What Are You Likely to Do With That Major?

It’s one of the things college students want to know more than anything else, but up to now, it has been one of the hardest things to figure out: If I get a college degree in physics—or biology, or psychology—what kind of work am I likely to end up doing?

Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau posted an interactive graphic that uses government data to link college majors to the occupational groups graduates eventually work in. It’s not as granular as one might wish, but it’s better than anything else we’re aware of. Just scroll over a category of college majors, and you will see what occupational groups those majors end up working in. The graphic shows, for example, that a lot of people with engineering degrees work—wait for it—either as engineers or with computers. No surprise. More surprising is that a very large number (it appears to be about half) work in jobs unrelated to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The graphic also covers non-STEM majors and occupational groups.

The results for some majors are startling: Only about a fifth (to maybe a quarter) of physical science majors work in STEM fields, the graphic shows—and of those, maybe a third (or less than 10% of all physical science majors) work in the physical sciences. Substantial fractions of physical science majors work as engineers, computer workers, and life scientists—and perhaps three-quarters work entirely outside of STEM.

In the broad category of biological, agricultural, and environmental scientists, perhaps one in eight graduates with those majors end up working in any STEM field at all (although health care, which isn’t considered a STEM field by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employs a very large chunk of those graduates).

It’s at least as much fun to look at it the other way: Scroll over an occupational group to see what majors feed those jobs. It’s surprising, for example, to learn that while physical science majors are the largest source of physical scientists, almost as many have majors in biological, environmental, and agricultural sciences.

Click on the image below to access the data visualization tool:

Should Science Students Study Gender?

Elsewhere in Science, 11 July 2014