Lowest Paying College Degrees This Year

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You’ve probably heard jokes about college grads in certain areas of study (we’re looking at you, English and Art majors) putting their $200,000 degrees to work at coffee shops and fast food chains. And we recently published an article debating whether or not college degrees are overrated. A college degree can be incredibly valuable, but…

You’ve probably heard jokes about college grads in certain areas of study (we’re looking at you, English and Art majors) putting their $200,000 degrees to work at coffee shops and fast food chains.

And we recently published an article debating whether or not college degrees are overrated.

A college degree can be incredibly valuable, but are there any majors you should avoid?

The answer to that question is multifaceted, depending on your passions, interests, professional goals, and post-graduate track.

Whether you’re a prospective student contemplating college, an undergrad debating which major to declare, or a professional looking to make the most of your hard-earned degree, this article is for you.

Using data from PayScale’s annual college salary report, we’ve compiled a list of the 20 lowest-earning college degrees as well as tips on benefiting from your bachelor’s, no matter what it is.

Lowest Paying College Degrees This Year

lowest paying college degreesEvery year, PayScale releases a College Salary Report.

Looking at 1,532 schools with a sample size of 2.3 million participants, the report provides the average earnings for holders of close to 500 different bachelor’s degrees, including both their early and mid-career pay.

Interestingly, the survey also includes a % High Meaning category, which shows the percentage of alumni who think their work makes a difference in the world.

Without further ado, let’s count down the 20 lowest-earning bachelor’s degrees.

  1. Gerontology
  • Early Career Pay: $36,700
  • Mid-Career Pay: $51,900
  • % High Meaning: 83%
  1. Communication Sciences and Disorders (Tie)
  • Early Career Pay: $38,600
  • Mid-Career Pay: $51,800
  • % High Meaning: 81%
  1.  Special Education (Tie)
  • Early Career Pay:$35,900
  • Mid-Career Pay:$51,800
  • % High Meaning: 75%
  1. Youth Ministry
  • Early Career Pay: $33,800
  • Mid-Career Pay: $51,300
  • % High Meaning: 79%
  1. Therapeutic Recreation
  • Early Career Pay: $35,200
  • Mid-Career Pay: $50,700
  • % High Meaning: 84%
  1. Bible Studies and Theology
  • Early Career Pay: $33,500
  • Mid-Career Pay: $50,000
  • % High Meaning: 71%
  1. Counseling Psychology
  • Early Career Pay: $36,200
  • Mid-Career Pay: $50,100
  • % High Meaning: 51%
  1. Home Economics
  • Early Career Pay: $38,800
  • Mid-Career Pay: $49,600
  • % High Meaning: 64%
  1. Elementary Education
  • Early Career Pay: $36,000
  • Mid-Career Pay: $49,300
  • % High Meaning: 68%
  1. Christian Education
  • Early Career Pay: $33,500
  • Mid-Career Pay: $48,500
  • % High Meaning: N/A
  1. Christian Ministry
  • Early Career Pay: $33,400
  • Mid-Career Pay: $48,400
  • % High Meaning: 88%
  1. Counseling (Tie)
  • Early Career Pay: $36,700
  • Mid-Career Pay: $48,300
  • % High Meaning: 90%
  1. Social Work (Tie)
  • Early Career Pay: $34,000
  • Mid-Career Pay: $48,300
  • % High Meaning: 81%
  1. Biblical Studies
  • Early Career Pay: $35,400
  • Mid-Career Pay: $47,800
  • % High Meaning: 78%
  1. Photojournalism
  • Early Career Pay: $37,100
  • Mid-Career Pay: $47,200
  • % High Meaning: 53%
  1. Human Services
  • Early Career Pay: $34,700
  • Mid-Career Pay: $46,500
  • % High Meaning: 77%
  1. Family Studies
  • Early Career Pay: $35,400
  • Mid-Career Pay: $44,500
  • % High Meaning: 69%
  1. Child Development
  • Early Career Pay: $32,300
  • Mid-Career Pay: $44,000
  • % High Meaning: 77%
  1. Early Childhood & Elementary Education
  • Early Career Pay: $35,000
  • Mid-Career Pay: $43,600
  • % High Meaning: 76%
  1. Veterinary Technology
  • Early Career Pay: $31,800
  • Mid-Career Pay: $43,100
  • % High Meaning: 78%
  1. Child & Family Studies
  • Early Career Pay: $32,000
  • Mid-Career Pay: $42,100
  • % High Meaning: 70%
  1. Early Childhood Education
  • Early Career Pay: $32,100
  • Mid-Career Pay: $40,400
  • % High Meaning: 75%

