College Degrees With Low-Paying Prospects

By Jake Schroeder
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Some degrees are about as useful as an education in underwater basket weaving. The sad thing is that underwater basket weaving might be more lucrative and financially rewarding than many of these majors. There's a reason why many parents hope their children grow up to be doctors and lawyers and not artists or musicians.

However, it’s not always liberal arts degree holders that get the worst deal. From engineering to the sciences, there are plenty of low-paying majors to go around.

Creative Writing

The median pay for employed writers and authors isn't too bad — $62,170 per year. But with non-existent job growth and a massive decline in employment opportunities for creative writers, finding a job can be challenging.

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Any person with a degree in creative writing is a brave person. Pursuing a passion or dream despite the odds being drastically against your favor takes real guts and persistence. Creative writers that do achieve financial success often spend years working as servers or retail workers before getting their big break. Others branch out into technical writing or copy editing.

Philosophy

To be, or not to be, a philosophy major: When it comes to financial and job growth outlook, the answer is obvious. A bachelor's degree in philosophy is virtually useless, though students willing to pursue a master's degree can earn a decent amount of money teaching philosophy in colleges and universities.

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However, anyone hoping to make a living as a philosopher may want to spend a little more time thinking about what they expect from their future. If a life of financial struggle seems absolutely fine, then perhaps a degree in philosophy is right for you. At best, you’ll need to branch out a bit.

Sociology

There's no guarantee that a graduate with a sociology degree will secure a well-paying career opportunity. While a sociologist with a master's degree or more can earn about $82,050 per year, in 2018, there were only 3,000 sociologists employed in the United States.

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The good news is that a sociology degree doesn't have to be used strictly for sociology. Graduates are more likely to work in related — or unrelated — careers such as policy analysis, public relations and law. So, what's the point of a sociology degree again?

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English Composition

English literature is a surprisingly good choice as a major, as it opens many doors to more significant opportunities as well as several diverse career paths. Majoring in English composition, on the other hand, can be an unmitigable disaster. With broad outcomes and expectations, many English composition programs end up doing very little for employers and graduates alike.

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Choosing a specific focus, such as technical writing, writing for the media, or literature is better than majoring in such an unhelpful program. Approximately two out of every ten English composition graduates are unemployed at any given time. Yikes!

Anthropology

Studying societies around the world to better understand humanity's past, present, and future is a noble endeavor. Unfortunately, nobility and profitability don't often intertwine. Experienced and luckily employed anthropologists can expect to earn about $62,410 a year, but that's with a master's degree and plenty of experience.

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Any poor soul with a bachelor's degree in anthropology and nothing else is likely to struggle to find gainful employment within the anthropology field. More than likely, they'll either have to pursue higher education or find work outside their field.

Drama and Theater

Most students pursuing drama and theater have no misconceptions about how financially rewarding their degrees are. Still, there are always a few hopeful students who are certain their degree will lead to a renowned and successful acting career. Be warned, fame-lovers.

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Celebrities may earn millions for a single film, but most actors earn about $17.54 per hour for their labor. Considering the national average cost of living, an actor would have to work 40 hours a week for at least two-thirds of the year to survive. Considering how low job growth is, that's a nearly impossible feat.

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Archaeology

Indiana Jones spawned a generation of children eager to get their brushes dirty in search of ancient civilizations. What Indy failed to mention is how long it takes to get anywhere in the career. No doubt Harrison Ford wasn’t told the odds.

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Successful archaeologists and paleontologists hold at least a master's degree, and most earn about $60,000 a year. A bachelor's degree in archaeology means pretty much nothing, so those seeking to end their education after four years of study should probably stay away. That said, if you can break into the business, ancient dig sites are awesome.

Fine Arts

The 'fine arts' include drawing, painting, sculpting and much more. Every little kid that wanted to grow up and be an artist and create things would no doubt lose their mind while pursuing a fine arts degree.

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However, it's not a profitable education. Fine artists earn about $58,000, but only after gaining years of experience and portfolio work, and not all are successful Entry-level fine artists may struggle to earn much less.

Liberal Arts and Studies

A liberal arts and studies degree can be fun and exciting to the right student. However, to employers, it doesn't say much besides, "This applicant couldn't decide what they wanted to study." There are many specific degrees within the liberal arts field that make graduates more attractive to employers.

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However, earning such a generalist kind of degree does grant flexibility even if it might make success in any one field harder. Everything from law school to history is potentially open to someone with this degree — if you’re willing to get even more education.

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Psychology

As mental health continues to receive considerable public attention and focus, the need for psychologists and counselors continues to grow. However, a bachelor's degree isn't going to open many doors for psychology majors. Without a master's degree, graduates are left psychoanalyzing where they went wrong.

