Bachelor’s stats: where others have gone before

So you have a bachelor’s degree in physics, astronomy or science. What do you plan to do with it? Like thousands of students before you, you’ve hit that fork in the road and it’s important to weigh your options carefully. Take a look at some of these figures of recent graduates in your field to learn what they did with their degrees. It may just spark your next brilliant move.

Statistical information

Each year, the American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center conducts its Survey of Enrollments and Degrees, which asks physics and astronomy departments across the nation to provide information on the number of enrolled students and recent degree recipients. The Center also surveys recent graduates to get their take on first jobs, salaries, rate of job satisfaction, continuing career opportunities, and plans for graduate education. Here’s what the classes of 2006 and 2007 had to say:

Graduate education vs. immediate employment

Initial employment sectors of physics bachelor’s, classes of 2006 & 2007, AIP Statistics

  • 57% of physics bachelors chose to immediately pursue graduate studies (35% in physics and astronomy, and 22% in other fields)
  • 39% were employed, while 4% were still seeking jobs
  • Of those who were employed immediately after graduation, more than 50% said they would pursue graduate education within 3 years
  • 25% intended to enroll in graduate school after working for a year, and 6% enrolled as part-time graduate students while working full time
  • Did you know? Physics graduates who receive their degrees from graduate-degree-granting departments are more likely to pursue graduate studies in physics!

Where are Bachelor’s employed?

  • The private sector continues to be the largest employer of physics bachelor’s
    • 59% found employment in private sector, 14% in high schools, 10% in colleges and universities, 6% in civilian government, and 5% in active military
  • Degree recipients working in private sector STM positions receive some of the highest starting salaries 
    • approximately $46,000 in private sector STM,
    • $42,000 in government,
    • $40,000 in private sector non-STM,
    • $36,000 in military,
    • $35,000 in high school teaching,
    • $33,000 in college or university

Who’s hiring Bachelor’s in physics

Employer Distribution for Physics Bachelors, Classes of 2007-8

Job satisfaction

Bachelor’s in Physics

  • The majority of physics bachelor’s were satisfied with their salaries and benefits 
    • 95% in military,
    • 75%+ in high school teaching, private sector STM, and civilian government, and
    • 60% in private sector non-STM.
  • The majority were satisfied with the level of responsibility in their positions
    • 90%+ in high school teaching,
    • 80%+ in active military and civilian government,
    • 80% in private sector STM, and 60%- in private sector non-STM.
  • Bachelor’s employed in the military reported the highest level of satisfaction with the amount of intellectual challenge in their positions
    • 70% in military,
    • 60%+ in high school teaching,
    • 60% in private sector STM,
    • 50%+ in civilian government,
    • and only 30% in private sector non-STM.
  • Bachelor’s employed in the military were also the most satisfied with their opportunities for advancement 
    • 98% in military,
    • 80% in civilian government,
    • 70%+ in private sector STEM,
    • 60%+ in high school teaching,
    • 60% in private sector non-STEM.
  • Bachelor’s employed in the military were most satisfied with the level of “job security” in their positions
    • 100% in military,
    • 95%+ in civilian government,
    • 90%+ in high school teaching and private sector STM,
    • and only 80%- in private sector non-STM.

Bachelor’s in Astronomy

  • 41% of astronomy bachelor’s recipients graduated with a double major
  • Nearly 40% of astronomy graduates are female
  • About half of new astronomy graduates enter the workforce after earning their degreeswhile 45% immediately pursue graduate education, with
    • 22% in astronomy/astrophysics,
    • 10% in physics, and
    • 13% in other fields.
  • Astronomy bachelor’s had a median starting salary of $48,000 if employed in private sector STM positions
    • $34,000 in college / university, and
    • $26,00 in private sector non-STM.
  • Half of all new astronomy graduates employed in the private sector are working in an STM field

The data

You can find the research above and much more here:

Online career resources

If your choice is to join the workforce or look for a job in your field, there are a number of online resources that can help you.

PhysicsToday Jobs

A site designed for job seekers and employers with a comprehensive database of jobs in physics, astronomy and sciences. You can post your resume, search for jobs, and set up email alerts.

PhysicsToday also operates the AIP Career Network, which you can read more about here. Other job sites from the AIP Career Network include:

Careers Using Physics (Society of Physics Students)

The Society of Physics Students maintains an online resource about career paths for physics students at various academic levels. You can read about different available paths, success stories, tips, and more.

APS Career Center

The American Physical Society runs an online Careers Center website that showcases opportunities, statistics, and career paths aimed at all levels of physics degrees (from bachelor’s to working PhDs).
You should also consider listening to our interview with Crystal Bailey from the American Physical Society, titled “Graduate Degrees and What You Can Do With Them in the Job Market.” Bailey shares an inside look at career prospects for students with graduate degrees in physics, astronomy and related fields.

What is your career plan? Are you planning on a graduate degree or do you plan to join the workforce immediately? Share your experience and advice in the comments!


Image courtesy of semuthutan (Flickr)




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Advice to Students

The first year of grad school is really hard. Instead of spending time thinking about whether or not you should be in Grad School, spend that time doing your homework. Then after your first year you can think about whether you really want to be there. — Kendra Redmond, Program Coordinator and Assistant Editor, Society of Physics Students, Podcast Episode #1

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