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Where College Majors Actually End Up Working

Your graphic-design degree could lead to a job in a funeral parlor.


Just because you got a B.A. in graphic design doesn't mean you won't wind up toiling in a mortuary. Seriously: While the majority of people with design degrees do find employment in their desired field, their next most common source of paychecks is serving as "miscellaneous managers, including funeral service."

So elucidates this intriguing flow diagram showing how college majors lead to different occupations. "What Are You Going To Do With That Degree?" was created by Ben Schmidt – data dude, assistant professor of history at Boston's Northeastern University, and occasional Atlantic contributor – using info from the American Community Survey. Schmidt writes:

The width of each stream shows how many people with that major are in that field. (The color shows whether that's more or fewer people than expected based on how big the major is). 

You surely see that the lines are too small to understand in most cases: to actually see what's going on with a particular field or job, double click on a box and the chart will filter down to just the people who either majored in the field, or ended up employed in the job. (click on one of the connecting lines to see both at once) 

Take it for a whirl (note that to access the full interactivity, you'll have to click through to Schmidt's site) and you're likely to get many reactions of the variety "of course that's what happens," mixed with a few "huhs?". People who studied education, for example, by and large become school teachers or administrators:

Perhaps sadly for folks hoping to write the next great American novel, many school teachers also hold degrees in English and literature. Majoring in these subjects alternately leads people into jobs as lawyers, administrative assistants, and "supervisors of retail sales workers":  

There aren't many twists and turns in the career paths of computer-science majors: They're soon coding, managing information systems, and to a much lesser degree working in the nuclear-engineering field:

A psychology degree is a good way to end up doing social work, as well as counseling and elementary and middle-school teaching:

And attention all holders of journalism degrees: Have you ever considered a career in marketing?

Top image: michaeljung / H/t Flowing Data

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.