Student Optimism About Finance Careers Wins Out Over STEM

The confidence gap between finance and STEM degrees grew 6 percentage points year-over-year, the CFA Institute survey found.

art-wall-st-06-03.jpg

Bigstock Photo

Students are more optimistic about their career prospects in finance than they are in biology, computer science, engineering, and mathematics — and the gap is widening.

When students were asked which industries (if any) they were feeling most confident about in terms of their career prospects, finance was the clear winner. In a 2024 survey by the CFA Institute, 30 percent of students were confident in a finance degree leading to a good career compared to 20 percent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees; 19 percent of information technology or telecommunications; 18 percent of sales, media, and marketing; and 17 percent of education.

Only 9 percent of students with degrees in arts and culture were confident about their future careers; 8 percent were confident in the legal industry; and 6 percent in manufacturing and utilities. Overall, only 3 percent of nearly 10,000 students surveyed said they were not feeling confident about their career prospects.

The gap between finance and STEM degrees grew 6 percentage points year-over-year, the survey found, and there could be multiple reasons for that. The optimism about finance remains high because it is a big industry and it pays better than others. But other reasons — like the opportunity to shape the world using the influence of the financial services industry — appear to be growing stronger.

“As graduates today seek professions that not only promise stability but also resonate with their desires to make a tangible difference, finance emerges as an industry of opportunity. Our research shows that careers in finance offer the assurance of stability and provide a platform for graduates to contemplate a more impactful future,” Margaret Franklin, president and CEO of the CFA Institute, said in a statement. “With a new focus on sustainable investment strategies, and the possibilities for AI to enhance investment workflows, graduates have an opportunity to help shape a more innovative industry through a career in finance.”

Graduates felt that their career prospects had improved after getting a degree but they said their resumes had an edge if they had more real-world experience, such as an internship and practical skills.

Most graduates (81 percent) also said they valued post-graduate certifications and qualifications because they were a way to secure higher earnings and gain a competitive edge in the job market. 95 percent say upskilling or acquiring certifications are important, and 71 percent say certifications will have a large impact on their job opportunities.

“Today’s graduates desire to attain real-world experience as they increasingly seek opportunities to differentiate themselves in a crowded job market,” Peter Watkins, senior director of university programs at the CFA Institute, said. “Organizations that continue to invest in upskilling and career advancement opportunities for their employees will be attractive to the next generation, who are keen to grow professionally.”

Despite increased confidence levels in financial services and other industries, students also said their biggest concerns included low pay (11 percent), lack of jobs in their preferred sector (10 percent), and feeling unfulfilled or uninterested in their work (10 percent).

The survey included respondents who were pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher, or earned a bachelor’s degree or higher within the last three years (and were between 18 and 25). Respondents were located in the U.K., U.S., Canada, India, Australia, Singapore, U.A.E., Germany, Spain, France, Brazil, Mexico, and China.

Related