Majors with zero percent unemployment for graduates (including a favorite)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, so posting has been infrequent (my apologies). But this one jumped out at me in the news for personal reasons, so I thought I would pass it along.

As a former actuary, I like to mention when I hear about actuaries or the actuarial profession in the news. (Searching this blog for “actuar” — cutting it short so as to capture “actuary”, “actuarial”, etc. — produces a number of hits, some relevant, but some not.)  Today the actuarial profession had a very pleasant mention, indeed.

There has been a great deal of discussion out there as to whether or not college educations are worth their cost these days. Many go into hock up to their eyeballs for a degree only to find that they are unable to make a living after they graduate. This is due, I think, to a number of factors — the current economy, yes, but also changes in both the content and quality of university education, increases in how much it costs to gain that education, and a mindset that has made college an end in and of itself. Yes, the Second Law of Success is “Education or Preparation” but the direction of that education or preparation is determined by the First Law of Success, which is to “Set the Right Goal.” Many jump into college without having done the first step of setting a goal, which — had they done so — might have altered their collegiate decisions and, possibly, suggested other alternatives.

But all of that is neither here nor there (he says, realizing he has allowed himself to become distracted). The article on Yahoo!’s “The Lookout” news blog that I came across today (actually published yesterday) lists the “10 college majors with the lowest unemployment rates.”  And there, at the very top, was “Actuarial Science” with an unemployment rate for recent graduates of “0%.” There might be some other stories buried in that list — feel free to check it out and comment below, if so. But the one that warmed my heart was the #1 major listed, good ol’ actuarial.

Actually, I did not major in Actuarial Science. I majored in pure (theoretical) mathematics, and after earning a bachelors I began teaching high school mathematics, which was my goal on entering. (I was counseled to major in applied mathematics, instead, since I was going to be teaching high school, but I loved the theoretical, “prove it, prove it, prove it” stuff too much not to major in it. Nothing against application, which I’ve come to appreciate very much — the two majors being two sides of the same coin — but my heart still lies on the pure mathematics side of that divide.) As stressful as it could be at times — and watching kids run full throttle down a path of self-destruction can be stressful — I enjoyed being a math teacher very much, especially as I got to teach (among other wonderful subjects) Calculus, a passionate and poetic subject if ever there were one. But when Boy #1 arrived, I found I needed to find another job that would allow us to keep to our plans of having my Beautiful Wife work (even harder) at home, so I became an actuary.

I was sad to leave teaching, to be sure, but I found I loved being an actuary. Yes, I lived in a Dilbert-like cubicle, and, yes, I spent much of my time working on spreadsheets, and, yes, the exams were some of the most excruciating experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and, yes, it was geeky work. But I loved it. And for those with good, strong mathematical skills who would like to be able to use them in a career that simultaneously offers so much more than mathematics, I highly recommend looking into it. (You can start here: BeAnActuary.org.)

Though I’m a minister now, the experience I had as an actuary still benefits me. And it is nice to see it in the news, even if the news is not a surprise. 🙂

But if you are considering your goals and facing college-related decisions and being an actuary isn’t your cup of tea, check out the rest of the list. The key seems to be highly skilled labor over positions that could be filled easily. Though, again, if anyone notices anything else newsworthy in the list, by all means comment below and let us know.

13 thoughts on “Majors with zero percent unemployment for graduates (including a favorite)

  1. Robert

    This very subject (not actuarial math, sorry, but of employment by college major) is very close to me. I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (maybe I still don’t, but I look forward to the Kingdom of God).

    I first went to school to study music – violin performance, actually. During a violin lesson, a Russian instructor told me “if you were this good at computers, you’d be rich. But you’re not, so practice, practice, practice!” That wasn’t news to me, but to hear him say it the way he did made me suddenly aware that the path I was on promised to be a difficult and poor one. I liked playing, but I hated being poor more. I moved on to try something else (though not computers) that I also enjoyed and could make a decent living with.

    Ultimately, I majored in microbiology. I was very interested in it and also thought, being as difficult as it was, it would have to yield a high paying job. Wrong! I later learned that my degree was nearly worthless without continuing to be a Dr. (either a medical doctor or PhD.). Even though I actually did want to continue my education past a B.S. degree, I was uncomfortable with the amount of debt I had accumulated. I wanted to find employment so I could actually pay my way through a higher degree instead of taking out loans. Apparently, this is not an option.

    Like you mentioned, Mr. Smith, I failed to follow Rule #1 of setting the right goal and by doing research. But you make another good points – why didn’t a B.S. degree in microbiology adequately prepare me to enter the job market upon graduation? It seemed I had payed for the ferry to take me only half way across the water, at which point I could take out a loan and continue to the other side (with a PhD), or I could swim. Well, I swam.

    I swam for years until an affordable MBA boat came along. Now, even with more education under my belt, the game has become one of somehow gaining relevant experience when all jobs require relevant experience to start. I empathize with all the unemployed (even the employed) students out there in this strange job market. Employers don’t want to train job candidates anymore, but they complain that they can’t find trained candidates.

