Best Job Path For Gen Y? Hint: STEM Major


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Photo by Shutterstock

Going to college still pays off, but too many Millennials are choosing the wrong majors, according to academic research and data from the White House.

It appears that many Millennials are staying in college longer to avoid the “bad” job market – but the reality is the market is only bad for certain majors, such as psychology or communications.

For those in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) or fields like actuarial science, there are huge opportunities.  The U.S. will have more than 1.2 million job openings in STEM fields by 2018. Unfortunately, it appears there will be a significant shortage of qualified college graduates to fill those jobs.

According to a recent study by Georgetown University professors entitled “Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal”:

“Is college worth it?” Our answer: “Yes, extensive research, ours included, finds that a college degree is still worth it. A Bachelor’s degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings. And staying on campus to earn a graduate degree provides safe shelter from the immediate economic storm, and will pay off with greater employability and earnings once the graduate enters the labor market.”

The study found unemployment for students with new bachelor’s degrees was 8.9%, compared with 22.9% for students with recent high school diplomas and 31.5% for recent high-school dropouts.

What Are Millennials Studying?

College-going Millennials are more likely to study social science and applied fields, such as communications, criminal justice and library science, according to research from the White House.

There has also been a significant drop in students majoring in education since Baby Boomers were in college, especially for women. About 35% of women graduating from college in the early 1970s earned a degree in an education-related field, but only about 12 % did in 2011.

The White House research found Millennials are also somewhat less likely than previous generations to major in fields like business and health. Unfortunately, the share of Millennials studying STEM fields is slightly lower than that of past generations.

Millennial Graduates by Major – Employment Rates

Sources:  National Science Foundation, Wall Street Journal

MajorPsychEconSoc/AnthroActuarial ScienceComputersMed Tech

The share of Millennials choosing computer and information science majors has fallen over time, and this decline has been highest among women. In 1987, 2.9% of women getting a college degree majored in computer and information science, and women were 36% of all computer science graduates. In the class of 2011, only 1.1% of women graduated with computer science degrees, and women were 18% of all computer science graduates.

Graduate Degrees Do Make a Difference

All research continues to show that graduate degrees, especially in high-demand fields, offer better employment prospects and higher salaries. The unemployment rate for people with graduate degrees is 3%, compared with 5% for those with bachelor’s degrees, the Georgetown research found. With the exception of majors in the arts and architecture, unemployment rates for people with graduate degrees range between 1.9% and 4%.

The study found the average earnings for graduates with bachelor’s degrees was  $48,000, compared with $62,000 for graduate degrees. Those figures, however, were considerably lower for arts and education degrees.

What Employers Want

A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers last year of 161 companies asked employers to rate the majors they target when hiring college graduates.

Majors Employers Want

% Rate High68.8%66%59%50%20%


So what’s the long-term solution? The White House has a program called “Educate to Innovate” that starts with young students and aims to increase racial/ethnic/gender diversity in STEM students and “promote tech inclusion.”

And several DiversityInc Top 50 companies have launched their own initiatives to start students young on STEM careers, including Accenture’s Future Technology Leaders Initiative, BASF’s Kids Lab program to introduce elementary-age students to the benefits of careers in science and technology, IBM’s P-Tech (Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools), and Dell’s global Youth Learning Program for under-represented youth.

But these programs will take time to nurture and educate young people about the benefits of STEM jobs.  In the meantime, the gap with Millennials is causing a significant talent shortage for many companies.

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