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Insights on education news and trends worldwide

Upasana Gupta -

Does College Major Matter?

Research Shows College Majors Impacting Jobs/ Salaries

A few months back, I wrote a blog about how college majors are directly tied to an individual's personal return- on- investment. I strongly believe that the type of job, career and the money one makes after college is based on the major one takes.

Interestingly a recent study by Georgetown University, confirms that the choice of college major correlates with both future employment and earnings potential of a college graduate. The research study shows that higher unemployment rates for recent college graduates tend to be concentrated in specific majors. For instance, recent college graduates who majored in education (5.7 percent) had a lower unemployment rate than those who majored in architecture (12.8 percent) for their undergraduate degree.

The study also shows that earning a college degree pays off. Overall unemployment rates were 9–10 percent for non-college graduates, as compared to 4.6-4.7 percent for college graduates 25 years of age or older; and for recent college graduates with a bachelor’s degree, unemployment rates ranged from a low of 5.2 percent to a high of 12.8 percent depending on their major.

Based on the study, majors with more job opportunities include: health, agriculture, business, education, engineering, physical fitness & recreation. While students majoring in architecture, liberal arts, social science experience fewer opportunities in landing a job.

It is important to keep in mind that majors like architecture, liberal arts is experiencing high unemployment largely because of technological advancement in software/ applications which thereby, is eliminating the need to hire people. While fields, like healthcare, education is flourshing in terms of jobs because of recent government reforms pushing the need for more resources. Also, these are fields which are 'need based' and as such people will always be in demand.

In terms of earnings, students who confine their studies to the arts, humanities, and human services can expect to earn less than those who major in technical fields like engineering, math and computers, the sciences, and business.

Here is a list of majors with unemployment and earnings- (Data from the American Community Survey for the years 2010 and 2011 were pooled to provide a larger sample size for the estimates.)

Major Recent College Grad Experienced
Agriculture & Natural Resources 6.1 % 3.4% 2.3% $33,000 $51,000 $67,000  
Science-Life/ Physical 7.3% 4.8% 2.1% $30,000 $60,000 $90,000  
Architecture 12.8% 9.3% 6.9% $36,000 $65,000 $72,000
Humanities & Liberal Arts 9.0% 6.3% 3.9% $30,000 $51,000 $66,000  
Communication & Journalism 7.8% 6.0% 4.2% $33,000 $54,000 $64,000  
Computers & Mathematics 9.1% 4.8% 3.6% $45,000 $76,000 $91,000  
Education 5.7% 4.0% 2.0% $33,000 $44,000 $57,000  
Engineering 7.4% 4.4% 3.0% $54,000 $83,000 $101,000  
Law & Public Policy 9.2% 4.8% 4.1% $33,000 $56,000 $70,000  
Social Science 10.3% 4.6% 4.0% $36,000 $61,000 $84,000  
 Arts 9.8% 6.9% 5.6% $30,000 $48,000 $55,000  
Health 6.1% 2.6% 2.0% $43,000 $65,000 $81,000  
Business 7.5% 5.2% 4.3% $39,000 $63,000 $83,000  
Psychology & Social Work 8.8% 6.6% 3.4% $30,000 $46,000 $60,000  
Recreation 5.2% 4.5%  ______ $29,000 $50,000 ___________
(Source: Georgetown University Study)

Picking a major is no easy task. It can seem daunting to have to determine at 18 what you want to do for the rest of your life, but choosing a major early saves you valuable time in school and tuition money.  Of course, most colleges allow students a period of time before they are required to declare their major and most universities will allow you to change your major at any time, but still you want to graduate one day and must have a major to do so.

As a result, you should do some serious thinking and evaluating as to what you are most interested in- your goals/ ambition in life, your strengths/ weaknesses, and your commitment to school in general. It's extremely beneficial for you to utilize your school's resources when it comes to choosing a major. Try and work closely with the career center and advisors to determine your major, take personality tests and invest time in evaluating yourself.

As college education matters, so does the field of study!