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.