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The extra couple of years can be worth it, though. Experienced psychologists with a master's degree can earn approximately $80,000 a year! And with a pretty positive job outlook, a bachelor's in psychology doesn't necessarily spell the end for graduates.

Art History

Creative minds prefer creative pursuits, but those who major in art history are going to have to put their creativity to the test when finding a job. Art historians are in high supply but low demand, resulting in lackluster career opportunities.

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Unless that is, you think outside the box. Graduates with a bachelor's in art history could pursue positions in museums and art galleries, though the annual salary isn't impressive — $48,400 per year for experienced workers. While that's enough to survive on, it's not enough for too much else once student loans are factored in.

Music

People blessed with the gift of music are a rare and valuable part of any culture or society. However, there isn’t much demand for degrees in music, probably because of the massive number of music students that graduate every year.

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Finding work with a degree in music can be a complicated affair. Experienced accompanists, musicians and singers earn about $28.15 an hour, but opportunities for employment are limited and highly competitive. To survive in this career, you'll need a day-job and a lot of perseverance.

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Culinary Arts

It’s tempting to believe that every chef is employed in a fancy restaurant with a fantastic salary where they eat well and have plenty of opportunity for career growth. Surprise, surprise, that perception is entirely wrong. Even experienced, gifted head chefs only earn about $48,460 per year.

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A student can excel in culinary arts and business, preferring to own a restaurant and work in it. However, the chances of becoming a famed culinary genius are still infinitesimally small. For those looking to start a family someday, a different career path may be more financially-secure.

Criminal Justice

There's only one way to make a criminal justice degree financially worthwhile: Get hired by the government to work in an agency, like the FBI. Otherwise, prospects are bare and usually disappointing. While experienced criminal investigators and detectives can earn about $85,000 a year, job opportunities are difficult to come by.

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There are already plenty of investigators and detectives in the United States, so many new recruits end up dropping out of the field. That said, if you can make it as an FBI agent, it’s a pretty sweet gig.

Fashion Design

Becoming a fashion designer takes a lot of talent, an even greater amount of skill and a massive, earth-crushing amount of good fortune. Many entry-level fashion designers are self-employed, seeking clients to work with on a case-to-case basis. Pay isn't consistent, either.

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Fashion designers lucky enough to find employers or well-paying clientele can earn $72,720 per year, but job growth within this field is largely stagnant. To succeed, graduates need to compete in an overloaded market. That requires a wide range of skills, including marketing and business management. Good luck!

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Communications

At first glance, a degree in communications seems absolutely silly. At second glance, it still seems that way. Like other degrees that prove to be practically worthless because of their ambiguity and broad curriculum, a communications degree can be a terrible choice.

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While graduates with a bachelor's in communications can find employment as an office manager or executive, it's smarter to get a degree in business management. On the upside, it can prepare you for any number of graduate programs.

Theology

Piety is an important aspect of many religions, so it makes sense that religious workers earn even less than fine artists or musicians — right? Pastors and other religious workers earn only about $17.49 an hour.

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Unless your passions and beliefs are strongly tied to earning a theology degree, it may be better to think about pursuing a more financially beneficial major. It’s important to note that members of the clergy earn a slightly improved $25.62 per hour. The exact nature of a student's theology degree — a particular religion — helps determine overall pay.

Early Childhood Education

The formative years of people’s lives are important. Personality develops, belief systems begin to form and kids learn to tie their shoes. Well, some of us do. And yet, preschool teachers and early childhood educators make a miserably small amount of money.

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On average, preschool teachers earn $29,780 per year. That's just about enough for one person to survive a full year in the United States. When you factor in a spouse or children, things get very bad, very quickly. Financial stability and a degree in early childhood education do not go hand-in-hand.

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Language

A degree in a language, such as Spanish, German or Mandarin, can open up distant horizons and allow for unique travel experiences. However, it can also lead to a life of financial frustration and disappointment. While teaching isn't the only career opportunity for those majoring in a language, additional career paths pay about the same.

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Translators and interpreters make about $49,930 every year. Luckily, job growth for this position is pretty high, so finding a job won't be a problem as long as you choose the right language. However, you may have to move abroad to put your degree to work.

Dance

Properly trained dancers seem to be born with a grace and balance that eludes most people. However, professional dancers and choreographers only earn $18.17 per hour. That's not a wage that results in fancy living, grace or no grace.

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While true diehards may remain undeterred by the pathetic paycheck, those who are on the fence about pursuing dance as a major should take this opportunity to think twice. With a great career, you can afford to take as many dance classes as you'd like.

