What are the Most and Least Satisfying Degree Choices?

Posted By Terri Williams on December 12, 2016 at 12:44 pm
What are the Most and Least Satisfying Degree Choices?

As college students make major and degree choices, inner and external voices bombard them. Should they follow the money with their majors or follow their hearts? Popular expressions explain it: “Choose a job that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” On the other hand, there’s the notion of the “starving artist.”

In fact, how college students feel about their financial future may depend on their college major. A recent survey by Sokanu asked degree holders to rate their degree choices in terms of interest, satisfaction, and job prospects. The results reveal that some of the most satisfying degrees were in areas with the worst job prospects, while some of the least satisfying degrees were in areas with the best chances of getting a job.

These are some of the degree choices with the highest overall satisfaction ratings:

Degree Overall Rating Interest Job Prospects
Women’s Studies 4 4.8 2.6
Industrial & Organizational Psychology 3.9 4.6 3.6
Game Design 3.8 4.6 3
Social Psychology 3.8 4.3 3.3
Applied Mathematics 3.7 4.2 3.5
Philosophy & Religious Studies 3.7 4.5 2.4
Natural Resources Management 3.7 4.2 3.5
Animal Sciences 3.7 4.4 2.9
Mathematics & Computer Science 3.7 4.2 4
Acting 3.6 4.6 2.6
Theology & Religious Vocations 3.6 4.5 2.6
Music Production 3.6 4.5 2.7


These were rated some of the least satisfying degree choices:

Degree Overall Rating Interest Job Prospects
Operations Logistics & E-Commerce 2.3 3.4 2.8
Materials Engineering 2.5 3.5 3
Accounting 2.6 3.2 3.8
Communication Disorders & Sciences 2.7 3.8 3.2
Family & Consumer Sciences 2.7 4.3 2.5
Secondary Teacher Education 2.7 3.5 3.6
Civil Engineering 2.7 3.4 3.7
Elementary Education 2.7 3.7 3.3
Mechanical Engineering Related Technologies 2.8 3.6 3.4
Network Administration 2.8 3.7 3.1
Actuarial Science 2.8 3.6 3.5
General Education 2.8 3.6 2.9


Degree choices vs. career satisfaction

The survey also found that degree satisfaction does not necessarily equal job satisfaction. In other words, some graduates were happy with their degree, but not with the job they were able to obtain with it – and vice versa.

Degrees with the highest career vs. degree satisfaction

Degree Rating Career Rating
Secondary Teacher Education 2.7 3.5
Elementary Education 2.7 3.3
Medical Administration 2.7 3.3
Culinary Arts 2.9 3.3


Degrees with the lowest career vs. degree satisfaction

Degree Rating Career Rating
Women’s Studies 4 3.1
Philosophy & Religious Studies 3.7 2.9
Natural Resources Management 3.7 2.6
Miscellaneous Health Medical Professions 3.5 2.7
School Student Counseling 3.4 2.6


How students make degree choices

So how do college students end up selecting degrees with poor job prospects? There are several reasons. Allison Cheston, a New York City-based career adviser, tells GoodCall that there are two schools of thought. “The first, the more traditional concept, originated when attending college was reserved for a privileged few, and focused on scholarly pursuit as the route to learning and developing as a human being,” Cheston explains.

However, the second school of thought, which Cheston says has come into focus with the past 10 to 20 years, is that students should choose a practical major, particularly as college attendance becomes more widespread and more expensive.

Sometimes, parents exert their influence in the choice of a major. However, Cheston says, “In my experience, unless there is significant and stated financial pressure from parents, college students are very much focused on their day to day school activities and frequently ignore looming post-graduation pressures.”

And when left to their own devices, Cheston says it’s not uncommon for college students to avoid subjects that they find too challenging or just don’t enjoy.

But even when students are left to their own devices, they may not be choosing blindly. Spencer Thompson, CEO of Sokanu, tells GoodCall that branding often influences a student’s choice of major. “The degrees that have the worst prospects are the ones that are branded positively and marketed to incoming students,” Thompson says.

These choices often lead to disparities in supply and demand. “The disconnect between what the labor market actually needs and what a person ends up studying is large in scope,” Thompson explains. In fact, a recent report reveals that companies are struggling to find workers in such fields as information technology, engineering, and sales and marketing.

However, some students do take a more practical view in making major and degree choices. “These individuals are focused on more practical matters, and college is a means to an end, so they tend to major in an area that is trending upward,” Cheston says.  “They are the students thinking about their future job and salary, and college is a path to that job.”

The disconnect between degree satisfaction and career satisfaction

The survey also reveals that college grads who were satisfied with their degree may not be satisfied with their career. According to Thompson, there’s a very logical reason for this: They’re not working in a career related to their degree.

“If you refer back to the asymmetry between what the labor market needs and what people choose to study, the natural result of that is many of those degree holders end up in a career that is actually in demand,” Thompson explains. “Very often this is a completely different career than what was intended, so the actual prediction value from degree to career is relatively weak.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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