job when you graduate.
That’s all according to a new report from researchers at Georgetown University. They found that although the unemployment rate for recent college graduates stood at 7.5 percent in 2012, not all majors gave students an equal chance of finding work. Just 5.1 percent of elementary education majors, 4.8 percent of nursing majors and 4.5 percent of chemistry majors were unemployed after graduating, to take a few specific fields.
Compared with these graduates, those who studied architecture or the social sciences are about twice as likely to be unemployed, with 1 in 10 young workers out of a job. The recession was been especially hard for these fields, said economist Anthony Carnevale, one of the authors of the report. The collapse of construction and the housing sector has left architects out of work, while social scientists often work in government and nonprofits, which saw their revenues evaporate.
The good news for young college graduates is that regardless of their major, they have a much better chance of finding work than their peers who didn’t go to college. Nearly 18 percent of young workers with only a high school diploma were unemployed.
Recent college graduates are even doing better than experienced workers who only have a diploma, 9.9 percent of whom were out of work.
That’s a change from three decades ago, Carnevale said, when an experienced worker with a diploma was better off than a young worker with a college degree. That change reflects the increasing importance of technology in the economy and the shift from manufacturing to service.
The data in the report are already a few years old, so it’s also worth looking at the trends in unemployment among younger, college-educated workers. The situation for them is improving, except for those who studied communications and journalism. Their rate of unemployment climbed steadily from 2009 through 2012, although it’s hard to know whether that increase has continued.
A few years of unemployment might be a price worth paying after college if it meant you were likely to make more money later on in life. Architecture majors, for example, can take some consolation: Experienced workers with undergraduate degrees in architecture make $73,000 a year on average, far more than their counterparts in agriculture and education.
And those with undergraduate degrees in the social sciences who went on to earn graduate degrees are well compensated compared with highly educated, experienced workers in most other fields. They earned $93,000 a year on average. (Those who studied the hard sciences as undergraduates still made more, though.)
“There are lots of reasons to go to college,” Carnevale said. “Getting a job isn’t the only reason.” The monetary benefits, though — as long as you complete your degree on time — are significant. Those with college degrees make about 75 percent more than those with a high school diploma. The recession did not reduce that relative advantage, though wages have been declining for just about everyone for years. Meanwhile, the report notes, the unemployment rate for experienced workers with graduate degrees never rose above 3.3 percent during the crisis, compared with a maximum of 10 percent for the population as a whole.