  2. Anonymous

    Oh boy, this post came along at the right time. I’ve been wanting to ask you about this.

    I know a talented young pitcher who announced that he’s going to quit baseball after highschool (despite the interest of several pro scouts). He’s going to pursue a master degree in applied mathematics, including a student membership in SIAM. He’s been taking honors classes since 9th grade, and has a 4.56 GPA, so he can handle the school work.

    He can’t decide on biology, chemistry, physics, or engineering. A degree in applied mathematics opens the door for all of those, however, so he doesn’t have to choose a particular field right now. ANYWAY, becoming an actuary popped up, because his first year in college includes actuarial science. He didn’t know what that was, so he did some digging on it, and decided that it was definitely on his “possible maybe” list.

    Can you tell me about some website, professional organizations, or other resources for further exploration? And what is your experience, having actually worked in the field? You know, the stuff that – looking back – you didn’t learn in school?

    I’d very much appreciate a reply. And a big THANKS in advance.

  3. Howdy, Anonymous —

    The place I would start is the website I linked to above: beanactuary.org. I thought it was a great career, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. That website is designed to help people just like your young man decide if it’s something they should pursue or not. As for your question about my experience and the stuff I didn’t learn in school, I’m not sure what you are asking, but I can say that my work as an actuary (and it can certainly differ from company to company) demanded a great deal of personal responsibility and integrity, as others rely greatly on your judgment and analysis. The SOA professionalism course I took stressed that greatly, pointing out that the worldwide body of actuaries is a rather small group that takes its collective integrity and reputation very seriously. When CEOs and other folks are making billion-dollar decisions based on your analysis and the public relies on you for not just accuracy but good judgment, being able to step up to the plate and do your job is important. When your judgment is wrong, and sometimes it is, you’ve got to be willing and able to accept that burden.

    I’ve seen the quote in various forms, so I may not get it exactly right, but Samuel Butler once said, “Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient data.” That art of life is, in a real way, the actuary’s job. An actuary must be able to successfully mix good — and sometimes not-so-good — data with good judgment to produce good results. It’s the “judgment” quality that, in my opinion, makes the profession stand out and which I found most challenging (and, therefore, rewarding).

    (As for degrees in mathematics, it’s important to keep in mind that once you get to a certain level, everyone has taken honors classes since 9th grade and has an all “A” average in high school. 🙂 As someone wisely warned me when I began my college career at Texas A&M, at my school I may have been valedictorian, but there I was surrounded by valedictorians. And as any good actuary knows, past experience is no guarantee of future performance. 🙂 )

    I hope this helps!

  4. texasborn

    Mr. Smith, there is a book written by Marsha Sinetar titled “Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood.” An interesting title that creates hope in the breast of many a young person seeking employment, but there should be a caveat attached to that aspiration. There have been many “starving” poets, musicians and artists in our US society, even though many were extremely talented in their particular field.

    Sadly, it seems that, for the most part, greater attention (as well as remuneration) is focused upon fields of endeavor that are more relevant to fulfilling people’s physical needs than to their emotional ones. Both are necessary, I believe, for a healthfully stable society. (I do not discount the “superstars” in their respective artistic fields of occupation, but they are only that very small percentage that are highly financially successful and very few of those–if any–even observe God’s Sabbaths, by declining paid performances during that holy time.) So, what is a young person in God’s church to do, in exercising their artistic talents for profit, in order to pay the bills? Not all can, or even be willing to, teach others their chosen craft.

    Many may not know it, but Vincent Van Gogh died in extreme poverty. It has been said that he never even sold a single painting of his, in his lifetime! How ironic that “the money followed” long after his death!

  5. You know, Mr. Smith, after looking at the list, the only reason Actuary Science is number one is that it starts with an ‘Ac’ – it beat out Astronomy by a few points, or ASCII values. I understand it is near and dear to your heart, so I completely understand your excitement – if Computer Engineering had been number 1, I would have printed it out to show my own mum.

    You know, I was reading a NYT op-ed a couple of days ago about the problem with packing the pipe-line for STEM careers – and it may be why there is zero unemployment in things like Actuary Science. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/why-science-majors-change-their-mind-its-just-so-darn-hard.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&smid=fb-share&adxnnlx=1320495485-S4fwdKzb9jH8Wrm4FwMj%20g)

    The problem at my college where I attended was that there was a huge gap or drop off point where it seemed for a little while it was really hard and useless. As a contrast, I think of things like the military’s basic training, and it is very hard and feels useless, but there seems to be connection and flow, a vision if you will. With some STEM education, especially at a research institute like UTK, I think the system is broke because it is not a focus on students from the teachers – it is getting that grant money in for research – and that is the talent they look for filling professorships – and if they are a good teacher, its a plus. Such a shame – when I become a teacher one day, it will be to do what you did with your “kalculus kids” – teach them the ‘art’ with passion.

