Are You Employable?

Recent statistics show which majors are most, least employable, how much students make in those careers


When psychology sophomore Derek Ortiz tells someone his major, he usually receives a questioning reaction.

Ortiz is one of 1,486 MSU students as of fall 2011 who are earning an undergraduate psychology degree – one of the most unemployable college degrees according to a recent survey.

The survey, conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published in The Wall Street Journal, used 2010 census data to compare the unemployment, earnings and popularity percentages of 173 college majors and fields.

Liam Zanyk McLean / The State News
Liam Zanyk McLean / The State News
Liam Zanyk McLean / The State News
Liam Zanyk McLean / The State News

Video: Are you employable?

Many science, math and engineering majors had high employment percentages, while majors in the liberal arts had low percentages, according to the survey.

Unfortunately for psychology junior Nick Griffin, who is hoping to pursue clinical psychology at the graduate level, that degree came in dead last in terms of employment.

But Griffin said with the right skill sets and networking, finding a job in clinical psychology should be a reasonable task.
“I’m not that worried about it because I have connections to people in clinical psychology,” Griffin said. “They have way more of a workload than they can possibly handle.”

Phil Gardner, director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute, or CERI, said all majors are employable, students just have to fare well in the job search.

“Obviously that favors the majors which have a direct track to the job market,” Gardner said. “For majors like psychology, the transition is harder.”

Top vs. Bottom
Engineering junior Austin Buckley said his major originally was chemistry, but switched when he heard about the job opportunities right out of college for an engineering major.

Some majors with the highest employment ranking include actuarial science, pharmacology, geological and geophysical engineering and teacher education, according to statistics from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Some majors ranked least employable include clinical and educational psychology, miscellaneous fine arts and U.S. history.
These statistics show primarily math and science-based majors often are more employable than liberal arts and humanities majors.

Associate history professor Emily Tabuteau said students with majors such as English, philosophy, archeology and political science might find it difficult to find a job after college.

“If you’re an engineer, it’s easy to walk out the door and get a job as an engineer, if you’re a nurse it’s very easy to walk out the door and get a job in nursing, and so on,” Tabuteau said.

“It isn’t like that for people in the liberal arts and humanities.”
Liberal arts and humanity majors present a set of skills to employers, which can be a hard sell, Tabuteau said.

Four out of the top 10 least employable majors are in the field of psychology.

Despite psychology’s low job availability, it is the most popular major at MSU, with 1,486 students, according to MSU’s Office of the Registrar.

Some students major in psychology to cop out of school and enjoy the college lifestyle without thinking about their future, Ortiz said.

“Because of the stereotypes, there are lots of students looking for those jobs and not many positions,” Ortiz said. “Lots of applications for clinical programs in graduate schools and not enough positions.”

But not all jobs are scarce. Certain career fields have a zero percent unemployment rate.

Actuarial science currently is ranked as the highest employable job, according to the Georgetown survey.

Actuarial scientists analyze data to determine the opportunity of risk.

Pharmacology and toxicology graduate student Aaron Fullerton is certain he will find a job after he leaves MSU.

“It’s not about if I get a job, it’s about what job I find,” Fullerton said.

Some jobs an actuarial science major could find are in the academics industry or in government, such as conducting research for a university or a pharmaceutical company, Fullerton said.

The Georgetown survey also shows the most employable majors, such as actuarial science, also are drastically less popular compared to majors with high unemployment rates.

Actuarial science is in high demand but is ranked 150th out of 173 majors in terms of popularity and is one of the least popular at MSU, with only 21 students enrolled as of fall 2011.

Actuarial analyst and MSU alumnus Arie Kurniawan said actuarial science is a mostly unknown major.

“It’s not something you grow up knowing (about) ­— everyone heard about firefighters, rocket scientists, (and) accountants,” Kurniawan said. “If I ever met a 5-year-old who said, ‘I want to be an actuary when I grow up,’ I would probably fall over.”

Part of the reason why actuarial science might be unknown to students is because actuarial science was first offered as a major at MSU last fall, actuarial science program coordinator Albert Cohen said in an email.

“Our program is relatively very new when compared to other Big Ten schools,” Cohen said.

“Our program is built from the ground up to respond to the needs of students and industry.”

What’s in the Name?
When a college graduate says they are an engineering or accounting major, there is little doubt as to what field the student will fall into.

“They have an easier initial first step,” Gardner said. “Their degrees are directly aligned with jobs that have the same name — engineering, teaching, accounting, etc. That makes it easy to tailor what you do right to these jobs.”

But Tabuteau said in general, liberal arts and humanities degrees give students a skill set which prepares them to be malleable employees when they reach the workforce.

“It makes them very flexible and very adaptable to new situations and new kinds of demands,” Tabuteau said.

And in the long term, studies show these skills transcend any one career field, Tabuteau said.

Undergraduate psychology adviser Sarah Handspike said internships, participation in clubs and volunteering during college can help students get a job, no matter what their major is.
“If you aren’t involved, it is hard to get a job in any major,” Handspike said. “If you don’t do those kinds of things, you won’t get a job in any major.”

For love or money?
For some students, picking a major boils down to one choice: whether they want to earn money after graduation or be happy with their job.

According to the Georgetown survey, pharmacology was ranked the second most employable major.

Fullerton said although he was aware of pharmacology’s expansive job market, it was not his sole reason for choosing the field.
“You think about 30 years down the line and if you will still be working for (the same) company,” Fullerton said. “And I thought I would.”

Gardner said those highly regimented majors and careers can lose their appeal in the long run.

“(That’s) what the problem is, it’s that an engineer, after 7 to 9 years, they have to make a decision — their careers plateau out,” Gardner said. “Teachers burn out in five years, accountants end up having to make decisions in partnerships.”

Workers in those jobs have to make their hardest career decisions later on, while psychology and other similar majors are forced to make those decisions right out of college, said Tammison Smith, career advising and training coordinator of the MSU Career Services Network.

Smith advises students against choosing a major based on whether or not it is a “hot major” at the time.

“CNN can say, here is a hot major, but what happens in four years when that tanks?” Smith said.

Smith said it is all about the big picture and the skills a student has to contribute to a company and to overall job market.

“I am (going to) tell a student to pick something they have an interest in and a desire to function in, something they are passionate about,” Smith said.

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