Which College Major Has the Worst Unemployment?

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on January 5, 2012

Ask most people which college majors fare the worst in the job market and I suspect many would say something like philosophy or art history—fields with few job prospects outside the ivory tower, and fairly low-paying ones at that.

According to a new study, you would be wrong. “Hard Times, College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal,” by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce says the college degree with the worst unemployment is neither of those. It’s architecture.

Recent college graduates 22 to 26 years old with architecture majors had an unemployment rate of 13.9 percent in 2009-10, followed by the arts (11.1 percent), and humanities and the liberal arts (9.4 percent). The reason, according to the report, was the collapse of the construction and home building industry in the recession. It’s worth noting that the unemployment rate for would-be architects improves with age: for those in the 30-to-54 age group it’s 9.2 percent, and for those with graduate degrees it’s 7.7 percent.

If it's any consolation, architecture majors in the 22-to-26 age group had a halfway decent salary: $36,000. The same can't be said for those who studied the humanities ($31,000) or the arts ($30,000). The lowest unemployment was had by education and health majors, 5.4 percent, with the highest salaries going to engineering students, $55,000.

And how did business students do? That kind of depends on what, exactly, they studied. As a group the recent business graduates had an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent and annual salaries averaging $39,000. But among business majors, hospitality management students had both the highest unemployment (9.1 percent) and the lowest salaries ($32,000). On the opposite end of the scale were finance students, with 6.6 percent unemployment and annual salaries averaging $44,000. Although with Wall Street hemorrhaging jobs, there's no guarantee that will last forever.

Reader Comments


January 5, 2012 1:59 PM

This article should be mandatorily posted on every financial aid office in this country. We have way too many colleges telling students to borrow $100k or so on majors whose jobs are inconsistent or non-existent, and who salary will eventually force them to live poor.


January 7, 2012 3:16 AM

Totally agree with JoeyB. Colleges are ruthless when it comes to disgorging students into a market the students do not know how to make sense out of.......

And too few colleges make sure that their students have skills. One exception? Carnegie Mellon. You can count on their students being computer capable.

PS I am not affiliated with CM in any way, including alumni. Just know a good approach when I see one!


January 11, 2012 3:23 PM

Low starting wages and massive student debt is going to make it very difficult for this generation of college graduates to get ahead.


January 20, 2012 1:25 PM

Dont worry about low starting wages and massive debt. Unpaid internships solve this problem. Just exploit...oops..I mean help young people work for free for a while and they will all be ok.

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