Going to college isn’t just about increasing your earning potential. But with student debt totaling $1.3 trillion in the U.S., most of us can’t afford to forget about finances. Among all its other personal benefits, a college education should lead you to well-paying jobs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a worker with a Bachelor’s degree earns 67.7 percent more than someone with a high school diploma.
The 5 worst paying majors
But not all college degrees are equal. According to data from Salary.com and Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), there are plenty of degrees with low returns on investment.
Here are the worst college majors — or at least, worst paying majors — for graduates.
1. Fine arts
According to the CEW, graduates with fine arts degrees have some of the lowest salaries after graduation. After graduating, these degree holders were taking home an average annual income of $31,000. A more experienced college graduate didn’t make more than $53,000.
Salary.com took a more specific look at careers for fine arts majors. These positions included illustrator, graphic designer, and museum research worker. The median salaries for these roles dipped as low as $37,819 and didn’t break the $50,000 mark.
Even if you don’t want to be an artist, a fine arts degree can land you a job in a museum, school, or company — but none of these jobs command especially competitive salaries.
2. Psychology and social work
Like a degree in fine arts, a psychology or social work degree resulted in a median salary of $31,000 for new graduates. Workers with this background didn’t make more than $52,000 after several years in the workforce.
If you go on to get your graduate degree and become a licensed psychologist, you could make closer to $70,000. But with just a Bachelor’s, you’re likely looking at roles like career counselor or human services worker. You could get by with a career counselor’s median salary of $43,384, but you’d find it tough to scrape by with a human services worker’s income of $22,738.
Social workers don’t make much more with a median salary of $43,474. While the profession can be fulfilling in lots of other ways, you likely won’t be suitably compensated for all your good work. However, you may qualify for student loan forgiveness after 10 years of working in public service.
3. Communications and journalism
Despite all the skills you need for a career in journalism, it doesn’t always pay well. The CEW found that communications grads start with a salary of just $34,000. Salary.com suggests that communications is the lowest paying major.
The average news reporter, for instance, makes a median salary of $37,393. When you consider that the average cost of one year at a private college is $32,410, that return on investment leaves a lot to be desired.
Despite all the hard work they do, graduates who go into education aren’t raking in the cash. The CEW places the average starting salary at $33,000. As a whole, teachers have a median salary between $52,000 and $55,000. Daycare center teachers make less than $28,000.
Depending on the state, you may need to get your Master’s degree to work in a public school. Some school districts pay more than others and many teachers see their salaries increase significantly over their tenure. But if you’re taking on a lot of loan debt for an education degree, think carefully about how you’ll pay it all back.
Part of the reason a Bachelor’s degree in sociology doesn’t earn you a lot of money is that it doesn’t have a clear application. To do more extensive research in sociology, you’ll likely need to get your Master’s or Ph.D.
Salary.com suggests that corrections officer and chemical dependency counselor are two common occupations for sociology grads. Corrections officers earn just over $39,000 a year, and chemical dependency counselors make around $47,000.
You don’t have to avoid the worst-paying majors
You don’t necessarily need to avoid every major on this list. Remember that this salary information represents an average; there are plenty of people who have majored in these fields and gone on to great financial success.
And your potential salary, of course, isn’t the only factor when it comes to choosing a major. Personal passion also plays a large role. But if you’re attending a high-tuition school — and taking on a lot of student loan debt to do so — then return on investment becomes important.
Loan repayment typically kicks in six months after graduation. You’ll need to have the means to manage those payments. Before taking out loans, consider your future career. Regardless of what you study, creating a plan now can help you avoid financial hardship later.
Now that you’ve read about the worst college majors for return on investment, what about the best? Check out this guide for the seven highest-paying undergraduate majors.
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