College Grads With These 8 Majors Usually Don't Get Jobs That Use Their Degree

A college degree doesn't guarantee a high-paying job anymore.

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Updated July 11, 2024
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Long gone are the days when a college degree guaranteed a good job after graduation. These days, it's more likely that many college grads will take any job they can get, whether it requires that hard-won degree or not. 

According to a new study from the nonprofit Strada Education Foundation and worker advocacy organization Burning Glass Institute, a startling number of degree-holders take on jobs that are not related to their fields of study and that don't require their specific degree — or any degree.

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What you study matters

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Researchers analyzed career histories for more than 10 million people who entered the workforce in the last decade and found that 52% of graduates accepted non-college level roles and that a majority of those who were underemployed after graduation remained so 10 years later. 

This chronic underemployment doesn't just mean it's hard to pay rent today, those effects ripple out across the decades, resulting in decreased earning potential over the course of a lifetime. Degree-holders in college-level jobs earn, on average, about 90% more than young adult high-school-only grads, whereas underemployed college grads only earn about 25% more than those with only a high school diploma.

Experts believe that this type of stagnation has a lot to do with modern-day hiring processes, namely applicant tracking systems (ATS) that scan resumes. If the first few jobs on a resume are not related to the field the applicant is attempting to enter, the ATS might relegate that resume to the trash pile without a human ever seeing it, regardless of the applicant's degree.

Majors to avoid

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The major determining factor in whether a recent grad entered the workforce in a degree-level job in their field was their major. And surprisingly, STEM majors may not be the job-market silver bullet we're taught to believe they are. The research team found that 47% of those with degrees in biology or biomedical sciences remain underemployed five years after graduation. 

The research team found these fields to be the riskiest, with at least 50% of graduates not working in their chosen field or utilizing their degrees and instead working jobs that don't require degrees at all: 

  1. Public safety/security 
  2. Recreation and wellness
  3. Business (management, marketing, HR)
  4. Humanities and cultural studies
  5. Visual arts
  6. Journalism and communications
  7. Psychology
  8. Social sciences

Majors to consider

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On the other end of the spectrum, there are fields that, while they don't absolutely guarantee you'll work in your chosen field, provide higher odds due to higher demand in the labor force. Of these, healthcare workers rank the highest, with only 23% remaining underemployed five years after graduation. Others include: 

  • Engineering
  • Math-heavy business
  • Architecture
  • Education
  • Math and statistics
  • Computer science
  • Physical science
  • Public administration and social services

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Bottom line

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While college graduates still earn more than those with only a high school diploma, a bachelor's degree doesn't pack the same punch it did in your parents' and grandparents' day. With the level of underemployment and the potential for life-long earning loss a real risk, it might be time to reconsider entering the trades. Trade schools are a fraction of the cost, and students learn practical skills that give them the potential to build more wealth over a lifetime than being an underemployed college grad.

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