College majors offering best, worst employment prospects

While a bachelor’s degree is largely viewed as a prerequisite for a lucrative career, almost half of college grads are missing out on the related benefits by falling into careers that don't require one.

More than four-in-10, or 43 percent, of college grads were underemployed in their first job, according to a study by Burning Glass Technologies. The average salary for a bachelor’s degree holder is about $46,000 – but those with degrees who worked in a career that didn't necessitate one earn about $36,000.

Underemployment has long-term implications for those workers’ futures.

College students who are underemployed within their first year of graduating are likely to still be underemployed 10 years later, the study found, with that trend being even more pronounced among women. Of those who were underemployed in their first year of work, about 66 percent were still stuck in that cycle a decade later. Foregone earnings totaled nearly $150,000 throughout the first 15 years of their careers.

So how can grads avoid falling into the underemployment trap? Strada Institute and Burning Glass Technologies found that which major a student chooses can greatly impact employment prospects.

STEM majors, for example, account for just 15 percent of underemployed grads. Engineering, computer and information sciences, library science, communications and journalism, mathematics and statistics, as well as communications technologies carried the least underemployment risks.

On the other hand, studies in homeland security, law enforcement and firefighting carried a 65 percent chance of landing a job below college level. Human sciences, liberal arts and sciences and fitness studies were also high-risk majors. One reason is because of saturation in these sections of the job market, which the report notes makes it more difficult for candidates to distinguish themselves to employers.

Liberal arts majors accounted for 23 percent of underemployed grads.

If you have majored in one of the areas with higher underemployment projections, there are ways to boost prospects, including acquiring specific workplace skills and selecting a high-demand specializations – like specializing in finance as a business major. Holding an internship can also aid the post-college job hunt.

Holding a bachelor’s degree does open up employment opportunities, nonetheless. According to a recent study from Georgetown University, jobs that require a bachelor’s degree, including doctors, accountants, lawyers and engineers, account for more than half of all “good” job openings, jumping more than 18 percent between 1991 and 2016.