Is There a Disconnect Between Popular Degrees and In-Demand Degrees?

Posted By Terri Williams on May 15, 2017 at 11:39 am
Is There a Disconnect Between Popular Degrees and In-Demand Degrees?

Are college students finally listening to employers? While business administration has long been the most popular degree, the rest of the list of common degrees once included communications, education, marketing and market research, elementary education, psychology, nursing, accounting, psychology, criminal justice, English, and history.

But, are the most popular degrees among recent grads also the most popular degrees among recruiters?

According to a new report by iCIMS, recruiters are most interesting in hiring candidates with these degrees:

61% STEM
55% Business/Finance
48% Arts/Communications/Media
36% Healthcare/Environment
19% Education
19% Law/Policy


However, these are the most popular majors in the Class of 2017:

24% Business/Finance
23% STEM
20% Healthcare/Environment
17% Arts/Communications/Media
8% Education
8% Law/Policy


While 61% of recruiters are most interested in hiring STEM majors, only 23% of recent graduates have a STEM degree. More than half of recruiters are searching for business/finance majors, but only 24% of recent graduates chose this discipline.

Recent grads also appear to be much more optimistic about how much they’ll earn in that first job. 42% of recent grads expect to make $50K to $75K in their first entry-level job. However, experts predict they will earn closer to $45K. In fact, only 24% of companies plan to pay $50K or more to entry level employees. STEM grads are the only category of entry level workers who can expect to earn an average of $62K.

Recent grads also have definite opinions regarding where they prefer to work immediately after graduation: 35% chose New York City, followed by Los Angeles (29%), San Francisco (23%), Chicago (20%), and Boston (17%). The next five most popular locations were Seattle, the District of Columbia, Dallas, Houston, and Minneapolis. Only 9 percent of respondents chose “other.”

Moving the needle on STEM degrees

So, are we making progress in moving students toward STEM majors? Linda Burtch, managing director at Burtch Works, tells GoodCall®, “It may still be a bit too early to see a huge impact from the recent push towards STEM careers.”

She says some students may still be in college pursuing a master’s degree or a Ph.D. “Our research has found that in the increasingly popular STEM fields of predictive analytics and data science, over 85% of professionals have a graduate degree, and since the hype has most noticeably intensified in the past 4-5 years after data science was declared the sexiest job of the 21st century, we may still be a few years away from those graduates hitting the market in force.”

And regardless of how popular STEM degrees may be with employers or how many STEM initiatives are implemented, Burtch says there’s another factor that should be considered. “It’s important to remember that many STEM degree programs are quite rigorous, so students are only going to feel motivated to complete the program if they feel sufficiently interested and passionate and have an aptitude for it.”

Shifting gears/idling in neutral

There’s one area in which recent grads and recruiters agree:

  • Regardless of their major, 81% of recent grads said they would be willing to accept a full-time job not related to their degree.
  • 82% of recruiters said they frequently hire entry-level candidates whose college major does not directly align with or relate to the job position.

And it’s a good thing that grads are so flexible. According to Hans Hanson, founder and CEO of College Logic, “Only about 25% of college graduates get a job in their related field of study within a year of graduation, and about 25% remain unemployed.”

Hanson doesn’t believe it takes a crystal ball to see which grads will be successful or not. “For those who get it right, they likely took a well-calculated study and degree path,” Hanson explains. “For all others, they likely left it all to chance by randomly selecting a major.”

He notes that as much as it costs to attend college, perhaps choices should be more deliberate. “The college sticker price at the average university can range from $100,000 to $240,000 to earn a four-year degree, and private colleges cost in the range of $200,000 – $300,000 to earn a four-year degree,” Hanson tells GoodCall®, “It’s time to think about what you want for that much money.”

Advice for job seekers

Regardless of the profession, job candidates should carefully weigh their options before accepting or declining a job offer. Sandy Marmitt, partner and senior executive recruiter at Burtch Works, tells GoodCall®, “Candidates should evaluate offers from companies with a careful eye.”

There’s a tendency to automatically choose the company that pays the most, but Marmitt warns, “Early in one’s career, it is incredibly important to make sure you’re learning everything you can and staying up-to-date on the latest tools, not just going with whichever company will pay you more.” Some workers even agree to take lower pay if it provides an opportunity to travel.

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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