Careers

Report: Grads With These Majors Are Most Likely to Be Underemployed

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When we think of college graduates and the paths they take after graduation, we typically assume they’ll experience one of two end results: They’ll either have a job or they’ll be unemployed for a period. But there’s also a third option, and one that’s often forgotten when analyzing workforce trends -- and that’s underemployment.

These are the grads who are working in positions that don't fully utilize their skills and abilities, and which often don’t require a college degree. You may hear of underemployed college graduates in everyday life, like the cashier with a philosophy degree or the customer service agent with a bachelor’s in economics. But how many underemployed college graduates are there?


The reality is that about 43 percent of grads are underemployed in their first post-college positions, according to a report from Burning Glass Technologies and the Strada Institute for the Future of Work -- and this can add up to dollars and cents. “We estimate that underemployed recent graduates, on average, earn $10,000 less annually than graduates working in traditional college-level jobs,” the study said.

These Majors Have the Most Underemployment

The researchers drilled down to find out which college majors are most likely to experience underemployment, and the answers may not be what you think.

“When we calculate the overall probability of underemployment over the first five years of a career, those majoring in homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting and protective services and in parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies are the most likely to be consistently underemployed,” the report said. “STEM majors are the least likely to face this problem.”

Surprisingly, some of the majors that are often equated with challenging post-college job prospects were not associated with underemployment. Those who majored in such fields as communication, literature and visual arts were less likely to be underemployed than those who majored in business or education, the report indicated. Consider the following snippet of select majors, along with the probability of underemployment in their first jobs, according to the report:

- Engineering: 29 percent

- Computer and Information Sciences and support services: 30 percent

- Communication, journalism and related programs: 39 percent

- Math and statistics: 39 percent

- Foreign languages, literature and linguistics: 43 percent

- English and Literature/letters: 45 percent

- Visual and performing arts: 45 percent

- Business, management, marketing and related support services: 47 percent

- Education: 50 percent

- Parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies: 63 percent

- Homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting and related protective services: 65 percent

The above is a snippet of select majors -- the report includes additional majors.

What This May Mean

In many cases, the broader liberal arts majors could lead to more employability than many people think.

"I have this conversation with families a lot when we talk about the differences between a liberal arts education and a pre-professional track,” said Jodi Siegel, a college admissions consultant with College Bound in Potomac, Md., and former admissions officer at George Washington University.

For certain careers such as engineering or nursing, there are certain skills that you must learn during your undergraduate education, but liberal arts educations provide different skill sets, she said. “Students majoring in fields like women's studies, psychology, history, English, etc., are learning research, critical thinking and writing – because they’re learning how to connect things, apply things and see the big picture.”

Employers can train you to learn the specific skills of a particular job, but it’s more difficult for them to train you to critically analyze or evaluate cause and effect relationships, she said. Those are the skills that employers see as a benefit when they hire liberal arts majors.