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10 College Majors Most Likely to Leave You Unemployed

Updated on August 26, 2015

Most people go to college with the hopes of majoring in something that they not only enjoy, but that will also allow them to get a good, secure job once they leave college. This becomes increasingly important as the cost of education rises, and more students leave college with a lot of student debt to their name. This is bad news for all students, although for some more than others, as it not all majors are created equal, and some are much more likely to lead to unemployment than others. Here are some of the degrees that are most likely to leave students fresh out of college unemployed.

10. English Language and Literature

It turns out that studying English language and literature has a 9.2% chance of leaving recently graduated students unemployed. This will be somewhat unsurprising for a lot of people, as this degree has long been joked about as being completely impractical, however this hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most popular college degrees in the US. Many students enter this degree with the hopes of one day becoming an author, which is in itself an unlikely goal as the average published book in America sells only 500 copies. So what does that mean for English language and literature majors, of which there are clearly many? Well their chances of being the next Shakespeare are small and with an unemployment rate of 9.2%, way above the American average of 5.5% it just means English language and literature majors may want to either consider a change in major, or just cross their fingers and hope they’re part of the other 90.8%.

9. Economics

Despite being 15th on the list of highest earning college degrees, studying economics still leaves students with a 9.4% chance of ending up unemployed. This may seem like one of the more surprising majors on this list, as it’s historically been a field with a lot of job availability. However, this seems to be part of the problem, as the the number of students taking economics majors increased hugely between 2008 and 2015, saturating the job market with newly graduated economics majors. That’s unfortunate for all those economics majors hoping to head off to work on Wall Street with their brand new economics degrees, but looking further up this list, they can at least feel comforted that it could definitely be worse.

8. History

Living proof that things could always be worse are the history majors whose chance of ending up unemployed when they finish their degree is 10.2%. Once again this is unfortunate, since history is 10th on the list of most popular college degrees studied in the US. Most history majors seem destined to end up in fields like business or law, very few remaining in a field directly related to their history degree. Those who do remain within their specific field of study often end up teaching, either in schools or colleges. So with a much higher than average chance of ending up unemployed, and little chance of finding this major on a list of highest paying degrees, the only hope is that history majors really do enjoy what they’re studying.

7. Anthropology and Archaeology

This major is perhaps not as well known as many of the others on this list, and is a degree which studies the development of human societies over the course of history. People who graduate with this degree have a 10.5% chance of leaving college and ending up unemployed. Even if someone with this degree does manage to find a job, anthropology is well known for being one of the degrees with the lowest average salary. This is bad news for any anthropology or archaeology students with plenty of student loans to pay off. While the importance of a degree like anthropology can’t be doubted, it might still be in the best interests of students to carefully consider their options before settling on this major.

6. Philosophy and Religious Studies

Let’s be honest for a second, for most of us philosophy was the first degree that came to mind when first seeing the title of this list. And clearly for a good reason, as philosophy and religious Studies graduates have a 10.8% chance of finding themselves unemployed after graduating. However, depending on the student’s concentration within this field the risks may or may not be worth it. philosophy majors, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, are likely to make more money than people in most degrees, including those in the very popular biology, chemistry, or accounting fields. However, those focused on religious studies are out of luck as it’s considered one of, if not the, worst paying degree you can get. While debates about the real world application of a subject like philosophy are likely to continue on far into the future, if philosophy majors focus on the right concentration, and don’t mind the almost double than average possibility of unemployment, the payoff could potentially be more than worth it.

5. Information Systems

Information systems is a part of the computing field, a generally very good field to go into as a student, and is therefore the most surprising degree on this list. However, despite the success of the computing field in general, getting a degree in information systems will leave graduates with an 11.7% chance of ending up unemployed. Focusing on a more practical side of computer science, this degree teaches students to apply technology solutions to support businesses. This degree, along with most other computer-focused degrees, has a very high average salary, and if graduates are able to find a job within the field the degree will certainly be worth it. However, with such a high rate of unemployment, it may be better to consider a degree elsewhere within the computer science field.

4. Commercial Art and Graphic Design

Commercial art and graphic design is clearly a very risky degree to get, presenting graduates with an 11.8% chance of ending up unemployed. This field is actually one with a lot of demand for talented new graduates, but there is also a lot of competition that can make finding a job very difficult. This has also driven a large portion of commercial art and graphic design majors to work freelance instead instead. While this can be a very successful business model, it also leaves a lot of uncertainty when it comes to having permanent work. Whatever the cause, this may be a good reason for college majors with a talent for graphic design to reconsider their options before declaring a major.

3. Fine Arts

Fine arts is another degree we all expected to find on this list, and it has not disappointed, having a 12.6% rate of unemployment amongst graduates. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone, not even people who graduated with this degree, as historically speaking fine arts is often considered one of the riskiest degrees to get. With a job market which is based largely on luck, finding a job within the field can be very difficult, especially one that relates directly to the degree, and pays well. Fine arts also tends to be one of the lowest paying degrees on average, just adding to the risk of spending four years getting this degree in hopes having a successful career in the field.

2. Film, Video and Photographic Arts

Another unfortunate degree choice would be film, video and photographic arts, which leaves 12.9% of graduates without a job. This is a number that has risen over the years largely due to the number of people flocking into the degree. Furthermore, it has been suggested that due to the improvements in smartphone cameras, and their popularity, that photography is becoming a dying art and will continue to do so over time. This is bad news for anyone with a degree in this field, and they can only hope that it doesn’t have too much of an impact on what’s clearly already a tough job market.

1. Architecture

Surprising us all as the college degree most likely to end in unemployment is architecture, with a 13.9% unemployment rate amongst gradates. This really is quite a horrifying revelation, as it makes people with degrees in architecture about two and a half times more likely to end up unemployed than someone who never went to college. While getting a job in this field will likely leave graduates with quite a good salary, finding a job in the first place may prove difficult. For college students who are still considering what to major in, this may sway them away from architecture. But for all those who have already finished their architecture degree, all that can be done is to wish them luck, and be glad it’s not you.


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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      Brad Masters 

      3 years ago from Orange County California BSIT BSL JD

      Anything to do with computers is better than anything on the list no involving computers.

      They should charge college education based on what kind of jobs your degree will get you.

      Not everyone should pay the same tens of thousands dollars when they can't find work that will pay for their student loans.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      3 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Very good article. How about reviewing various trades?

    • Marla Watson profile image


      3 years ago

      Surprised to see economics on the list. If I were independently wealthy I would definitely go to school for archaeology and/or anthropology just for fun.


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