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Lowest Paying College Degrees

by Ryan Guina

I recently wrote an article that stated college degrees are overrated. I don’t believe this to be the case for all college degrees. My point in that article was simply to state that there are many good paying jobs which don’t require a college degree, and not everyone should go to college if that is not where their skills or interests lie. Of course, there are many good paying jobs which require an advanced or professional college degree, particularly those in the professional fields (doctors, lawyers, etc.).

On the flip side, there are many college degrees that don’t have much income potential. What follows is a list of the lowest paying college degrees, as determined by PayScale.com.

Lowest Paying College Degrees

lowest paying college degreesThe lowest paying college degrees tend to be those in the public sector, education, and services career fields. Here is a list of the 10 worst paying degrees for 2010:

  • 10. Drama (starting annual salary: $35,600; mid-career annual salary: $56,600).
  • 9. Fine arts (starting annual salary: $35,800; mid-career annual salary: $56,300).
  • 8. Hospitality and tourism (starting annual salary: $37,000; mid-career annual salary: $54,300).
  • 7. Education (starting annual salary: $36,200; mid-career annual salary: $54,100).
  • 6. Horticulture (starting annual salary: $37,200; mid-career annual salary: $53,400).
  • 5. Spanish (starting annual salary: $35,600; mid-career annual salary: $52,600).
  • 4. Music (starting annual salary: $34,000; mid-career annual salary: $52,000).
  • 3. Theology (starting annual salary: $34,800; mid-career annual salary: $51,500).
  • 2. Elementary education (starting annual salary: $33,000; mid-career annual salary: $42,400).
  • 1. Social work (starting annual salary: $33,400; mid-career annual salary: $41,600).

Low starting pay, and not much room for growth

Low starting pay can be discouraging for anyone out of college, but many new grads see decent raises within a few years. Unfortunately, many of the worst paying degrees in this list don’t improve much with time. Even some seasoned professionals in these fields don’t make much more than they did when they started.

Salary isn’t everything

These careers share a common thread – they are for the most part, a calling, rather than just a job. People don’t fall into being a teacher or social worker because there weren’t other jobs available. These are jobs one chooses because they care about their profession. You can’t fake your way through theology or music.

Low Pay – Should You Look Elsewhere?

In my experience, salary shouldn’t be the main driver for your career aspirations. You could go to school for one of the highest paying degrees and end up miserable, or you could chase your passions and be the happiest person in your neighborhood. Chase your passions first, and the money situation will often work itself out. If it doesn’t, then reevaluate your career goals and see if there is a way you can merge your passions with a more lucrative career field or supplement your income through other means.

Want to find the right college program for you?

Check out these resources, which will help match you with the right college program for your needs, including low cost educational programs, flexible schedules, and lucrative degree programs.

Remember, choosing your degree program isn’t all about money. Yes, you need to earn enough to live a comfortable life, but that doesn’t mean you should choose a job for high pay if it will make you unhappy.


Published or updated January 2, 2013.
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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shaun

This is unrelated, but this post reminds me of something…

About 30 minutes ago, I received an email from someone who just graduated with an economics and business degree from Northwestern. She was panicking, because she wanted to be an investor, and literally didn’t know how to buy stocks or … anything about investing. It was really sobering.

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2 Ryan

Book learning is only half the battle. Putting knowledge into practice is where the real challenge lies!

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3 Ron

The irony is that IF a drama degree ever does pay off, it can pay off big. Maybe we could say that majoring in drama is like playing the lottery? :)

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4 Dan

That’s a good point – do the drama/music salary averages include high level professionals (movie celebrities, recording artists, concert performers,etc.)? That could possibly skew the numbers.

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5 Ryan

Dan, I couldn’t say for certain. The listed salary ranges seem to be in the ballpark for a drama or music grad who would work in education or a local theater. It seems like some of the most highly paid performers could skew the results, but you have to keep in mind that many of the top paid contemporary music artists and actors don’t have music or drama degrees, though many of them have a lot of training and experience.

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6 Johnny Galaga

You forgot accounting. I’m a CPA with 2 years experience and I only make $38K. Accounting is one of the most overrated careers. Don’t believe what you hear/read when you see accounting salaries.

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7 deborah

i really like what you said, “salary isn’t everything.” money is nice, but a college degree has other benefits, too. some research shows that people with college degrees have higher job satisfaction than those without a degree. also, another survey found children of college educated parents did better in school

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