Major Decisions: What You Should Consider

Starting Pay

On average, college graduates earn more now than ever before, as indicated in research conducted by Korn Ferry in 2017.

This year’s study indicates no real change from last year’s findings, which showed college graduates earn 14% more than they did in 2007.

The study also found that, after inflation adjustments, recent college graduates averaged around a $50,000 starting salary.

Such a momentous jump is good news for college grads overall but may mean looking at degree options ranking higher on PayScale’s list.

Room for Growth

Low starting pay can be discouraging for anyone just out of college, but sometimes new grads see decent raises within a few years.

Unfortunately, most of the worst-paying degrees in this list do not improve much over time. Even some seasoned professionals in these fields don’t make much more than they did when they started.

Meaningful Value

We know what you’re thinking. If the pay is lower and there is little room for salary growth, why choose a career at the bottom of the list?

While these careers may rank lower in terms of salary, they have some of the strongest percentages for high meaning.

Name one person who became a Biblical Studies major for the insane cash flow it would produce…

People pursue careers in fields like teaching, music, counseling, and ministry because they are passionate about them.

Should You Look Elsewhere?

Here’s an incredibly important piece of advice: 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.

Make the Most of Your Major

Whether you’re a Petroleum Engineering Major, which tops the PayScale list with a mid-career salary of $175,500, or an Early Education Major expected to make less than a quarter of that amount at mid-career, there is always room to advance professionally.

Here’s how:

By Gaining Diverse Experience

We’re primarily speaking to current students here. College is the best time to diversify your skills and experiences. To do so, consider a few of these options.

  • Take unique courses which interest you, within and outside of your department.
  • Pick up a minor in an associated area which could complement your work.
  • Participate in internships to deepen your field knowledge and help you decide what type of career to pursue.
  • Similarly, take on volunteer opportunities associated with your major. You might find a calling there!

By Doing Your Research

Take advantage of the plethora of research available in your quest for business success.

Look at our articles to determine how your college degree influences your career, check data like the PayScale Salary Report, and talk to professionals in the field.

If you’ve yet to choose a major and salary is your number-one goal, or conversely, if you care most about meaningfulness, see what graduates and professionals have to say about their work.

Your career may end up taking a completely different direction than you initially anticipated based on what you find.

By Advancing Your Degree

PayScale’s College Salary Report only includes the salaries of professionals who did not advance in academia beyond their bachelor’s degree.

In other words, none of these individuals received a master’s or doctoral degree.

When those degrees are added to the bachelor’s degrees on the list, their money-making value often changes.

Recent data from the Pew Research Center indicates earnings of young adults with at least a master’s degree have increased over the last several decades significantly more than earnings for young professionals without.

It is important to note an advanced degree is not the only factor in earning more money.

It can, however, earn professionals more opportunities for growth upon finding a job and enhance their skills in their given field.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a major is challenging as there are countless factors to consider. Starting salary, mid-career salary, and meaningfulness of the job are only a few.

There’s a fitting adage which says if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Finding a career which melds your passions, skills, and financial needs can be difficult, but with research, advising, and determination to get ahead, you can thrive in the profession you love.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. Shaun says

    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.

  2. Ron says

    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? 🙂

    • Dan says

      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.

      • Ryan says

        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.

  3. Johnny Galaga says

    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.

  4. deborah says

    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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