Much has been written about the best-paying college majors, but just as important as salaries are the odds of finding a job after college graduation, especially one that requires a college degree, hopefully matching one’s major.
Now the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has launched an interactive online feature, The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates, that can help incoming and current college students and graduates and their parents learn more about the prospects of different college majors, including unemployment and underemployment rates as well as median wages early on and in mid-career.
The data, which covers almost 75 different majors, also includes the share of graduates who go on to earn graduate degrees, which can affect job prospects as well as salaries.
“The unemployment rate and underemployment rate for college graduates has been trending down and wages are picking up in relative terms and in absolute terms versus those with no college degrees,” says Jaison Abel, research officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The unemployment rate for recent college graduates was 4.9% as of September, less than half the 10% jobless rate for all young workers and down from the 7.1% peak for college grads in March 2011, according to the New York Fed.
The underemployment rate of college graduates – the share of those working in jobs that typically don’t require a college degree – was 44.1% as of September, down two percentage points from its December 2013 peak.
But beyond the overall unemployment and underemployment rates “is quite a bit of variation among different majors,” says Abel.
Nursing graduates, for example, have an unemployment rate of just 2%, while anthropology majors have a jobless rate of 8.8%. Underemployment for nursing graduates — as well as for special education and engineering graduates — is also relatively low, under 20%, while underemployment rates for graduates of criminal justice, performing arts and leisure and hospitality top 60%.
Some of these high underemployment rates may be because some jobs, such as policing, don’t require a college degree, says Richard Deitz, assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. But he added “That’s not to say these degrees are useless. Those graduates are likely to do better and earn more than their counterparts without a degree.”
The Fed researchers hope that the new online report, which will be updated either quarterly or annually depending on the data, will be used as a one-stop destination by students and families to find key information about college majors.
If salaries are the main data points they’re looking for, there’s good news about college degrees generally. The median wage for recent college graduates is $43,000, compared with $25,000 for those with only a high school diploma, according to the Fed site. More specifically and not surprisingly, engineering majors earn the most, from $50,000 to $70,000 early in their careers, depending on the type of engineering, and $86,000 to $100,000 mid-career.
Though roughly one-third to 45% of engineer majors go on to earn graduate degrees, engineering is not the profession with the largest percentage of graduate degrees. That distinction is held by biochemistry and physics; more than 70% of those majors have graduate degrees.
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