By Mark Rooney, Senior Analyst
“Don’t worry, it doesn’t really matter what you major in.” Students have heard this reassurance from friends, mentors, and parents who have built successful careers in areas completely unrelated to their bachelor’s degrees. Conventional wisdom tells us that your major isn’t your destiny, and, as a result, the similarity of your job to your bachelor’s degree is largely irrelevant.
Yet, data from two recent Eduventures alumni surveys suggests that what students study at the undergraduate level and their ability to get a related job may matter after all, impacting both career satisfaction and how alumni feel toward their institution. For example, in a survey of more than 5,000 alumni of a major research university, those who are working in jobs that are extremely similar to what they studied at the bachelor’s level are over twice as likely to be highly satisfied with their jobs as those who are working in fields that are not at all similar.
Just how many of this university’s alumni are working in jobs dissimilar to what they studied at the undergraduate level? As it turns out, a lot. These alumni are about as likely to hold a job that’s unrelated to their undergraduate studies as they are to hold one that is similar.
We might think that many of these alumni graduated recently and simply have not yet found a job similar to their bachelor’s degree. The data suggests, however, that the effect is the same among older and more recent graduates: job similarity to undergraduate studies varies widely.
For this university’s alumni, the implications of straying from their undergraduate paths—or their inability to find jobs in their preferred field—appear to be serious. Not only are they less satisfied with their jobs, but they are also far less likely to say that they would go to the same institution again for their bachelor’s degree.
Figure 3. Likelihood that alumni “definitely would” choose the university again for their bachelor’s degree compared by level of job satisfaction
If the job satisfaction of these alumni significantly impacts the likelihood that they would choose their school over again, imagine how it also impacts the word-of-mouth they spread, their level of alumni engagement, and the likelihood that they would lend their time or money to their alma mater.
The Bottom Line
This recent study and another with similar results suggest that not only career success, but also career similarity to undergraduate majors may play a stronger role than we thought in determining undergraduate alumni satisfaction, both with their jobs and with the institution they attended. Of course, given that these findings are not from a national sample, but rather among alumni of several unique institutions, we cannot be certain of their broader implications. Nonetheless, these findings may signal an important trend that runs counter to conventional wisdom. Eduventures will conduct additional research going forward to broaden our sample size and further test these results.