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Articles / Majors & Careers / College Majors And Unemployment

College Majors And Unemployment

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Nov. 29, 2018
College Majors And Unemployment

It costs a lot of money to go to college. Generally, there are two outcomes from getting a college degree: (1) acquiring the knowledge and skills that lead to a career, and/or (2) broadening one's perspective on life through a higher level of education.

I don't have statistics on what percentage of college students are seeking merely to broaden their perspectives on life, but I'm willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of college students are looking to use their degrees as a ticket to finding a meaningful job.

Many college students enter their halls of ivy not knowing, exactly, what they want to do with their lives. This is a reasonable situation because a lot of 18-year-olds can't see themselves in any particular role during their coming years. Granted, it's hard enough being a teenager, let alone trying to chart a path that will lead happily and successfully across future decades.

However, many college-bound high school seniors have a somewhat clear idea of what they want to do with their lives and, accordingly, choose a specific college major. This allows them to begin satisfying the requirements for that degree earlier than those freshman who have landed on campus as “undecided."

Parents can be a strong influence in the background, perhaps gently (or otherwise) herding their sons and daughters in a certain collegiate direction in hopes of getting them employed as soon as possible after graduation. This subtle (or blatant) influencing can result in mismatches between a student's true desires and the actual major chosen. That conflict can lead to changes in majors or even transfers, both of which may result in lost time and money. A four-year degree can easily grow into a five- or six-year program.

These Majors May Lead to Slow Job Hunts

With all that said, we may want to consider the latest information concerning which college majors have the hardest time finding work. The specific data to which I'm referring comes from Zippia.com, a resource I've cited before. Just yesterday, Zippia's researchers sent me this interesting analysis (titled in all caps): THE 10 TOUGHEST MAJORS FOR FINDING JOBS AFTER COLLEGE FOR 2018. I like directness and that title goes right to the heart of what some (maybe most) high schoolers and parents would like to know.

Shucking right down to the cob, as newscaster Paul Harvey used to say, consider author Chris Kolmar's introduction:

So you are trying to decide which degree to pursue in college, but you are unsure which degrees actually land jobs. Don't worry, many students are asking the same question.

When you finally get to choose your own education, it can be daunting by the hundreds of choices available at most colleges and universities. Should you pursue architecture, engineering, secondary education, art and dance, political science, pre-med or business? What about the lesser-known degrees like forestry preservation and art restoration?

No matter what your interests are, you are probably wondering if your passions can also lead to a job that won't make you struggling to pay bills for the rest of your life.

At Zippia, we are here to help you figure out the answers to those questions. So which majors actually have the highest unemployment rate?

1. Library Science

2. Metallurgical Engineering

3. Nuclear Engineering

4. Industrial Production Technologies

5. General Social Sciences

6. Geological And Geophysical Engineering

7. Interdisciplinary Social Sciences

8. Other Foreign Languages

9. Cosmetology Services And Culinary Arts

10. Studio Arts

Some of the majors on that list of 10 are surprising, if not shocking. Three are in the realm of engineering and one has the word “Technologies" attached to it. In other words, 40 percent of those top 10 are in areas that we might assume to be highly employable.

You may be wondering how they came up with these rankings. Here's how Zippia explains its methodology:

Using Census Data from PUMS, we looked at the total number of people who graduated with each particular major. We only considered people ages 22 to 25 that were no longer in school — you know, people right out of college looking for work.

Then using data for which of these people were employed versus unemployed, we came up with percentages for each major's unemployment level, which we then used to rank each major. The higher a major ranks on this list, the lower its employment rating.

Getting back to that Top 10 list of majors, let's take see how Zippia explains why some of those degrees are having so much difficulty delivering employment for graduates.

1. Library Science: Unemployment Rate: 11.77 percent

Unfortunately for librarians, tech advances have led to a decline in job opportunity. Librarians have a nearly 12 percent unemployment rate. That's a sorry figure for any recent graduate.

However, if you do happen to land a job as a librarian, the pay isn't that bad. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, library scientists make about $54k a year on average.

Okay. Now let's see why some engineering and tech degrees are on the list:

2. Metallurgical Engineering: Unemployment Rate: 10.53 percent

So what is metallurgical engineering and why does it rank number two on our list? Essentially, metallurgical engineering is the study of… metals. Engineers with this degree learn about mining, extraction and processing of metals. Sounds important, right?

Computerization and mechanizing must be crushing this field, resulting in an unemployment rate of over 10 percent for degree holders in metallurgical engineering.

3. Nuclear Engineering: Unemployment Rate: 10.11 percent

Like metallurgical engineering, nuclear engineering is another super important sounding degree with a high unemployment rate.

You would think that with the depletion of fossil fuels and our increased dependence on nuclear energy, we would need nuclear engineers. But somehow they have a 10 percent unemployment rate.

Perhaps the coal industry wants to keep them out until the earth is really in a mega crisis -- perhaps computers are taking over engineering jobs. Either way, these degree holders are in somewhat of a job pickle.

4. Industrial Production Technologies: Unemployment Rate: 8.24 percent

Individuals with a degree in Industrial Production Technologies help engineers and other professionals best utilize natural resources. Again, another degree that seems extremely needed as our natural resources are quickly being depleted.

Around 8 percent of degree holders in this specialty are unemployed. Not a good sign for our coal stores.

Two of the non-tech degrees:

5. General Social Sciences: Unemployment Rate: 7.65 percent

General Social Sciences -- quite possibly the vaguest degree category on our list. General Social Sciences is a degree that takes classes from several liberal arts specialties and combines them together.

Not bad if you want a well-rounded liberal arts education, but possibly a bad decision for your bank account.

10. Studio Arts: Unemployment Rate: 5.88 percent

Last but not least comes Studio Arts. Often when you hear people say they are going to study art, you hear the usual, “so how are you going to find a job?"

But interestingly, the degrees with the highest unemployment rates are those that seem like a career no-brainer. We're looking at you, nuclear engineers.

While last on our list, professional artists still face a nearly 6 percent unemployment rate. That is two times better than those who have Library Sciences degrees, but still not the best.

Check the article for the remaining Top-10ers.

Check out the Rest of the List

The current unemployment rate in the U.S. is 3.7 percent, as of October 2018. So according to Zippia's Top 10 list, you can see how, in general, graduates with these degrees compare with the overall employment situation. Of course, your mileage may vary, as they say. You could score a great job in one of these fields straight out of the gate.

Here are majors 11 through 20:

11. Visual And Performing Arts: 5.36 percent

12. Electrical Engineering Technology: 5.32 percent

13. Electrical, Mechanical And Precision Technologies: 5.17 percent

14. Miscellaneous Social Sciences: 5.14 percent

15. Environmental Science: 5.09 percent

16. Science And Computer Teacher Education: 4.9 percent

17. Fine Arts:4.87 percent

18. Public Policy: 4.6 percent

19. Miscellaneous Fine Arts: 4.52 percent

20. Public Administration: 4.5 percent

To get down to the current national unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, you have to go down to #35: Drama And Theater Arts: 3.69 percent. Zippia's list goes to #100.

This information is informative, but it can also be discouraging. I urge you not to make any rash decisions about your college plans based solely on raw numbers. Life's path can take some surprisingly good turns regardless of your major.

Keep an open mind, stay informed, do your best in the classroom and watch for trends and opportunities. You may be surprised how well life can turn out, even if you have that Library Science degree!

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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