Special Report

College Majors With the Highest Unemployment

Samuel Stebbins

Detailed Findings

As the share of Americans with a four-year degree has increased, so has student debt. Americans owe a staggering $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans, more than any other form of household debt after home mortgages. By some estimates, 40% of Americans who entered college in 2004 and borrowed money for their will default on their loans by 2023.

As borrowing continues to climb, an increasing number of Americans are questioning the value of a college degree and whether the return is worth the investment — especially in some fields of study.

Many of the majors on this list are so specific that the number of job opportunities for those with the degree is relatively limited. Such fields include naval architecture and marine engineering, military technologies, and linguistics and comparative language.

Degrees in arts and psychology are also heavily represented on this list. Of the 25 majors on this list, nine fall into one of those two fields. Such majors include industrial and organizational psychology, drama, as well as film and photography.

In most cases, unemployment rates among the majors on this list are only high relative to most other college majors. Of the 160 college majors considered, just six have a higher unemployment rate than the 5.9% 2016 overall unemployment rate calculated by the Census.

Indeed, college-educated Americans are far less likely than those with less than a four-year degree to find themselves out of a job. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 31.3% of American adults have a bachelor’s degree, but make up just 17.0% of the unemployed population.

For many college-educated Americans, a bachelor’s degree does not mark the end of their formal education. A considerable share of graduates in the majors on this list go on to earn professional degrees or doctorates. Master’s degrees are the most common educational pursuit after undergraduate programs, as some 41.5% of American bachelor’s degree holders also have a masters. Of the majors on this list, 12 have a higher than typical master’s degree attainment rate.


To determine the college majors with the highest unemployment rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on employment status per undergraduate majors from the Public Use Microdata Sample summary files of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey. In the case of ties, majors with the larger total workforce were ranked higher. Data on earnings and educational attainment also came from the Census. Data on field of study and employment status are self reported by the survey’s respondents. To be included in the dataset, the respondents must have graduated and received a bachelor’s degree. While respondents were able to list the field of study for any bachelor’s degree they have received and may have listed multiple majors, only the first major listed was considered in this analysis. Majors noted as a miscellaneous subset of a more common field of study were excluded from our analysis.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s unemployment rate is distinct from, and can vary considerably from, the more commonly cited unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.