There are many reasons to attend college. Broadening your academic horizons, making lifelong friends, getting accustomed to living on your own for the first time and sharing a genuine once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience with your peers are all “near” the top of the list.
But not “at” the top of that list.
That honor goes to finding a lifetime vocation that meets your unique career needs and passions and that pays you a decent income so you can live comfortably during and after your working years.
One of the best barometers of finding a career path that pays well and offers robust job security is the national unemployment rate for that occupational sector, recorded regularly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Make no mistake, the average unemployment rate over a long period of time can go a long way in telling a college graduate that there is both rock solid stability and an opportunity to make a good income in your chosen profession. You’ll want to know that before choosing a college major and investing tens of thousands of dollars to obtain a diploma with your name on it – and your major, too.
That’s where the occupational unemployment rates come in handy.
The overall U.S. unemployment rate was 3.7% in July 2019, according to government figures. The unemployment rate for Bachelor’s degree recipients was 2.2%. While the average rate is expressed as a single figure representing an aggregate target range for all U.S. employment vocations, a given industry’s unemployment rate can vary significantly – often by a full five percentage points or so.
That matters, as a college major (as expressed as an industry) with a low unemployment rate over a long period of time represents solid job stability for college students looking for a reliable working career with a low chance of losing their job. Looking to lock in a safer and more solid career choice is especially important as so many college graduates owe $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 or more.
Conversely, an industry with a high unemployment rate ups the odds of landing on a career path with more layoffs, more income instability and a lower quality of life.
Your Best Bets for a Safe Career Path
With all that as a backdrop, which college majors have the lowest unemployment rates these days?
Read on as we take a deeper dive into the collegiate majors with the best odds of lifetime career stability – with these occupations leading the most secure right now, as measured by their unemployment rates.
Theology and religion majors. At a floor-scraping low unemployment rate of 1.0%, the spiritual studies seems like a good bet for college majors – but is that really the case?
Job stability-wise, it’s hard to argue with a 1.0% unemployment rate and a vocation that has 42% of its workforce with graduate school degrees. After all, graduate students who choose a career in religious studies certainly have their spiritual reasons for doing so, but they must also feel they’ll have a job for life in choosing that career.
That said, pay is relatively low compared to non-spiritual vocations like banking, law and technology.
Theology and religious majors can count on a job when they get out of school, but the median early-career wage is $32,000, while the median mid-career range stands at $49,000, according to HeyTutor, a professional education tutor platform that tracks occupational growth for college graduates.
It’s also worth mentioning that the number of college graduates who major in theology and religious studies is actually quite low – only 9,804 diplomas were handed out for these majors in 2016, HeyTutor reports.
That suggests the unemployment rate may be low because the demand for jobs in the spirituality sector is low.
Medical/healthcare technician majors. With the Baby Boomers, 72 million strong, advancing into their senior years, there is a huge demand for medical technology specialists to run the tests, gauge the data, and generally give doctors and clinicians the help they need to better manage patient care.
U.S. government data shows that the unemployment rate in the med/tech specialist sector is 1.0% and median pay stands at $52,000.
The median mid-career salary is approximately $64,000 and industry job growth is projected to rise by 13% by 2026, giving graduates with a medical/technical background a clear path to a good job with long-term career security potential – and a decent income, to boot.
Childhood education majors. A college graduate who majors in early childhood education studies doesn’t make a ton of money on the job, but he or she will likely have good job stability with a current unemployment rate of 1.7%.
Underemployment is also relatively low in the sector, with a rate of 19.2%.
Early childhood education, which is largely comprised of jobs in early childcare, kindergarten or elementary school teaching, and pre-school and daycare education, offers a low median annual income of $29,780 for pre-school teachers. Job growth rate is promising, with a 10% growth rate by 2026, according to the U.S. government.
A bonus – most, but not all, early education job takers will likely only work the local calendar school year, getting about two months off plus the generous benefits that come with teaching and education in the public sector.
Many early childhood educators also go on to higher paying jobs in middle-schools and high-schools, where mid-career wages are higher than the $41,000 (on average) that early childhood educators would earn.
Education majors (non-early childhood education majors). With an unemployment rate of 1.7% and an under employment rate of 22.2%, general education is also generally a safe bet, career stability-wise, for education majors.
What teachers, administrators and other professional educations give up in overall salary (median mid-career annual income clocks in at just $45,000), they make up in ample benefits (especially health care and retirement pensions) and plenty of time off based on local school calendars.
That salary also depends on what job you take in the general education sector and in what town, city or state you take it. High school teachers, for example, earned a median salary of $60,320 in 2018, according to government figures. Elementary, middle-school, and high school principals do even better, averaging $95,000 annually (also in 2018.)
Educators in smaller, rural communities will usually earn less than their counterparts who teach in wealthy suburban areas and in select large urban centers where local, state and federal government funding is well above average.
Legal and public policy majors. Like the general education sector, the public policy and law sector (think government lawyers, city and town managers and political scientists, among other vocations) has a low unemployment rate of 1.7%. That duly noted, the underemployment rate of 62.8% is much higher, suggesting higher instability for jobs in the legal/public policy industry.
Annual pay (2018 saw median salaries of $117,570 for political scientists, for example) is well above average on the list of occupations with low unemployment rates. On the downside, the job growth outlook is slow, at 3%, through 2026.
But once you get a good job in the government sector, chances are you’ll keep it until the day you retire.
Other Industries with Low Unemployment
College graduates with majors in STEM and healthcare, such as civil engineering, nursing, genetics and physical sciences, and clinical psychology also tend to see better than average job growth and lower unemployment – although things may well be different in some of those sectors five years from now.
Additionally, it’s also advisable not to focus solely on job stability and average annual salary alone when considering a college major and a long-term career path.
In general, it’s tough to go wrong when you calculate income and unemployment rates in your career vocation assessment.
Just make sure to add in quality of life issues like passion for the industry, the joy of making a difference in your chosen vocation, and factoring in key issues like employee benefits, management opportunities, and job proximity that’s reasonably close to your home and community.
Add everything into the mix and chances are you’ll get the data you need to make an informed career path decision.