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How Many Grads Have Jobs Related to Their Major?


A new study suggests the American workforce is remarkably over-educated and underemployed. The young adult workforce, this research claims, holds degrees, but works menial jobs that don’t call for the skills they learned in college. Think the stereotypical liberal arts major serving up coffee or philosophy grad dressing storefront mannequins. But is that really the case?

The report in question was released a number of months ago by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It claims that only 27 percent of bachelor degree holders work in a job related to the field they studied.

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But Jordan Weissmann, an editor for The Atlantic, warns that this raft of so-called research may not be as unscientific as it first seems. He starts with that 27 percent factoid, a term he says he means in Norman Mailer’s original sense, as in a spurious slice of info getting passed off as fact.

“There a couple reasons why,” the author explains. “First, the study doesn’t look at Americans with graduate degrees, so any pre-med students who actually became doctors don’t get counted, nor do econ grads who went on to get MBA’s or English teachers who got went from comp lit to a master’s in education. That might seem like a nitpick, until your realize that more than a third of BA’s 25 or older have an advanced degree.”

But there’s a bigger issue at fault with the report. Just because a philosopher doesn’t become a teacher, does it mean the major went to waste? Or if a mathematician becomes an entrepreneur, does that mean those critical reasoning skills fell to the wayside?

“To figure out which workers had jobs that were related to their major, the authors matched Census data against the National Center for Education Statistics’s Occupational Crosswalks,” Weissmann explains. “As Matt Yglesias pointed out, the government appears to think his philosophy degree was only good for becoming a college professor, despite the fact that the analysis skills it imparted seem to have served him just fine as a journalist.”

The author checked the government’s assessment of what occupations match each major. For math majors, the Fed counts only the following options: Professor, scientist, mathematician, statisticians and natural science managers.

“I don’t know about you, but the math majors I knew in college went off and made money on Wall Street (or as consultants, if they were into travel),” Weissmann counters. “I’m sure their quantitative skills came in handy often enough.”

Exactly. Personal proclivity dictates how to choose a major – after graduation, there’s usually a way to put it to work. Skills cross-pollinate to different careers more than ever. 

Take PayScale analyst Kayla Hill’s example. She majored in psychology and got a well-paying gig in career research. Not bad for a reportedly non-lucrative degree, eh?

Tell Us What You Think

Do you work in a field related to your major? Share your stories in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.

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(Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations/Flickr)

Jennifer Wadsworth
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