The country’s incoming college students have been exhorted, repeatedly, to major in something “useful,” rather than something intellectual. The idea is that there is a split between “useful” majors, which teach a specific skill (like marketing, computer science, or architecture) and “useless” majors, which are designed to impart, gasp, knowledge (think the humanities, natural sciences, etc). Major in something “useful,” the argument goes, and expect to be showered in riches. Those who major in something “useless,” meanwhile, can look forward to a future on the unemployment line. It’s not exactly a novel argument: The Daily Beast, Forbes, Yahoo News, USA Today, Newsweek (and who wouldn’t take career advice from Newsweek?), and President Obama have all made this philistine point.
Of course, the notion that the entire purpose of a college education is to secure a job is a perversion of the actual purpose of education – but nevermind that for now. Because it turns out that even accepting President Obama’s cramped vision of education, he and his friends at the Daily Beast are simply wrong on the merits. In fact, a lot of “useful” majors are useless on today’s job market – and a lot of people who majored in something “useless” are doing just fine.
Monday brought yet more proof of these facts, with the release of a new report from Georgetown University, From Hard Times to Better Times. The report provides a thorough analysis of the employment prospects of recent college grads across a wide swath of college majors, both “useful” and “useless.”
The results are interesting, and, well, useful. For example, among recent college graduates, those who majored in business (“useful”) have an unemployment rate of 7 percent. Those who majored in the physical sciences, like, well, physics (“useless”), have an unemployment rate of 5 percent. Recent graduates who majored in the humanities and liberal arts (“useless”), meanwhile, have an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent -- versus those pragmatic souls who majored in the “useful” field of architecture, and whose unemployment rate tops 10 percent. Indeed, recent humanities grads have a nearly identical unemployment rate to those who majored in uber-“useful” computer-related fields. Broken down further, recent graduates in “French, German, Latin, and other Common Foreign Languages” have a 7.1 percent unemployment rate. That looks pretty good against recent “Computer and Information Systems” majors, and their cool 12.1 percent unemployment rate. With the economy in such flux, it increasingly looks like a fool's errand to select a specific major with employment prospects in mind.
The good news is that across graduates of all majors, the unemployment rate is falling. Actually, that’s true except for one major. That subject? The “useful” major of journalism.