Best College Majors in Today’s Economy

It’s a devastating reality for countless young Americans as they eagerly enter the job market, college degree in hand, and find themselves unable to land the job of their dreams.

It’s also shocking for these recent graduates when they discover it’s a challenge to find any entry-level job that will pay for everyday living expenses and monthly student loan bills.

With the average American college degree costing somewhere between $54,000 and $145,000 over the course of four years, thousands of recent graduates are now realizing that in spite of the large amount of money and time invested in their futures, they may not in fact possess the background or skills many employers are searching for. They are discovering not every degree, no matter how much money was spent earning it, can be marketed easily in this tough economy.

According to a 2011 report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, different majors have a different economic value in today’s market. While a person with a Bachelor’s degree typically earns 84 percent more than one with a high school diploma, a college degree doesn’t guarantee a high-paying job.

Majors in Demand

One of the most popular majors chosen by American college students is business, according to National Center on Education Statistics. Twenty-two percent of students choose this degree for its marketability. With anticipated growth in the business services, management consulting and human resources over the next five years, a degree in business seems like a safe bet given the changing economic industry.

Engineering is another excellent choice in today’s market. While only 5 percent of college students choose to major in engineering, experts say the current economy could utilize two to three times more graduates in this field. Engineering is currently the most sought-after major by employers.

A degree in biological sciences also offers excellent job opportunities, especially with the recent advances in the biomedical industry. Only 5 percent of college students select this course of study, but the industry-research firm IBISWorld expects the industry to grow by at least 14 percent over the next few years as the need for scientific research and development continues to increase.

Employers are also eager to hire young people with physical science degrees, which account for only 1.4 percent of graduates.

While job growth within the computer and information sciences is constantly expanding, only 2.4 percent of college students currently choose this degree. From Internet publishing to social media, this market is bound to continue to expand making this degree a valuable asset.

Difficult Fields for Work

A challenging economy can make it more difficult for graduates with liberal arts degrees from finding their ideal job upon graduation. While 16 percent of employers are looking to hire graduates with social sciences/history degrees, the path to a higher-paying career with this degree often requires additional training or skills. Eleven percent of college graduates majored in these fields.

An estimated 6 percent of college students are graduating with degrees in psychology. However, job growth within this field is anticipated to be just 3.6 percent at the bachelor level.

Also on the list of slow job growth is visual and performing arts. Experts say that while 6 percent of graduates major in the arts, hiring within the field is less than 0.5 percent.

College degrees in the healthcare industry and education have long been considered ideal fields, as people assumed there would always be a need for teachers and doctors. Unfortunately, for the 8 percent of graduates holding a degree in a health profession and the 6 percent with a degree in education, growth within these job professions has been slow. High healthcare costs combined with the financial impact of a recession has made it more challenging for hospitals to continue increasing staff. While education is the fourth most popular major, budget cuts will decrease the number of teachers and administrators hired over the next few years, making education jobs harder to obtain.

With the costs associated with earning a college degree increase every year, people often question whether a college degree is still valuable in a nation plagued by high unemployment. According to a Georgetown University study, while unemployment for recent undergraduate degrees is currently a little less than 9 percent, recent high school graduates are looking at a nearly 23 percent unemployment rate. Recent high school dropouts can expect an unemployment rate of more than 31 percent.

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it seven years ago, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering college and professional sports, which are the fantasy worlds of finance. His work has been published by the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, among others. His interest in sports has waned some, but his interest in never reaching for his wallet is as passionate as ever. Bill can be reached at bfay@debt.org.

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    Sources:

    1. Newman, R. (2012, May 14). Where the Jobs Are, and the College Grads Aren't. Retrieved from:
    2. http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/rick-newman/2012/05/14/where-the-jobs-are-and-the-college-grads-arent
    3. Sheehy, K. (2012, September 12). College Majors with the Best Return on Investment. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/09/12/college-majors-with-the-best-return-on-investment
    4. Carnevale, A., Strohl, J. & Melton, M. (2011, May 4). What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors. Retrieved from http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/whatsitworth-complete.pdf
    5. Carnevale, A., Cheah B. & Strohl, J. (2012, January 4). Hard Times; Not All College Degrees are Created Equal. Retrieved from http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/Unemployment.Final.update1.pdf
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