Employment And Earnings By College Major

The big question—can I get a job when I get out of college, has been answered by a new study from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

The study, Hard Times: Not All College Majors Are Created Equal, was published in January of 2012, and offers valuable insight into the employment and earnings potential of various college majors.

Major Unemployment Rates
Recent College Graduates
Earnings of
Recent College Graduates
Agriculture and Natural Resources 7.00% $32,000
Science- Life/Physical 7.70% $32,000
Architechture 13.90% $36,000
Humanities and Liberal Arts 9.40% $31,000
Communications, Journalism 7.30% $33,000
Computers and Mathematics 8.20% $46,000
Education 5.40% $33,000
Engineering 7.50% $55,000
Law and Public Policy 8.10% $34,000
Social Science 8.90% $37,000
Health 5.40% $43,000
Psychology and Social Work 7.30% $30,000
Recreation 8.30% $30,000
Arts 11.10% $30,000
Business 7.40% $39,000

The table above provides the unemployment rate and average earnings of recent college graduates in several categories of study, but the report also breaks each of these categories into more specific majors. “The risk of unemployment among recent college graduates depends on their major. The unemployment rate for recent graduates is highest in Architecture (13.9 percent) because of the collapse of the construction and home building industry in the recession. Unemployment rates are generally higher 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).“

Technical majors are experiencing good employment and good initial earnings, but both vary depending on the specific area of the major.

“Unemployment in majors related to computers and mathematics vary widely depending on the technical and scientific content of the major. Employers are still hiring technical computer specialists who can write software and invent new applications. But for information specialists who use software to manipulate, mine, and disseminate information, hiring slows down in recessions. We can see the difference in unemployment between people who invent computer technology as opposed to people who use computer technology.”

“The unemployment rate for recent college graduates in Information Systems has spiked to 11.7 percent, while the rates for majors in Computer Science and Mathematics are 7.8 percent and 6.0 percent, respectively.“

Majors that are more closely aligned with particular occupations and industries tend to experience lower unemployment rates. Majors such as Healthcare, Education and those related to technical occupations tend to have lower unemployment rates than more general majors, like Humanities and Liberal Arts, where graduates are broadly dispersed across occupations and industries. Unemployment rates for recent graduates in Healthcare and Education are 5.4 percent compared to 9.4 percent for people who majored in Humanities and the Liberal Arts.”

Researchers Carnevale, Cheah and Strohl have decades of high level expertise in education, the economy and the workforce. This study is not only helpful and insightful, it also addresses the big question that has been widely debated in the media in recent years as the economy weakened, college costs have risen and jobs have become more difficult to get.

“The question, as we slowly dig out from under the wreckage left by the Great Recession, is unavoidable: “Is college worth it?” Our answer: “Yes, extensive research, ours included, finds that a college degree is still worth it.” A Bachelor’s degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings. And staying on campus to earn a graduate degree provides safe shelter from the immediate economic storm, and will pay off with greater employability and earnings once the graduate enters the labor market.

Although differences remain high among majors, graduate education raises earnings across the board. The average earnings for BA’s now stands at $48,000 compared with $62,000 for graduate degrees. With the exception the Arts and Education, earnings for graduate workers range between $60,000 and $100,000.

It is easy to look at unemployment rates for new college graduates or hear stories about degree-holders forced to tend bar and question the wisdom of investing in higher education when times are bad. But those questions should last only until you compare how job seekers with college degrees are doing compared to those without college degrees.

Today’s best advice, then, is that high school students who can go on to college should do so— with one caveat. They should do their homework before picking a major because, when it comes to employment prospects and compensation, not all college degrees are created equal.”