The Worst College Majors for Your Career

College diploma, cap and gown and computer
••• Serhii Mudruk / Getty Images

Not all college degrees are created equal. When it comes to choosing a college major, it’s important to look beyond your four years in school and consider how the degree will impact your career in the long term. If you are taking out student loans to pay for a college degree, it’s even more important to ensure that the degree will ultimately enable you to pay off your loans.

Of course, it’s not just salary that can make a degree a poor choice.

“Worst” is, of course, a subjective term. Some might define the “worst” major as one leading to a job with low pay. Others might prioritize work/life balance, or job satisfaction. We looked at college majors from all angles, from lowest pay to highest rate of unemployment, and more.

College Majors With the Lowest Early Career Salaries

PayScale surveyed 2.3 million college graduates in their 2017-2018 College Salary Report. To determine the early career salary of each major, they looked at employees midway through the first five years of their career.

According to this study, the following majors had the lowest early career salaries. (Note that the data set is limited to individuals with bachelor’s degrees only, and does not include data from individuals who went on to earn higher degrees.)

  1. Rehabilitation Services: $30,200
  2. Veterinary Technology: $31,800
  3. Child & Family Studies: $32,000
  4. Early Childhood Education: $32,100
  1. Child Development: $32,300
  2. Printmaking: $32,400
  3. Christian Ministry: $33,400
  4. Bible Studies & Theology: $33,500
  5. Christian Education: $33,500
  6. Youth Ministry: $33,800
  7. Social Work: $34,000
  8. Pastoral Ministry: $34,500
  9. Wildlife & Fisheries Science: $34,700
  10. Human Services: $34,700
  11. Human Development & Family Studies: $35,000
  1. Early Childhood & Elementary Education: $35,000
  2. Paralegal Studies: $35,100
  3. Human Ecology: $35,200
  4. Therapeutic Recreation: $35,200
  5. Educational Studies: $35,400

College Majors With the Highest Rate of Unemployment

Of course, if you can’t find a job in the first place, your starting salary is a moot point. The National Center for Educational Statistics’ report on the unemployment rates of 25- to 29-year-old bachelor’s degree recipients by field of study lists the unemployment rate by major, and notes that the average unemployment rate for all majors was 3.5 percent. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that your ability to find a job after graduation can depend on a variety of factors, such as the state of the job market at the time you are looking, your internship experience, and your references. These 20 majors had the highest unemployment rates:

  1. History: 4.8 percent
  2. Computer and Information Systems: 4.8 percent
  3. Criminal Justice and Fire Protection: 4.6 percent
  4. Linguistics and Comparative Language and Literature: 4.6 percent
  5. English Language and Literature: 4.4 percent
  6. Physical Sciences: 4 percent
  7. Psychology: 4.4 percent
  8. Political Science and Government: 4.2 percent
  9. Sociology: 4.2 percent
  10. Fine Arts: 4.2 percent
  1. Physical Fitness, Parks, Recreation, and Leisure: 4.2 percent
  2. Commercial Art and Graphic Design: 4.1 percent
  3. Economics: 3.9 percent
  4. Communications: 3.7 percent
  5. Finance: 3.7 percent
  6. Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies: 4 percent
  7. Biology: 3.3 percent
  8. Business Management and Administration: 3.3 percent
  9. Mathematics: 3.2 percent
  10. Mechanical Engineering: 2.9 percent

College Majors With the Lowest Degree Satisfaction

In a recent study, Sokanu looked at how satisfied people were with their choice of degrees or education. “Satisfaction” could be determined by a number of factors, from job prospects, to pay, to work conditions, to opportunities for creative expression within the job. Individuals with the following degrees reported the lowest satisfaction with their degree choice:

  1. Plumbing
  2. Mining Engineering
  3. Carpentry
  4. Cosmetology
  1. Automotive Repair
  2. Medical Administration
  3. Computer Administration Management
  4. Miscellaneous Business & Medical Administration
  5. Military Technologies
  6. Accounting
  7. Construction Services
  8. Industrial Production Technologies
  9. Materials Engineering
  10. Hospitality Management
  11. General Education
  12. Airport Operations
  13. Culinary Arts
  14. Medical Assisting
  15. Operations Logistics and E-Commerce
  16. Civil Engineering

Least Meaningful College Majors

Any job can feel like an absolute drag if you don’t feel like the work you are doing has a beneficial impact, or indeed, any impact at all. Even if you’re making great money, it can be difficult to give a job your all if you can’t wrap your head around why you’re doing it. In their 2017-18 College Salary Report, Payscale looked at the percent of individuals who believed their work made the world a better place. The list below represents the majors with the lowest percent of alumni reporting this belief.

  1. Advertising: 31 percent
  2. Communication Design: 31 percent
  3. Fashion Marketing & Management: 31 percent
  4. Merchandising: 31 percent
  5. Real Estate: 31 percent
  6. Apparel Merchandising: 30 percent
  7. Visual Communication Design: 30 percent
  8. Computer Animation: 29 percent
  9. Technical Theatre: 29 percent
  10. Cinema Studies: 28 percent
  11. Hotel Administration: 28 percent
  12. Interior Design & Merchandising: 28 percent
  13. Plastics Engineering Technology: 28 percent
  14. Textile & Apparel Studies: 28 percent
  15. Fashion Design: 27 percent
  16. Fashion Merchandising: 27 percent
  17. Information Science: 27 percent
  18. Multimedia & Web Design: 27 percent
  19. Japanese Language: 24 percent
  20. Magazine Journalism: 22 percent

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Major

When choosing a college major, it can be helpful to look at data (like what we’ve compiled in the lists above), but do keep in mind that the data should not necessarily have the final say. There are many other factors to consider.

Just because a specific degree has a low starting salary does not mean that you are “doomed” to receive a less-than-ideal salary for the rest of your life. Someone who’s making $35,100 as a paralegal studies major, for example, might make the decision to go to law school and make $300,000 per year. An individual who has received an elementary education degree with a starting salary of $35,000 might decide to go back to school for her master’s or Ph.D. and go on to become a principal.

That being said, your major is also not your destiny, so to speak. Recent studies have shown that up to half of individuals surveyed reported that they did not work in a job that was “directly related” to their major. As you advance in your career, in many cases your professional experience is more important to employers than your degree, with the exception of fields that mandate an advanced degree, such as medicine or engineering.

Finally, keep in mind that, in this day and age, there is ample opportunity to make a career change, whether by way of online learning, bootcamps, workshops, or certificate programs. While a specific choice of major can set you up for success, it’s important to remember that you have control over your career path; the degree you earned doesn’t automatically mandate that you follow a specific profession. It’s up to you what opportunities you pursue after you graduate.

Sources: PayScale’s 2017-2018 College Salary Report, The National Center for Educational Statistics’ Unemployment Rate of 25- to 29-year-old Bachelor’s Degree Recipients Report, Sokanu’s Degree Satisfaction Report