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Wondering How to Choose Your Major? Check the Unemployment Rates

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If you have a passion for piano or a love of languages, you might think that majoring in music or Italian is a no-brainer. After all, studying something you enjoy will make college an easier, more enjoyable experience, right? Possibly, but the realistic threat of unemployment after graduation causes many students to change their minds.

Although research shows that college graduates typically earn more than those with high school educations, making a bachelor’s degree one of the best credentials a job seeker can have, a recent study has found that some college majors offer substantially better employment opportunities than others.

Choose Your Major Wisely: Not All Degrees Created Equal

A new report from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, aptly titled Not All College Degrees are Created Equal, has found that a person’s choice of major during college affects their employment opportunities and earning potential.

A press release issued by the Center earlier this month reports that current unemployment rates vary considerably depending on job seekers’ college majors. As a rule of thumb, unemployment is generally higher among non-technical majors, such as the arts or social sciences.

The highest unemployment rate the study found is among college grads that majored in architecture—a whopping 13.9 percent of whom are currently without jobs. This is due in part to the recession’s collapse of the construction and real estate markets. On the other hand, CNN Money reports that thanks to the nation’s growing health and education industries, people who majored in those fields have the lowest unemployment rate among recent college graduates at just 5.4 percent.

Low Unemployment Rates for Most Majors are Linked to Specific Jobs

The study found also that unemployment rates are the lowest among recent college graduates whose majors were closely related to specific careers. Although the above-mentioned architecture major is an exception to this generalization, unemployment rates are fairly low—5.4 percent to 7.3 percent—among recent grads that majored in engineering, the sciences, education, healthcare-related subjects, psychology, and social work.

Is Grad School Worth It?

Many students are deciding to pursue a graduate degree rather than struggle to find a decent job in today’s economy. It may be a good idea, as the study found that the current average unemployment rate for people with graduate degrees is 3 percent, compared with 5 percent among those with bachelor’s degrees. Keep in mind that this may not hold true in all fields. It was also reported that experienced workers in healthcare fields have lower unemployment rates than people with graduate degrees in every other field except the life and physical sciences.

It’s easy to assume that an advanced degree will instantly lead to a higher salary—just remember that there are exceptions to every rule. Most employed people that have advanced degrees earn an average annual salary that falls between $60,000 and $100,000 while their bachelor’s degree-holding counterparts have average annual salaries that fall in the range of $48,000 and $62,000.

Recession Proof Careers

Some careers remain strong even when the economy is in rough shape. We will always need teachers, doctors, and law enforcement officers, even when times are tough. Although some jobs in these fields do not offer lucrative salaries or even require college degrees, here are a few industries and careers that will always be around:

  • Health Care
  • Education
  • Energy and Utilities
  • Public Safety
  • Morticians / Funeral Directors
  • Accounting
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Sales
  • Military
  • Agriculture / Food Production / Food Service

Learn More About College Majors:

Minors: A Major Benefit to Your College Degree

Top 10 Weird College Majors: Strange but True Programs of Study


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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