College Majors: Job Availability vs. Average Salary

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gradcapThe American Enterprise Institute used newly-released New York Fed data in their article Major matters in the job market for college graduates. (They probably could have tried harder in their title choice.)

More specifically, they found that high employability doesn’t always match up with higher earnings. In the following chart, the plotted the percentage of recent college graduates with jobs requiring a college degree against the median wage of those recent graduates.


Here are some sample majors for each of the four quadrants:

  • High rate of “full” employment, higher earnings. Chemical Engineering, Nursing, Economics, Accounting, and most majors in the STEM fields.
  • High rate of “full” employment, lower earnings. Education-related majors.
  • Low rate of “full” employment, higher earnings. Political Science, Marketing, and International Affairs.
  • Low rate of “full” employment, low earnings. Theology, Criminal Justice, Performing Arts, English Literature, History, and Philosophy.

Solely following your passions sounds nice, but consider these survey results stating that English majors have the highest rate of regret. I plan on showing my kids this handy Venn diagram along with asking them the Three Questions That Will Guide You Towards The Right Job:


Bottom line. The AEI article concludes with “Your college major matters. But it matters in more ways than one.” The data suggests the following warnings:

  • Just because there are lots of jobs in your chosen field, that doesn’t mean your job will pay well.
  • Just because your major has high average income, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find a job in that field.

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  1. Luckily I picked an engineering degree because I enjoyed math and science but also knew it paid well. I don’t believe people will change their minds based on the Venn diagrams. It’s worth explaining the various job prospects to kids before they start applying to college.

    • I also picked an engineering degree because I was good at math and science and knew it paid well. I had no idea what engineering actually was. I am heavily pushing my children toward the STEM fields.

      • The age-old mommy wants her son to be an engineer/doctor/lawyer thing always had merit to it.

        The arts reward people disproportionately – the really talented and lucky become multi-millionaires but the majority are hand-to-mouth.

        The sciences on the other hand reward people proportionately – majority of STEM people have a decent wage but very few will become as wealthy as pop stars / entertainers etc

        Its worth asking yourself what gamble you want to take (along with inherent interest in a field)

  2. Good info.

    I noticed that ‘criminal justice’ is very low in the low employment section. However they’re measuring employment as % of people in jobs that require college. I wonder if this is causing an artificially low % there if many police are in jobs that don’t *require* college. Or maybe it is really that hard / competitive for graduates to get jobs in police work.

  3. How interesting to see this on your blog after reading an article in USA TODAY entitled “Your ‘useless’ liberal arts degree can give you an edge in tech. Here’s why.”

    The article begins:

    You’ve heard the rhetoric before: Liberal arts majors are broke and can’t find jobs. Their skills are less useful than those with STEM degrees. Even former President Barack Obama took a famous jab at art history majors before apologizing.

    But consider this: the potential value of a liberal arts education in the growing tech sector and related industries.

    That’s the argument put forward in George Anders’ new book You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education. After penning a Forbes cover story on the demand for liberal arts majors at technology companies, Anders received a torrent of responses from readers. He realized he had found a “big, uncovered story.”


    Anders says companies are looking for five key qualities in potential employees:
    – an eagerness to tackle uncharted areas,
    – the ability to solve murky problems,
    – well-honed analytic methods,
    – keen awareness of group dynamics,
    – and an ability to inspire and persuade others.

    These traits are often elements of a liberal arts education, regardless of what field you’re pursuing, Anders says.

    There is also a link to this article, “The Importance of Liberal Arts In The AI Economy,” by Vala Afshar.

    This quote is from that article:

    “Studies show that there is a skills gap on the order of a million jobs, and we need more people with STEM skills. But what I’m also arguing is that to focus so narrowly on vocational application we lose sight of the needs for passion, complex thinking, and creativity. These are the truly durable skills, not whether you can code in Ruby this year or Go next year. Tech is moving literally at the speed of light, so how do you prepare? Our education system should focus on helping kids find passion and learn to love learning, because the system as a whole will never keep pace with the needs of industry.” — Scott Hartley

    More food for thought….

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