Your Major Matters in the Job Market

Updated: October 6, 2020

student outcomes by major

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The graph

Every year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) publishes its first destination survey for graduating college classes. In the 2017 edition, NACE provided data on how new college graduates progress in their careers within six months of graduation. In the graph above, we compiled the employment outcomes of students who earned a bachelor’s degree by academic discipline. The colorful stacked bars show the percentage of graduates who found standard full-time employment, were hired for another type of employment (e.g., contract work, part-time roles), are still looking for employment, or had some other outcome not related to employment. Black lines on each bar indicate average starting salaries for each field of study.

The message

As certain industries thrive and others shrink, the demand for expertise and specific skill sets will change. As such, choosing a major, and thus aligning yourself with a certain branch of knowledge, is not something to be taken lightly. It can have a significant impact on your post-college options. Of course, there’s no right or wrong major, and college is indeed a time to explore. But in doing so, be aware of how you are positioning yourself for post-college life.

The data here show significant variability in employment among different disciplines. If we look at percentage employed (that is, the sum of the green and yellow bars) from left to right, we can see that technological fields lead the way, with approximately 77% of graduates finding some type of employment within six months of graduation. On the other end of the spectrum are the physical and biological sciences, where almost half of graduates opt to continue their education rather than join the labor force.

Although there is less variability in the percentage of graduates still seeking employment, it’s worth noting that graduating from college doesn’t guarantee you a job! Some disciplines, like transportation, English, and natural resources, have around one-fifth of graduates still searching for employment.

There are, of course, many factors you should consider when choosing what to study, and employability and salary are just a couple of them. So don’t use this to choose your major. Instead, use it as a gentle reminder that life after college is waiting for you, so you may as well start preparing yourself for it!