These days, a university degree doesn’t guarantee a job after graduation.
To help prospective students make informed decisions about their future, our team carried out a study to discover the most employable university degrees on offer.
Our research focused on bachelor’s degrees from US universities with a 100% employment rate in the first year following graduation.
Here are some of our key findings:
- Math, Chemistry, History, Music, and Teaching are the most employable bachelor’s degrees in the US
- Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio stand out as the states producing highly employable graduates
- Students often have to choose between a safe degree that can secure a job straightaway or a riskier one with higher short-term earning prospects
We examined the latest figures from the US Department of Education for 1,048,576 bachelor’s degrees awarded between 2014 and 2019. From this data, we discovered that 341 fields of study have a 100% employment rate in the year following graduation.
The top five most employable degrees are mainly concentrated in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. We ordered our ranking by the number of degrees in each field of study that have a 100% employment rate within the first year of leaving university.
According to our findings, those graduating from a Mathematics program are the most employable. Graduates from 737 degree programs in the US secured a job within a year of graduation, with Pennsylvania found to be the best state to study Math in—its choice of 48 degrees each offer a 100% employment rate in the first post-graduate year.
This is followed by New York, Ohio, California, and Illinois, who offer 42, 41, 33 and 28 employable degrees, respectively.
The highest paid Mathematics graduates from a private college come from Maryland’s John Hopkins University. Their median salary starts at $70,019 after graduation and climbs to $101,777 three years later.
Meanwhile, among public institutions, California Polytechnic State University’s San Luis Obispo campus has the most employable and highest paid graduates, with alumni earning an average of $59,501 after three years.
The second-most employable degree is Chemistry. 693 programs in the US have a 100% employment rate within 12 months of graduation. Pennsylvania is once again home to the most employable bachelor’s degrees in this field at 54, closely followed by New York (52), Ohio (33), California (32) and Texas (32).
However, unlike Mathematics, our research shows the highest-paid Chemistry graduates come from public universities. Three years after graduation, alumni from San Francisco State University and New Jersey’s Stockton University earn median salaries of $60,594 and $60,016 respectively.
History comes in third place, with 639 college programs across the US offering students employment within the first year after graduation. These are most common in Pennsylvania (47), Ohio (31), New York (29), North Carolina (29), Illinois (28), and Texas (28).
Among them, Rice University, a private institution, offers the highest earning prospects, with alumni reaching a median salary of $61,295 three years after graduation. Meanwhile, Virginia Military Institute is the most competitive alternative among public universities, eventually earning its History graduates $55,205 per year, on average.
Coming in fourth in the ranking, Music degrees from 636 universities in the US have a 100% employment rate in the first post-graduate year. The majority are found in Ohio (33), Texas (32), Pennsylvania (30), Illinois (29), and North Carolina (27).
According to our research, public universities take the lead in this field and offer students the highest earning prospects three years after completing their studies.
Music graduates from Stephen F. Austin State University have the highest recorded median salaries ($45,138). The next best opportunities come from West Texas A & M University, North Dakota State University (Main Campus), and George Mason University.
The fifth most employable degree in the country is in Teacher Education and Professional Development - Specific Subject Areas.
Of the 599 teaching programs across the US reporting a 100% employment rate in the year following graduation, New York has the highest concentration with 39 specific degree plans. Ohio (36), Pennsylvania (32), Wisconsin (24), and Illinois (23) also offer strong employment opportunities in this field.
On a national scale, New York University alumni studying Teacher Education and Professional Development - Specific Subject Areas earn the most three years after graduating: $60,395. This is followed closely by students from CUNY Hunter College—a public university, whose salaries average $55,597 in the same period.
However, the US Department of Education distinguishes between two types of teaching degrees, depending on whether they focus on specific subject areas or levels and methods. In other words, a degree in "Secondary Education" is not grouped with "History Education." If the two were combined, teaching would be the most employable degree in the US. This aligns with the current teacher shortages across the US.
Employability Versus Earning Prospects
Looking at the overall ranking of the most employable degrees in the US, we anticipated medical degrees to live up to their expectations but were surprised to see legal and architecture degrees, for example, fall below the first 100 positions.
Only one in three graduates in legal- and architecture-related fields manage to secure a job in their first year after graduation.
Drawing a parallel between these findings and another study we carried out on earning prospects, there seems to be a disconnect between employment chances and earning potential.
More often than not, graduates are faced with choosing between a safe degree that gives higher chances of getting a job straightaway or a degree that, if it results in employment, can earn them a good salary within a few years.
One field of study that appears to balance employability and earning prospects quite well is Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research, and Clinical Nursing.
Among them, 24 programs out of 471 across the US result in employment for 100% of graduates a year after completing their studies. This field can also reach a salary of more than $100,000 in only three years.
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