labor economics

College Major: A Career Defining Decision?

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Over 20 million freshmen matriculate into college each year and the most common question we ask them is: Do you know what you’re going to major in?  Colleges traditionally require students to declare their major during the second year and some colleges are requiring high school applicants to select a major, thus 18-20 year-olds make a decision that defines their college degree.  But does this decision define a career?

To what extent do college graduates work in fields unrelated to their college degree?  Luckily the National Survey of College Graduates asks respondents this question directly.  Of college graduates, 54% report that their highest degree field of study is closely related to their job.  Meanwhile, 25% report that their degree field is somewhat related to their job and 20% report that their field of study is not related to their current job.  Demographically, more women than men report that their field of study is closely related to their job (56.3% and 52.5%, respectively).

This data is from the 2013 version of the survey, and the answer to the question “To what extent was your work on your principal job… related to your highest degree?” has remained relatively constant (see figure 1).

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While this data only consists of responses from those who are employed (otherwise there is nothing to match), there may be individuals unemployed because of their college major choice.

Ultimately, many choose careers that do not match our formal education and learn on-the-job.  Nothing says that salary or happiness is based solely on this match, so the 20% of individuals who report that their field of study is not related to their current job may be doing just fine!

(note: this is the first of three posts relating college majors and careers.)
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