College Degrees With Highest Unemployment

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Wondering which college degrees have the highest unemployment rates? Read on and wonder no more.

By Terence Loose

Are you thinking of going back to school but want to make sure that what you're studying could actually lead to job opportunities? You're not alone. In these uncertain economic times, it's important to feel confident that you're working toward a degree employers want.

To help, we took a three-pronged approach to find out which degrees appear least - and most - valued by employers:

  • We spoke to HR expert Susan M. Heathfield, a human resources consultant and manager of her own consulting company, to find out which degrees were trending now and for the near future.
  • Then we looked at a 2012 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report entitled "Hard Times," which studied unemployment and earnings for college graduates.
  • Finally, we used the U.S. Department of Labor's unemployment rate of 8.3 percent (February 2012) for par. A major with a higher unemployment rate lost points in our book, while majors with a lower unemployment rate gained credit.

So, which degrees have the highest unemployment rates? Keep reading to learn more...


Least-Valued Degree #1 - Architecture

Architecture Grad Unemployment Rate: 13.9 percent*

Here's a degree that popped with the housing bubble, at least that's what the 13.9 percent unemployment rate for architecture grads suggest, according to Georgetown's study. Unfortunately, more than a few of the future Frank Lloyd Wrights may not be seeing their masterpieces go from inspiring blueprint to construction footprint anytime soon.

Heathfield agrees with the Georgetown report. "I'd be very wary of going into architecture right now," she says. "I think it's going to take four or five years for this housing market to get back to where it ought to be, if it ever gets there."

Of course, we know that inspiration doesn't die as easily as the job market. So if you do choose this area of study, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, you could prepare by earning a bachelor's or master's degree in architecture. In addition, all states require individuals to pass the Architect Registration Exam.


Least-Valued Degree #2 - Fine Arts

Fine Arts Grad Unemployment Rate: 12.6 percent*

There could be many great reasons to pursue a bachelor's degree in fine arts. Future employment just might not be one of them. At least, that's according to the results from the Georgetown study. The U.S. Department of Labor, however, has a slightly rosier picture for careers in the arts, projecting growth "about as fast as the average" for all art-related occupations from 2008 to 2018.

But Heathfield sides with Georgetown's report. While there will always be positions available for people at the top of their field, Heathfield says a degree in the arts will generally be a tough sell in today's job market.

Still, if you're thinking of pursuing a bachelor's in fine arts, chances are that it's a decision stemming from passion, not practicality. So depending on the program, here's what your passion could be studying: painting, drawing, social studies, and multimedia, according to the Department of Labor.


Least-Valued Degree #3 - Philosophy

Philosophy Grad Unemployment Rate: 10.8 percent*

Apparently, Socrates would have a tough time finding a job in today's market. Yes, the ability to think critically, reason well, and formulate a convincing argument might all be great life skills, but they are not doing much for employers, according to the Georgetown study.

The study found that majors more general in nature, like philosophy, have a higher unemployment rate than those that are more closely aligned with particular industries and occupations, such as education. A key problem, says Heathfield, is that many humanities degrees need to be taken to the next level - a master's or doctorate degree - for a better chance of employment.

But if you do plan to use philosophy as a stepping stone to a higher degree, like in law, here's a rundown of the curriculum. According to the College Board, a bachelor's in philosophy student could ponder such things as the nature of existence and knowledge itself. They also could learn how to use logic and argue their ideas.


On the other end of the spectrum, these are the degrees with the lowest unemployment rates.

Most-Valued Degree #1 - Nursing

Nursing Grad Unemployment Rate: 4 percent*

With the U.S. Department of Labor predicting 3.2 million new health care jobs from 2008 to 2018, pursuing a degree in nursing could be seen as caring for your future as much as for future patients. In fact, of all the recent grads listed by the Georgetown study, nursing had the lowest unemployment rate at just 4 percent.

But why will nurses be in demand? "The population is getting older and is having more health issues. So any degree in the health care arena will be in demand, but especially the hands-on jobs like the nurses," says Heathfield. She emphasizes that these hands-on jobs can't be outsourced.

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program Now.

According to the Department of Labor, an associate's degree in nursing is a common path to pursuing a nursing career. Lessons in how to diagnose and treat the sick and disabled - as well as how to promote better health - can help you prepare for the nursing national licensing examination.


Most-Valued Degree #2 - Computer Science

Computer Science Grad Unemployment Rate: 7.8 percent*

Do you consider your closest relationship the one between you and your computer? If so, you may want to get out more. And when you do, you may want to consider pursuing a computer science degree.

"Computer science is one of the best degrees to have on a resume, because the entire world is moving into the mobile, cloud computing environment. That will be a huge career opportunity in the future," says Heathfield. "If you have the diligence to get your engineering degree in computer science, you have the skills and the tools to go anywhere."

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program Now.

Computer science students generally study the way humans and computers interact from a scientific perspective, according to the College Board, an organization that administers academic aptitude tests like the SAT.


Most-Valued Degree #3 - Education

Elementary Education Grad Unemployment Rate: 4.8 percent*

Do you love the idea of making a positive difference in the development of the next generation? A bachelor's degree in education - which generally covers topics like psychology, teaching methods, and instructional technology - could help you prepare for a career as a teacher.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, elementary school teaching positions are projected to have a large number of job openings: 244,200 jobs from 2008 to 2018. Perhaps that's why the Georgetown report finds education grads to have an unemployment rate of just 4.8 percent.

Click to Find the Right Education Program Now.

And if you keep up with the techie times, you have a good shot at grabbing one of those positions. "I think technology is going to transform education," says Heathfield. "So I see opportunities for educators that are technologically inclined." She sees much more online-based teaching in the near future.

A bachelor's in education can help prepare you for the licensing exam, which is necessary to pursue a K-12 public school teaching position, according to the Department of Labor.


*The unemployment rates are based on recent college graduates, ages 22 to 26, from the Georgetown University study.

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