Earnings and Unemployment by College Major

The Wall Street Journal recently published a table of income and unemployment data  that presented pay and employment rates for various college majors. The original study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce contained enough additional details that I thought it might be worth trying to incorporate the information into a Tableau visualization.

After a little data massaging, I created charts for both the high-level fields of study and the more detailed individual majors. Each level contains unemployment rates, income levels, and popularity of major measured by number of enrollees.

One of the first things you notice is that, despite frequent claims to the contrary, college graduates with a degree in Education have the lowest median earnings overall. The Education field also has the narrowest range of income and includes four of the ten majors with the lowest median earnings. On the plus side, fifteen of the sixteen Education majors have (or had at the time of the study) unemployment rates below 5.5% — the weighted average rate of unemployment for all majors in the study.

Graduates with an Engineering degree have the highest median earnings overall and a relatively low unemployment rate compared to other disciplines. In addition, seven of the ten majors with the highest median earnings were found in Engineering.

Other majors with good earnings potential included the usual suspects (Computers & Mathematics, Health, and Business) while the best employment prospects were found in Education, Health, Physical Sciences, and Agriculture & Natural Resources.

As for individual majors, the winners in my completely fictitious categories are as follows:

  • Most Popular –  Business Management & Administration takes this category with nearly 2.8 million grads holding this degree. The next two majors in line (also in the Business field) weren’t even close — trailing by over a million people.
  • Best Prospects –  Actuarial Science beat out four other fully-employed competitors by coming in with a median income of over $80K.
  • Worst Prospects –  Clinical Psychology tops this category with an estimated unemployment rate of nearly 20%. Yikes! I also noticed that a number of other majors in the Psychology field had unemployment rates above 10%, which means that intra-discipline career changes for people with this major would be difficult.
  • Most Deceptive – The “winner” here is Architecture, an outlier with the lowest median earnings and the highest unemployment rate of all of the Engineering majors. For this category, I wanted a relatively popular major with an uncommonly high unemployment rate … the kind of major that churns out grads and then strands them in the unemployment line. An educational Judas, if you will. (Full disclosure: I have an Architecture degree, but I can’t say I wasn’t warned.)
  • Hidden Gem – I’m going to call this one a tie between Petroleum Engineering and Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences & Administration. Petroleum Engineering has a slight edge on median earnings ($127K vs. $105K) but the Pharma major has a lower overall unemployment rate (3.2% vs. 4.4%). You probably can’t go wrong with either one but keep on eye on the horizon … Petroleum Engineering is notoriously dependent on the boom/bust cycles of the oil and gas industry while workers in the pharmaceutical industry are facing major changes as companies try to adjust to globalization and increasing costs of product development. 

One thought on “Earnings and Unemployment by College Major

  1. mkinde Post author

    It’s official. According to a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, recent college grads with a degree in architecture have the highest rate of unemployment (13.9%) of any other major. To put that into perspective, the current unemployment rate for people without a high school degree is 13.2%. Thanks for nothing! Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/new-study-shows-architecture-arts-degrees-yield-highest-unemployment/2012/01/03/gIQAwpaXZP_story.html

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