  6. Thank you, Mr. Nitzberg — good catch on the alphabetical 1-6! OK, so Actuarial Science is tied for 1st. 🙂 As for STEM classes, I think there is a lot that could be done. One day such subjects will be seen as discovering the wonders of God’s work of Creation — that’s the revolution I’m looking forward to!

  7. Anonymous

    Your reply was very helpful. We knew about beanactuary.org, but you led us to soa.org. Anyway, you described the important characteristics of the job – responsibility, integrity, judgement and analysis. That’s the kind of information I was hoping for. Valuable.

    (And your caveat is well taken. The same kind of sifting process happens in baseball, so you gave him a sports analogy that he can relate to).

    Thanks again, Mr. Smith! I appreciate it.

  8. hamsterofdark

    2 actuary exams, certified math teacher, plenty of useful and transferable skills, 3.7 GPA, 100% unemployed. Can you tell me what i am missing here? Where are the jobs?

  9. Greetings, Hamsterofdark, and I’m afraid you’re asking the wrong person. I left actuarial work for the ministry several years ago and haven’t been a part of the profession in quite a while. The news item caught my eye, which is why I passed it on.

    I know that when I was an actuary, I got calls from headhunters frequently, so perhaps there’s an avenue there. I, too, was a certified math teacher with a high GPA, and it always seemed that there were math teaching jobs available, though I’m sure that squeezed state budgets have dampened that to some extent.

    I hope you find a job soon!

  10. Texasborn

    Regarding your reply to Anonymous of November the ninth: As I stated in one of my many posts on my Facebook account last year on the subject of statistics (I hope you read them), even if you are a one-in-a-million type person in China, there are STILL over a thousand just like you!! So, dom’t feel so bad about having been surrounded by otherr valedictorians at Texas A&M!!

    Also, I am still awaiting for your answer to what an artistically talented young person in God’s church is to do, in exercising those talents. Should he/she just be content with unpaid efforts, because of the Sabbath confrontation of time-job conflicts, or go ahead and take a deep breath–with much prayer to God–and accept a “not-so-quite-remunerative-as-other-job-opportunities” employment in that artistic field of endeavor, tenuous as it may be?

    Thanks!!

  11. Greetings, Texasborn, and I apologize that I did not catch that you wanted an answer to your question. And I suspect that the answer would depend greatly on the circumstances of the person answering it and on what their personal passion is. It isn’t the sort of question to which a one-size-fits-all answer is suited, and this would be true even if the Sabbath were not an issue. Our chief goal concerning any gifts or talents we are given should be to prayerfully determine how God would best be served by them in the environments we are in or could reasonably extend ourselves into. And we should recognize that we don’t serve God by ignoring the needs of our family (cf. 1 Tim. 5:8). And finally, we should recognize when we are young that if we want to have a family one day, we should prioritize growing in those ways that will allow us to succeed in a family for the roles we will have (cf. Prov. 24:27). Too far beyond those basic principles, the details of application cannot be generalized, methinks, and depend on individual circumstances and the nature of the talents at hand.

  12. A

    That article saying that Actuaries have very low or “zero” unemployment is simply incorrect. I cant say with certainty why, but I would suggest it is due to the combination of the small size of the field and and too small a sample size in the survey. There are plenty of people aspiring to become actuaries that are unemployed or underemployed. I think the career prospects of this field are grossly oversold. Moreover, what I consider appalling about this fact is that when many of those aspiring actuaries are inevitably forced to consider alternate careers due to the dearth of actuarial jobs, all the money and effort they put into passing actuarial exams will be wasted because those exams carries little value to other careers.(I must concede that maybe this last point is up for debate, but from the perspective of a hiring manager in any other industry, it is highly unlikely that they will place any value on the applicants prior efforts to become an actuary.) I have abandoned the actuarial career path, and I consider it to be the best decision I ever made in my life.

  13. Greetings, A, and thanks for your opinions and personal insights. It’s certainly possible that being an actuary is oversold, though I don’t know that I would agree with some of your conclusions. I know from my own experience, even in my “rookie” year I fielded many calls from headhunters looking to hire me away to other companies looking for actuaries, and within the insurance industry I was courted by other, non-actuarial departments in several instances, where they found my actuarial background attractive (though I was one exam short of being an ASA). It also seemed like we were hiring frequently as our actuaries left for other positions or other companies, or as the needs grew. We did have one merger which cut our department by half, but I believe that most of those found work OK. Of course, these things were some time ago.

    The report was done by an unbiased organization, I believe, so if there are errors (and when are there not?), the list still likely reflects a fairly proper ordering, even if the values are not exact.

    Still, I’m glad that you made a decision that has worked out for you! My decision to leave actuarial and accept my Church’s request that I enter the ministry was also the right one for me and my family, though I wouldn’t say it was due to any deficiency I felt in the actuarial profession, as I loved that job very much.

    Thanks, again!

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