AAC&U News, September 2019
Facts & Figures

New Study Finds Similar Job Outcomes from Different Degrees

How important are college majors to future careers? According to a new report from labor market analytics firm Emsi, Degrees at Work: Examining the Serendipitous Outcomes of Diverse Degrees, the majors students choose may mean less than we think.

Using a database with more than one hundred million professional profiles, Emsi examined career outcomes for graduates from six undergraduate disciplines: language and philosophy, social sciences, business, communications, engineering, and IT. The researchers found that students’ career paths are not linear. Instead, they often begin in roles aligned with their major but end up doing something quite different by their third job. Most surprisingly, students from all kinds of majors—especially from the humanities, social sciences, and business majors—work in similar “business function” roles. In preparation for performing these functions, all students regardless of major need opportunities to get hands-on experience in real workplaces through high-impact practices like internships, service learning, and community-based learning.

Skills and Job Outcomes Cut Across Majors

  • Overall, 54 percent of jobs across all six disciplines focused on “major business functions,” including tactical or strategic communication, operational oversight, and interpersonal oversight. Another 25 percent of jobs were in STEM roles such as software development and electrical engineering, and 21 percent were in interpersonal or creative roles such as graphic design and education (see figure 1).
  • The report also identified several “high-frequency skills” in management, marketing/communication, and sales/business administration that were common across all majors (see figure 2).

Figure 1.


Language and Philosophy Outcomes and Skills

  • According to the report, graduates in language and philosophy performed better than stereotypes (having a career as a barista, for example) suggest, often holding high-level jobs in the nonprofit or education sectors.
  • The first jobs of graduates in language and philosophy include roles in education (17 percent), journalism or writing (10 percent), sales (10 percent), marketing (7 percent), and service-oriented nonprofits (6 percent). However, by graduates' third job, journalism is less popular and marketing more popular. Many graduates also move into legal and regulatory services later in their careers (it is the sixth most popular third job), while “business and financial analysis, human resources, and management all hold a place in the top 10 across the first three jobs,” the report says.
  • Language and philosophy majors often work in roles using four kinds of skills: educational product or curriculum design (instructional design, learning management systems, and adult education); public relations (marketing communications and press releases); digital marketing (analytics, social media, and search engine optimization); and nonprofit administration (writing, public administration, strategic planning, budgeting, and fundraising).

Figure 2.


Social Science Outcomes and Skills

  • Social science majors work in similar roles as humanities graduates but move between fields often. They get their first jobs in sales (12 percent), service-oriented nonprofits (11 percent), education (9 percent), marketing (8 percent), and business and financial analysis (7 percent). As students move between their first three jobs, education becomes less popular, switching places with marketing.
  • Many of their jobs demand skills related to sales (life insurance, annuities, Medicare and health insurance, and mortgage loans); social services (mental health, behavioral health, and psychiatry); digital marketing; and business and financial analysis (forecasting, financial statements, and budgeting).

Business and Communications Outcomes and Skills

  • The roles held by business and communications graduates are similar. Sales (18 percent) is the most common first job for business majors, followed by business and financial analysis (15 percent), accounting (14 percent), marketing (9 percent), and human resources (6 percent).
  • First jobs for communications graduates are split between journalism and public relations, sales, and marketing (each with 18 percent). As with language and philosophy graduates, by their second job, communications graduates leave journalism (decreasing to 10 percent) as marketing increases in popularity (20 percent).
  • Business and communications graduates “go into management more frequently than grads from most other degrees,” the report says, as management becomes the fifth most popular role by their third job.
  • Except for accounting skills, the other skills used by business majors (sales, business and financial analysis, and digital marketing) in their jobs are similar to those used by social science majors.
  • The skills that communications graduates use—public relations, marketing systems (especially marketing automation and lead generation), and digital marketing—make it one of the “more linear degrees,” the report says.

Engineering and IT Outcomes and Skills

  • Engineering and IT are the most linear majors and careers included in the study.
  • Twenty percent of engineering majors work in a first job related to industrial and mechanical engineering, and it remains the top choice for their next jobs. However, 21 percent of engineering graduates work in IT roles such as software development, programming, and networks and systems for their first jobs, while others work in sales (7 percent of first jobs) or marketing (5 percent of third jobs).
  • Many engineering graduates use skills related to product design (computer-aided design), quality management (auditing, quality management systems, or quality assurance), project development (project management or process engineering); back-end development (C++); and construction (project management, subcontracting, and businesses logistics).
  • According to the report, “IT has by far the most narrowly concentrated outcomes, with 35 [percent] of all graduates going into software development for their first job. Over the next two jobs, software development only loses a net 3 [percent] of graduates.”
  • Across first, second, and third jobs, IT network and systems (14 percent) is the second most popular career, but some graduates do go on to non-IT jobs like business and financial analysis, sales, marketing, and management.
  • IT graduates are also most linear in the skills they use in their jobs: back-end development, web development, systems administration, and application development.

Images in this article are included with permission of Emsi from their reportDegrees at Work: Examining the Serendipitous Outcomes of Diverse Degrees.

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AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.


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