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Unemployment Rates Among College Graduates in the United States

This report will analyze unemployment rates among recent college graduates in the United States based on their chosen major field of study. The data shows significant variation in employment outcomes depending on one's area of specialization. Understanding trends in unemployment by college major can help high school students make more informed choices about their postsecondary education and future career prospects. It may also provide insights for policymakers seeking to align workforce training with the needs of the labor market.


Unemployment by College Major

The source data reveals substantial differences in unemployment rates across popular college majors. Art history majors face the highest risk of unemployment at 8%. Majors in liberal arts and fine arts follow closely behind at 7.9%. Aerospace engineering majors have a 7.8% unemployment rate while history majors are at 7.5%. Though still elevated, the rates are lower for English language (6.6%), mass media (6.3%), physics (6.2%), and commercial art/graphic design majors (6.0%). Sociology graduates fare better than average at 5.5% unemployment.

A few key takeaways emerge from these figures. First, majors closely tied to technical, science, and business-related careers tend to have lower unemployment rates. Fields like engineering, physics and commercial design provide skillsets directly applicable to private sector jobs. Second, majors perceived as lacking a clear career path out of college face greater challenges finding relevant work. Areas like history, fine arts, liberal arts and English language may leave graduates unsure of their best employment options. Third, while creative talents are always in demand, specializations focused too narrowly on art or literature lead to higher risks of joblessness. Broad-based degrees blending creativity with marketable technical or analytical abilities may improve prospects.

Regional Variation

The national unemployment rates only tell part of the story. When analyzing data at the state and metro-area level, geography emerges as another important factor shaping graduate outcomes. Unemployment rates tend to be lowest in regions with heavy concentrations of technology, engineering and business sector jobs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, states like Massachusetts, Colorado and California consistently rank among the best for turning college degrees into careers across all major fields.

On the other hand, areas dependent on declining industries like manufacturing or natural resources often correlate with weaker graduate employment scenarios. The oil downturn, for example, led to above-average unemployment in energy-focused states like Alaska, Wyoming and New Mexico from 2015-2017. Even within the same state, metropolitan centers offer vastly different prospects based on their industrial makeup and ties to high-growth companies. A physics grad searching for work in Youngstown, Ohio would understandably fare worse than their peers starting careers in tech hubs like Austin or Seattle. Regional conditions must be weighed no less importantly than one's major choice alone.

Trends Over Time

Looking at unemployment patterns over the past decade demonstrates how economic cycles and long-term structural shifts continually reshape the landscape for new grads. The recovery following the 2008 recession saw major-specific jobless rates rise across the board as companies slowed hiring. However, certain career pathways were hit harder than others. For instance, construction management and real estate majors confronted serious hurdles while their target industries recovered. But as technology and healthcare expanded as engines of economic growth, majors aligned with those fields enjoyed relative insulation.

The longer-term trend of automation eliminating middle-skill jobs has likewise affected college majors differently based on their alignment with emerging versus declining occupations. Computer science, for example, transitioned from a niche interest to mainstream study fueling breakthrough technologies and startups. By contrast, print journalism experienced major upheaval with digitization reducing required staffing. Determining which majors position graduates for high-paying, in-demand career opportunities given projected labor market changes should factor heavily into selection decisions. Demographic shifts and policy reforms could also impact total demand for talent across majors over the coming decade.

Career Services & Alumni Networks

While outside their control, graduates should also evaluate institutional support available post-graduation as part of major choice. More selective colleges tend not just to impart stronger academic training but also offer greater career counseling, recruiting connections, alumni networks and graduate program advising. These resources help open doors to opportunities students and their parents have invested heavily to access. Even outside top-ranked schools, however, departments and campuses vary substantially in job placement services tailored to individual majors. Leveraging all available college support networks can significantly boost employment success regardless of economic conditions.


In summary, picking a college major involves weighing several important factors beyond simple interest or aptitude alone. Students would be wise to research not just course content but historical and projected demand for majors in different locations and industries. Consulting multiple data sources on alumni outcomes, career paths, and adding complementary skills like internships or minors can improve decision making. Similarly, institutional effectiveness placing prior grads directly relates to post-college outcomes. While staying informed and optimistic, the data suggests certain strategic choices may meaningfully impact chances of securing employment and a rewarding career upon college completion. Both high school counselors and college administrators also have roles to play informing students and guiding them towards options promoting long-term success.

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