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.