Wildlife Biology

Wildlife biologists and zoologists are on the front lines every day, recording and observing animal behavior to conserve and protect every species currently alive on the planet today. It's a huge undertaking, and one that requires hundreds of thousands of well-educated individuals — right?

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Yes and no. Wildlife biologists and zoologists do have a decent chance of finding jobs, and annual pay is approximately $63,420. However, getting a position usually requires an advanced degree, and there are less than 20,000 wildlife biologists employed in the US. Job growth is merely average. Travel, field research and constant publication requirements might not be worth all the effort.

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Music Theory

Unlike musicians, who often specialize in a particular instrument or music style within their degree program, graduates with a music theory degree don't have much to share with employers beyond an understanding of the concept and theory of music, which isn't terribly impressive.

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Music theory graduates can work in public schools as music teachers, or they can take to the limelight and become musicians or singers themselves. Nonetheless, wouldn't it be better to just get a degree in music if the outcome for both degrees is pretty much the same? It's a thinker.

Office Administration

Some people were born to grow up and take on the gray, boxy, cubicle-life. Those with a secret love for the feel of warm, fresh copies, the smell of ink or the sounds of staplers may be attracted to an office administration degree.

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However, possible career outcomes of this degree include receptionist, administrative assistant and bookkeeper. These are all positions attainable with an accounting or business degree, or even a high school diploma. The average per-hour pay for someone with an office administration degree is about $12. That's not a liveable wage.

Photojournalism

The sweet spot between photography and journalism, photojournalism can be an exciting, attractive career. Sadly, it's not a very financially beneficial one. Considering how often photojournalists are required to travel and the sometimes dangerous situations they are required to be in, it's amazing that the average annual pay for those employed in this career isn't higher.

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Photojournalists earn an average of $41,000 a year. Exact amounts vary, with aeronautics-focused photojournalists earning the most. Basically, to scrape by in this career, you'd have to have some tight connections with friends at NASA.

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Metallurgical Engineering

Though it may have a more long-winded name nowadays, metalsmithing is at the core of a metallurgical engineering degree. By the way, they do teach metalsmithing in some colleges and universities. It is not yet a lost art.

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However, considering the pay offered to graduates of a metallurgical engineering program, it's a wonder there are any metalsmiths left on the face of the earth. On average, a metalsmith earns just under $40,000 a year. It’s not terrible, but is it really worth all those student loans? If only graduates could smith some useful coinage — alas, that's highly illegal.

Recreation and Leisure Studies

If people drive you crazy but nature soothes you, a degree in recreation and leisure studies may be right for you — as long as you're willing to live on less than $64,000 a year. That doesn’t sound terrible until you consider you’ll probably have to wait years or more to find the right career opportunity.

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Foresters, recreation managers and other outdoor-loving peoples have stable jobs when they find them. The trouble is that there are only so many protected natural regions, so job growth is slow within this field.

Family and Consumer Sciences

Family and consumer sciences sound like a made-up field, and it kind of is. Students enrolled in a family and consumer sciences program study nutrition, retail management, community issues and early childhood education. If all of these topics seem pretty diverse, that's because they are.

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Because this degree doesn't offer a lot of focus on any one area, it's mostly useless in the eyes of a prospective employer. Want to be a nutritionist? Major in nutrition. But whatever you do, stay far, far away from this degree if you want to earn major moolah.

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Elementary Education

Educators that teach kindergarten and elementary school students earn more than their preschool counterparts, but not by much. The average annual salary of a US primary school teacher in 2018 was $57,980. Schools are getting better at retaining teachers, which lowers job growth significantly.

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Teacher salaries vary greatly between states, with some earning much less than the average, especially at public schools. Many teachers find second jobs during the summer months to supplement their income. Do you want that to be you?

Cosmetology

Beauticians and makeup artists work on commercial projects such as television shows and movies and with individual clients for weddings, photoshoots and special occasions. But for all the gorgeous affluence cosmetologists bring to the world, their bank accounts are quite ugly.

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The average beautician earns about $24,000. Considering the current cost of living, that's barely passing for survival. Though a lack of money may be the cost of fleeting beauty, it doesn't have to be. Choosing an alternative degree can result in financial security, which is a beautiful thing in and of itself.

Visual and Performing Arts

A degree in visual and performing arts can result in a long-term, rewarding career in the art field. However, most graduates who earn this degree suffer before finding financial salvation, and many never make it at all.

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At best, graduates can secure a position as an art director and earn about $92,780 per year. At worst, graduates could remain forever unemployed, unable to support themselves or their loved ones or pay back student loans. Sometimes it seems like everything in art comes down to a rigged coin flip.

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