College Majors with the Highest Unemployment

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in the U.S. as of April 2018 is at a ten-year low of 3.9%. This is a significant decrease from the peak 10% unemployment in October 2009, at the height of the recession. While lower unemployment rates suggest signs of economic recovery, the unemployment rate varies significantly by factors such as age, location, and education. This discrepancy is particularly pronounced when comparing workers with a high school degree (4.6% unemployment) and those with a college degree (2.1% unemployment).

Although the unemployment rate for college graduates is significantly lower than the overall rate, Credit Sesame wanted to see how unemployment statistics vary by college major. Its researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (IPUMS), as published by the New York Fed, to determine unemployment, underemployment, and median wages for different college majors and rank them by unemployment rate.

A deeper dive into the data suggests that not all majors are valued equivalently in the workplace. The analysis indicates that most of the majors with high unemployment are in the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts. None of the majors are in business, healthcare, or traditional engineering fields, which are pre-professional and have a clear career track that is in high demand. Here are the ten college majors with the highest unemployment rates.

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10. Engineering Technologies

  • Unemployment rate: 5.5%
  • Underemployment rate: 39.1%
  • Number of recent graduates: 6,954
  • Early-career median wage: $50,000

Not to be confused with a traditional Engineering major, which offers a more advanced curriculum and prepares students to become professional engineers, the Engineering Technologies degree emphasizes hands-on application and implementation and usually leads to a lesser-paying career as a technologist. Graduates in mechanical, industrial, aerospace, and chemical engineering all have unemployment rates below 4%, while graduates in Engineering Technologies have an unemployment rate of 5.5%. With 6,954 recent graduates, Engineering Technologies is the least popular major on this list.

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9. Mathematics

  • Unemployment rate: 5.6%
  • Underemployment rate: 32.0%
  • Number of recent graduates: 83,338
  • Early-career median wage: $48,000

Mathematics is the second most popular on this list, but has an unemployment rate of 5.6%. In addition to becoming math teachers or statisticians, Mathematics majors often enter business fields, becoming actuaries, data analysts, financial traders, and more. The early-career median wage for a mathematics major is $48,000.

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8. General Social Sciences

  • Unemployment rate: 5.6%
  • Underemployment rate: 49.0%
  • Number of recent graduates: 16,234
  • Early-career median wage: $35,000

Broadly defined, the social sciences involve the study of society and the relationships among individuals within a society. The social sciences encompass fields that include anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, and sociology, which do not have the same demand in the workforce as STEM fields. General Social Sciences has only 16,234 recent graduates and one of the lowest early-career median wages ($35,000).

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7. Anthropology

  • Unemployment rate: 5.7%
  • Underemployment rate: 60.6%
  • Number of recent graduates: 48,697
  • Early-career median wage: $30,000

Anthropology is a specialization within the social sciences that emphasizes the study of humans, human behavior, and societies over time. Anthropology majors often pursue careers in teaching, museum curation, social work, and human resources. The underemployment rate of 60.6% is the highest on this top ten list and one of the highest underemployment rates of all majors listed by the New York Fed. At $30,000, anthropology also has one of the lowest early-career median wages.

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6. Earth Sciences

  • Unemployment rate: 5.8%
  • Underemployment rate: 47.4%
  • Number of recent graduates: 21,253
  • Early-career median wage: $40,000

Earth Sciences usually includes subfields such as geology, climatology, oceanography, and meteorology. This discipline has the highest unemployment rate of any STEM fields listed here. The early-career median wage for Earth Sciences majors is $40,000.

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5. Philosophy

  • Unemployment rate: 6.2%
  • Underemployment rate: 49.5%
  • Number of recent graduates: 52,497
  • Early-career median wage: $35,000

Aside from teaching at a university, there are few jobs within the field of philosophy itself. The unemployment rate of 6.2% and underemployment rate of 49.5% indicates that finding meaningful employment can be a challenge. The early career median wage for philosophy students is $35,000.

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4. Liberal Arts

  • Unemployment rate: 6.3%
  • Underemployment rate: 57.0%
  • Number of recent graduates: 78,838
  • Early-career median wage: $35,000

A Liberal Arts curriculum is composed of a variety of humanities subjects such as literature, history, philosophy, and theology, and social sciences such as psychology and political science. A liberal arts education emphasizes “soft skills” like writing, reading, and critical thinking rather than technical skills like accounting or coding. As a result, Liberal Arts students often have a harder time than more technical students in finding a job, as evidenced by the 6.3% unemployment rate and 57.0% underemployment rate.

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3. English Language

  • Unemployment rate: 6.4%
  • Underemployment rate: 49.8%
  • Number of recent graduates: 191,013
  • Early-career median wage: $35,000

English Language is one of the most popular college majors, with 191,013 recent graduates. Although English majors might enter a variety of fields that involve reading and writing, there is no clear career track as with pre-professional programs like nursing or engineering. Many graduates who studied English find themselves underemployed or unemployed, leading to a low median wage of $35,000.

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2. Fine Arts

  • Unemployment rate: 6.4%
  • Underemployment rate: 58.5%
  • Number of recent graduates: 76,745
  • Early-career median wage: $32,000

The stereotype of the “starving artist” exists for a reason. Fine Arts has the second-highest unemployment rate (6.4%) and one of the highest underemployment rates (58.5%) out of the majors listed by the New York Fed. Students who graduate with a degree in Fine Arts also have one of the lowest median wages, at $32,000. Fine Arts might include many creative fields, such as graphic design, painting, performing arts, or music.

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1. Mass Media

  • Unemployment rate: 7.4%
  • Underemployment rate: 56.1%
  • Number of recent graduates: 61,818
  • Early-career median wage: $35,000

Also referred to as a “Communications” major, Mass Media is a program that includes the study of various forms of media, including television, video,  journalism, radio, advertisements, documentaries, and websites. Almost two-thirds of Mass Media graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Mass Media has the highest unemployment rate at 7.4%.


Unemployment, underemployment and wage data is from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (IPUMS), republished by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The data shown represents 2015-2016 averages and only includes people aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The Number of recent graduates was sourced directly from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (IPUMS) and only includes people aged 22 to 27. The majors with the highest unemployment rates are included in this list. The list is ordered by unemployment rate. In the event of a tie, the major with the highest underemployment rate was ranked higher.

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