Special Report

College Majors With the Highest Unemployment

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5. Petroleum engineering
> Unemployment rate: 5.3%
> Avg. salary: $84,648
> Undergrad degree holders with a master’s or professional degree or higher: 31.8%
> Undergrad degree holders in labor force: 30,001

Petroleum engineering majors study oil and gas extraction and the best methods of access to subterranean fossil fuels. The major is math heavy and includes laboratory work. Through 2029, demand for petroleum engineers is projected to grow by 5.3%, slightly faster than the 4% growth among all occupations.

Not all petroleum engineers have a degree in petroleum engineering, however. Many working in the field have degrees with broader application, like mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering. About 5.3% of the 30,000 labor force participants are unemployed.

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4. Composition and rhetoric
> Unemployment rate: 5.4%
> Avg. salary: $48,682
> Undergrad degree holders with a master’s or professional degree or higher: 30.0%
> Undergrad degree holders in labor force: 104,846

Composition and rhetoric majors study subjects like creative, professional, technical, business, and scientific writing. Degree holders often work in such occupations as proofreading, editing, teaching, and writing. There are nearly 105,000 Americans in the labor force who majored in composition and rhetoric, and 5.4% of them are unemployed, more than double the 2.6% jobless rate among all bachelor’s degree holders.

Job prospects for composition and rhetoric majors will not likely improve any time soon. According to BLS projections, demand for editors is projected to decline by 7% over the decade ending in 2029, and jobs for writers and authors are expected to contract by 2% over the same period.

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3. Computer programming and data processing
> Unemployment rate: 5.6%
> Avg. salary: $65,411
> Undergrad degree holders with a master’s or professional degree or higher: 14.5%
> Undergrad degree holders in labor force: 38,524

Computer programming and data processing majors learn methods of retrieving and storing data electronically, both by using existing systems and programs and by developing their own. The major typically involves courses in business communication, computer systems analysis, word processing, and information technology.

While many majors in computer sciences and engineering fields lead to relatively secure careers, computer programming and data processing does not. The unemployment rate among those who majored in the field is 5.6%, well above the 2.6% average among all labor force participants with a four year degree.

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2. Physical sciences
> Unemployment rate: 5.8%
> Avg. salary: $64,317
> Undergrad degree holders with a master’s or professional degree or higher: 42.1%
> Undergrad degree holders in labor force: 10,778

Physical sciences is a broad major that typically includes courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. Of the nearly 11,000 labor force participants who majored in physical sciences, 5.8% are unemployed, a far higher than average jobless rate for college graduates.

The high jobless rate among those with a physical science degree may be due in part to the breadth of the subject, as those who majored in one specific category of physical sciences are far less likely to be out work. For example, the unemployment rate among chemistry majors is just 2.3%, and only 1.9% of molecular biology majors are out of work.

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1. Geological and geophysical engineering
> Unemployment rate: 8.1%
> Avg. salary: $59,837
> Undergrad degree holders with a master’s or professional degree or higher: 32.1%
> Undergrad degree holders in labor force: 8,269

Of all college majors with available employment data, the geological and geophysical engineering major has the highest unemployment rate. About 8,300 members of the labor force majored in the subject, and 8.1% of them are unemployed, more than triple the 2.6% unemployment rate among all college graduates.

The degree is designed to teach students to apply principles of mathematics and geology to solve engineering problems related to construction and to analyze how geological forces can act on existing or planned structures. While jobs for geological engineers are projected to grow on pace with the average across all occupations in the coming years, there are only about 6,300 Americans currently employed as geological engineers, about 2,000 fewer jobs than the number of labor force participants who studied geological and geophysical engineering as undergraduates.

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