Are science grads really better off?

Salaries, employment rates don’t match perception


Science students at York U. (Jessica Darmanin)

Many students pursuing bachelor of arts degrees enter university expecting to need further training or education, so it doesn’t hurt as much if we can only score a minimum wage job after graduation. We’re all aware of the barista with the B.A.

But the realization that a bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee a job hits harder for those who believed they chose fields with more jobs and higher pay: bachelor of science students.

Sara Sparavalo, in year four at Dalhousie University in Halifax, is about to graduate with a degree in chemistry and biochemistry. Before university, she was unsure about her chosen career path, yet she expected a bachelor of science degree would give her more opportunities.

Her job hunt has so far been discouraging. “I don’t have many opportunities with my current degree that pay more than $30,000 a year,” she says. For this reason, she will do classes in the fall to supplement her degree in hopes of getting into a graduate program in biomedical engineering. She has also considered starting over and pursuing a bachelor of engineering degree.

That may be a smart move. Engineering has better employment rates than science, and much better pay. The Council of Ontario Universities’ most recent graduate survey, which looked at how a large sample of 2009 bachelor’s graduates were doing two years after graduation (in 2011), found that 93.8 per cent of engineering grads were employed. They had a median salary of $60,383.

Compare that to those in agricultural and biological sciences, who had a 90.2 per cent employment rate and median pay of $42,681. For physical sciences, 89.5 per cent were employed with median pay of $44,073.

Now compare those rates of employment and salaries to social sciences graduates, who mostly have bachelor of arts degrees: 91.2 per cent were employed with a median pay of $42,593. Humanities graduates, who also hold BAs, were actually slightly more likely than science graduates to be employed (90.7 per cent) and had only 10 per cent lower pay: $38,578.

“There’s a stigma associated with doing an arts degree,” says Sparavalo, “but students could do either [arts or science] and be in almost the same place.” The numbers suggest she’s right.

Jenny Lugar is a fourth-year History and English major at Acadia University.


Are science grads really better off?

  1. Don’t forget the engineering tuition is twice as much as those science and arts. Of course, they will make more after that.

  2. I am currently a dual degree student, completing an honors specialization in a bachelor of medical sciences program, as well as a second degree in an honors business administration program – both in 5 years time. The reason I chose to do so is because I was able to keep options open for the future, while being able to pursue both my science and business interests. However, I quickly came to realize that the issue is not in the job opportunities that exist, yet the job opportunities that students (especially in science faculties) tend to rely on upon graduation from an undergraduate program. The thing is that science students (from my experience with peers) are extremely intelligent: they know how to problem solve, are analytically driven, and are extremely hard working. The issue comes about from the versatility of the skills that they develop during their academic program, as well as the general narrow-minded thought process that a majority of them are focused on. For those of you in a science program, it is clear that students are either focused on getting into a medical/dental/pharmacy/optometry program as their first choice upon graduation, or rely on going into a masters/PhD program. One may argue that the issue, upon reading this article, is that “job opportunities do not exist for science students”, and yes, I do agree that it is difficult to find a high paying job in the relatively niche world of healthcare, despite it being a massive industry, accounting for a large proportion of the Canadian and US economies. However, the fact is that most firms (whether hospitals, clinics, pharmaceutical corporations and biotechnology companies) require employees to have a higher degree of understanding of the subject matter (e.g. biochemistry, anatomy, pathology, etc), as well as the official credentials to back up that knowledge, and this is why many students ONLY focus on getting this extra graduate degree. Unfortunately, a majority of science students (again, I am stressing that this is from my experience) do not realize how versatile their skill-set is in the “real world”, whether it is using those quantitative abilities to work with an investment management company, to using problem-solving and critical thinking skills to succeed in the consulting world. Overall, I am stressing the fact that these “higher paying jobs” DO in fact exist, and that science students need to learn to venture out of their norm if they are sick and tired of the mainstream issues of low pay for simply holding a science degree. In fact, non-scientific companies love non-business students because they are able to work differently than regular business students. As a whole, I strongly believe that science students are not disadvantaged when looking for a full-time job post-graduation, and the reality is that they should stop thinking the way they have for the first two decades of their life, and open up a bit more to the opportunities that do exist beyond what they are currently exposed to.

  3. Dhruv Vyas you are correct. Many science grads do go on to completely different types of jobs. Several years ago I worked at one of the top C.A. firms in Canada. Many of the firm’s tax, accounting and consulting partners, I found out, had science degrees. I would have thought they had gone the traditional business, accounting route as an undergrad, but they had Chemistry, Biology, Physics degrees instead. It was an eye-opener for me.

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