What Do Degrees Matter? One-Third of Graduates Hold Jobs Outside of Their Majors

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ChoicesThink of something that you regret.

If you are like roughly one-third of American workers, one of your biggest regrets may be the major you chose in college. According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 36 percent of college-educated workers wish they had majored in something different at school. Forty-seven percent said their first job after college was not related to their college major, and 32 percent of college-educated workers said they never found a job related to their college major. Among workers 35 and older, 31 percent said the same.

On the bright side, 64 percent of employees said that they are happy with the degree they chose, and 61 percent of respondents believe they can still land their dream job.

The survey of more than 2,000 workers with college degrees nationwide also found that:

  • 28 percent of college graduates said the demand for their degree decreased between the time they entered college and the time they graduated.
  • Of those, 33 percent also said they were forced to take a lower-paying job outside of their field, and 32 percent said the lack of demand meant they couldn’t find work after graduation.
  • Of the 13 percent of respondents who said the demand for their major increased while they were in college, 46 percent said they were able to find a job in their desired career path within a year, and 58 percent had found such a job within two years after graduation.

The fact that such a significant number of college-educated workers hold jobs in other fields raises a question: “To what degree do degrees matter?”

The opinions of national thought leaders on the topic of closing the skills gap tend to vary. Here is a sample of what a number of speakers had to say on the subject of degrees:

  • “Cognitive skills are the single best measure for predicting performance … outweighing even degree and level of education … If you’re only looking at degrees, you’re missing out on a huge pool of untapped talent.” — Dr. Merrilea Mayo, chief information and research officer at Innovate+Educate.
  • “Education is the driver of our economic success … Degrees do matter, but they must align with the skills businesses have identified as essential.” — Dr. Patricia Buhler, professor of management at Goldey-Beacom College.
  • “HR needs to get out from behind the job descriptions and truly understand the key competencies of the job [for which they’re recruiting]. Employers need to get better at articulating critical fundamental skills for that job.” — Jim Gulezian, human resources director at Zodiac Aerospace.
  • “For employers who don’t have resources to take those [skills shortage] problems on their own, focusing on this issue is very challenging. We haven’t had a consistent, proactive voice for employers. We need to find a critical mass of employers to articulate skills and competencies they need, and then others [such as educational institutions] can respond meaningfully.” — Ryan Costella, director of strategic initiatives at Click Bond, Inc.

By Joshua Bjerke