Getting a degree in today’s day and age is a necessity for most jobs. Some fields of study transition more smoothly, more predictably, or more consistently into careers that we can predict, while others are poured out onto a playing field that is so competitive it becomes nearly impossible to find employment in that arena.
Some degrees are by their very nature defined by a less distinct career path. Philosophy and English majors are the two most cliche examples, while teachers fall on the opposite end, with often very predictable paths (there are a great many different ways in which one can teach, but teaching itself remains the goal). It’s not that there aren’t careers for English or philosophy majors — that’s a different argument entirely, although one with some justifications — but rather that the next step beyond undergraduate studies is less predictable or determined by the degree itself.
Which brings us to the business degree. Many aspiring young college students enter into the business degree with hopes of working on Wall Street, running a business themselves, or working as management in a specific industry. Some do, but like any degree, graduates are quickly thrust into a competitive job pool with many applicants and few jobs, even with the improving economy. Future college students, undecided enrollees, and soon-to-be graduates all have a legitimate reason to take an interest in where their degrees can take them — or are most likely to take them in the real world once cold, hard reality sets in.
So where does a business degree really take you? Where has it taken most graduates? What’s the employment rate? Were most major CEOs business students? Let’s take a look.
First, let’s look at employment rates and projections for business majors. A study from Georgetown University, “Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal,” looks at the unemployment rates attached to different college degrees, and states that while it’s unquestionable that those who graduate from college have significantly higher rates of employment, “the risk of unemployment among recent college graduates depends on their major” as well. Some are listed as most “stable” such as those in education, healthcare, business, and professional services industries, which is a good sign for business majors — with the exception of those who majored in Hospitality Management (9.1%) compared to business overall (7.4%).
So we’ve established that, as fields go, unemployment in Business is comparatively lower than in “majors that are [not] more closely aligned with particular occupations and industries” such as humanities and liberal arts. What about graduate school? Does it offer a significant employment advantage for those in that field?
According to Georgetown University’s study, the answer is no. Unlike certain fields like education, those with business graduate degrees don’t necessarily do better than those with nothing more than a BA and whatever experience they’ve gained outside their education. (Regardless of major, however, having a graduate degree does tend to lead to higher pay.) As the graph above shows, recent graduates have unemployment rates slightly higher than psychology, social work, agriculture, natural resources, and communications/journalism majors. What about in the future? Projections from a second Georgetown report show business services compete with healthcare and education as a field in which jobs are expected to only improve with the economic recovery, as seen historically. “In the past two recoveries, the typical job gainer was a female with a postsecondary education who lived on either coast and worked in a service occupation — particularly healthcare, education, or business services,” it states, noting that a McKinsey Global Institute report is finding too many workers ill-equipped for these fields where jobs are actually available.
The U.S. Census Bureau released a 2011 study that put business graduates with one of the highest full-time year-round work statuses upon graduation, at 64.1%, with 18.6% not working and a median earning of $66,605 (but a drastic difference between average earnings for men and women in the industry). Most worked in the private sector, but a small percentage were in government or were self-employed.
That being said, most business majors aren’t going to graduate to become the next CEO of Chase — that’s like anthropology majors expecting an Indiana Jones whip and hat along with their diploma. In fact, according to a study of S&P 500 CEOs, published by Spencer Stuart, over 20% of CEOs were engineering majors, while only 15% majored in business administration, just over 10% majored in economics, 10% in liberal arts, and a little over 5% in accounting. An engineering major appears to be the better bet, at least based on these numbers.
So if CEO isn’t necessarily the most likely option, what is? According to Rasmussen College’s analysis of Burning Glass job postings, the most likely job taken up is that of business analyst, followed closely by financial analyst. Sales trainee, accountant, account manager, human resource manager, sales manager, marketing manager, sales support, and sales representative follow behind, in that order.
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