How Many People Actually Use Their College Degree?

As an entrepreneur who coaches recent grads on career strategies, I often get asked – is college really worth it? Will I actually use my degree after graduation? The statistics paint a complex picture. While a degree is an asset, how much you utilize it depends on several factors. In this article, we‘ll explore degree usage rates, key determinants of career success, and expert tips to maximize your ROI from college.

The Data on Using Your Degree

Let‘s start with the stats:

  • Per a leading Federal Reserve study, only 27.3% of grads work in a job closely related to their college major within one year of graduation.
  • PayScale data reveals 62% of degree holders are underemployed in their first jobs out of college.
  • Further, a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey found 35% of recent graduates work in positions that don‘t require a degree at all.

These bleak numbers have trended worse over the past decade as soaring tuition costs and a rapidly evolving job market create barriers for new degree holders seeking to apply their education.

However, all is not lost. While few grads utilize their degree specifically, earning one still provides an advantage. NACE data shows those with a bachelor‘s degree average a starting salary of $55,260, significantly more than the $35,256 average starting salary for high school graduates.

Key Factors That Determine Degree Applicability

As an entrepreneurship coach, I‘ve noticed several key factors that impact how directly graduates can apply their degrees:

  • Field of study – STEM and business/finance majors have the highest degree utilization rates at over 50%. Social sciences and humanities trail at 20-30%.
  • Hands-on experience – Internships and other experiential learning opportunities during college let students apply knowledge and build connections.
  • Soft skills – Critical thinking, communication, emotional intelligence and other transferable abilities open doors across fields.
  • Networking – Building professional relationships expands possibilities exponentially more than just submitting job applications.
  • Economy – A downturn leading to scarce jobs can force grads to take any position that pays the bills.
  • Mental health – Burnout and uncertainty from a turbulent final year or two of school can impair job seeking abilities.

Tips to Maximize Your Degree Value

Here are my top insider tips for college students and recent graduates striving to get a good return on their educational investment:

  • Pick a practical major: Balance your interests with viable career paths and earnings potential. Growing fields like computer science, healthcare and finance are smart choices today.
  • Get relevant experience: Complete at least one internship, ideally in your target industry. Check if your school has co-op programs to gain experience for credit.
  • Build soft skills: Take on campus leadership roles, work part-time jobs, and practice projecting confidence and charisma when networking. These abilities will serve you well.
  • Make connections: Attend industry events, leverage alumni networks, and practice elevator pitches. Tap into the power of relationships.
  • Consider alternatives: Certifications, vocational programs and bootcamps can be shorter and cheaper options that provide hands-on training.
  • Stay flexible: Keep an open mind about jobs outside your desired field, especially at first. Build diverse skills to keep your options open.

The Bottom Line

While using your specific college degree is not guaranteed, strategically developing experience, skills and connections gives you a major advantage in entering the workforce. By making pragmatic decisions and being adaptable, you can find fulfilling opportunities, whether as an entrepreneur or working professional.