If you want a good shot at a job after graduation, don't follow these degree paths.
Dead ends suck. They usually result in a lot of frustration, extra time, and back-tracking to get on the proper path. Education can be like that. Choose the wrong degree and finding a job after employment can seem more difficult than navigating the streets of a foreign city without a map.
This is especially true if you're an "older" student (25 and up) who's going back to school to improve or change your career. Sure, your heart may be saying, "Finish that 19th century literature degree," but your head - and a lot of research - is saying, "Find a practical degree that will pay the mortgage."
With that in mind, we checked out a 2012 study on the unemployment rates for recent (ages 22 to 26) college graduates in various majors by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The report is appropriately named "Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal."
The report offers many encouraging words for prospective students: "A bachelor's degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings."
Sounds great, but a little further comes the real kernel of wisdom: "The risk of unemployment among recent college graduates depends on their major." In other words, not all educational streets lead to Employment City. And yes, that's their bolding, not ours.
So if you're thinking of going back to school but are unsure about what to study, read on for some degrees that are a dark alley to nowhere and a few more that look like a well-lighted expressway to the career world.
Dead-End Degree #1: Architecture
Recent College Graduate Unemployment Rate: 13.9 percent
Here's a degree that probably was the equivalent of a superhighway - right up until the entire housing and commercial real estate markets crashed.
In fact, the Hard Times report blames the high unemployment rate of architecture degree holders squarely on the recession: "Unemployment rates for recent college graduates who majored in architecture start high at 13.9 percent and, due to its strong alignment with the collapse in construction and housing, unemployment remains high even for experienced college graduates at 9.2 percent."
Let's hope that turns around soon. Until then, architecture grads may not be seeing a lot of their dreams become reality.
Of course, if you're set on pursuing that dream, a few typical courses offered in an architecture program are architectural design, building methods and materials, architectural history, and structural design, according to the College Board, a nonprofit research organization that promotes higher education.
Recent College Graduate Unemployment Rate: 7.5 percent
If you're the type who loves to figure out how things work or devise ways to make them work better, engineering could be a good direction.
The Hard Times report found that not only did engineering grads have a good shot at employment, but "[e]ngineering majors lead both in earnings for recent and experienced college graduates followed by computer and mathematics majors, and business majors."
Curious how experienced engineering grads fare with jobs? The report found an unemployment rate of just 4.9 percent. Not bad.
Before you rush into engineering classes, know that there are many different areas of engineering. Civil engineering programs, as one example, offer courses like engineering economics, strength of materials, dynamics, and fluid mechanics, says the College Board.
Dead-End Degree #2: Fine Arts
Recent College Graduate Unemployment Rate: 12.6 percent
No one expects you to be dining out regularly on filet mignon right after graduation, but this major's high unemployment rate suggests that you may not be dining out at all.
In fact, the Hard Times study found that unemployment rates are generally higher in non-technical majors, such as the arts, humanities and liberal arts, and social sciences. It should be noted that fine arts majors with experience or a graduate degree in the subject did better, both with an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent.
Recent College Graduate Unemployment Rate: 4.8 percent
If you want to help mentor the next generation, and enjoy being around kids, a bachelor's in elementary education could be the first step toward a smart career choice.
According to the Hard Times report, education majors had a low unemployment rate because the degree was tied to a stable or growing industry sector.
The U.S. Department of Labor also has some ideas as to why the field might be growing: "A significant number of older teachers is expected to reach retirement age from 2010 to 2020. Their retirement will create job openings for new teachers." Just keep in mind that, per the Department of Labor, this growth will vary by region, as some areas of the country have a surplus of teachers.
If this route sounds good to you, here's what the College Board says your class list might look like in a general education program: educational psychology, instructional technology, teaching methods, and philosophy of education.
Recent College Graduate Unemployment Rate: 11.7 percent
This major was the anomaly among the computers and mathematics field, being the only one in double digits. Why? The report didn't say.
But the report did offer these hopeful words: "Computer majors are likely to bounce back strongly as the recovery proceeds. For example, the unemployment rate for recent college graduates who major in information systems is a hefty 11.7 percent, but only 5.4 percent for experienced workers who major in information systems."
Here's an assortment of classes the College Board says you might take for a management information systems major: database design, ecommerce, managing information systems, systems analysis and design.
Recent College Graduate Unemployment Rate: 7.8 percent
In this tech-crazed world there's a lot for employers to like right in the title of this bachelor's degree.
Maybe that's why the Hard Times report found a pretty low unemployment rate for these grads. How low? How does 7.8 percent sound for odds?
If those numbers compute for you, here's a printout of some typical classes the College Board lists for this major: artificial intelligence, digital system design, software engineering, or computer system organization.
Dead-End Degree #4: Anthropology and Archaeology
Recent College Graduate Unemployment Rate: 10.5 percent
Important? Yes. Interesting? Definitely. Practical? Um, two out of three ain't bad?
The relatively high unemployment rate for this major definitely caught our eye. At a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, the job prospects for recent anthropology and archeology grads just don't look that good. The one silver lining is that graduate degree holders in this field experience a much less daunting unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, according to the report.
Still, if you must go down this dirt road, here's the lineup of possible classes for anthropology majors, according to the College Board: forensic anthropology, human origins and evolution, language and culture, and primate behavior.
Recent College Graduate Unemployment Rate: 4.0 percent
We have a winner, folks. At least, according to the Hard Times study, which found the group with the lowest unemployment rate among recent college graduates to be those holding a bachelor's in nursing.
And assuming that most nursing students who are employed are indeed nurses, this makes sense. Consider the fact that registered nurses also top the U.S. Department of Labor's list of "Occupations with the largest numeric growth," with 711,900 jobs projected to be added between 2010 and 2020. All that and you get to help people, too.
Study this degree and the College Board says typical coursework could include anatomy and physiology, adult nursing, health assessment, nutrition, or pharmacology.
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