Top 20 Worst College Majors for a High-Income Career

If your goal after college is to enter a high-income job, the planning you do now regarding your studies is key.

Students attend school for lots of different reasons, including to enhance their knowledge and develop their interests. And choosing an academic path based on likely future earnings alone usually isn't the best idea since you also need to consider what you'd be good at and what types of jobs you'd enjoy doing.


Still, attending school can be expensive and it's worth thinking about whether you'll get a good return on your investment or not. If you're hoping that your degree will pay off for you in terms of a higher salary, you may want to avoid some of these 20 worst paying college majors. 


The 20 Worst Paying College Majors


This list shows 20 of the worst majors in college for people hoping for a lucrative post-graduate career. It's based on an analysis of salary data conducted by Kiplinger and Fastweb


  1. Advertising: Median starting salary of $43,700 and median mid-career salary of $84,000
  2. Animal Science: Median starting salary of $38,300 and median mid-career salary of $63,000
  3. Art: Median starting salary of $39,400 and median mid-career salary of $60,500
  4. Art History: Median starting salary of $42,900 and median mid-career salary of $66,300
  5. Athletic Training: Median starting salary of $39,500 and median mid-career salary of $39,500
  6. Criminology: Median starting salary of $42,988 and median mid-career salary of $65,900
  7. Culinary Arts: Median starting salary of $39,200 and median mid-career salary of $58,800
  8. Fashion Design: Median starting salary of $43,800 and median mid-career salary of $80,500
  9. Fashion Merchandising: Median starting salary of $42,900 and median mid-career salary of $72,500
  10. Graphic design: Median starting salary of $41,700 and median mid-career salary of $63,500
  11. Health and Physical Education: Median starting salary of $41,778 and median mid-career salary of $47,668
  12. Hospitality Administration/Management: Median starting salary of $42,931 and median mid-career salary of $54,291
  13. Hospitality and Tourism: Median starting salary of $40,500 and median mid-career salary of $66,000
  14. Human development Median starting salary of $42,400 and median mid-career salary of $70,000
  15. Paralegal Studies: Median starting salary of $40,400 and median mid-career salary of $54,100
  16. Photography: Median starting salary of $41,200 and median mid-career salary of $61,700
  17. Radio and Television Median starting salary of $39,600 and median mid-career salary of $64,400
  18. Religious Studies Median starting salary of $41,700 and median mid-career salary of $63,800
  19. Social Work: Median starting salary of $37,727 and median mid-career salary of $50,938
  20. Theater: Median starting salary of $37,300 and median mid-career salary of $60,200


What to do if your major is on the list?

If your chosen major is one of the worst paying college majors, this doesn't necessarily mean that you should abandon your plans for pursuing your degree. But it does mean that you may want to be strategic about where you go to school and how you fund your education. 

Here are some tips for students who want to pursue one of the worst degrees for high earnings. 

Consider a similar career path

In some cases, tweaking your career path slightly and choosing a major with a slightly different focus could enable you to shift from one of the worst paying college majors to a degree that will be more lucrative.  

For example, if you are interested in athletic training, you may decide instead to get some additional schooling and become a physical therapist, which has an average starting salary of $67,407, according to PayScale.  That's $27,907 more than the median starting salary for an athletic trainer. 

Research schools carefully 

Choosing the right school with a solid reputation can sometimes increase your chances of landing a lucrative job -- even if you've chosen one of the worst paying college majors. Schools with strong job placement programs can be very helpful in helping you to explore the best paying opportunities within your industry.

You can also focus on finding a school that charges lower tuition fees. If you can keep your costs of attendance down, then it may not matter as much if you don't have a high starting salary after graduation since you can potentially avoid borrowing much to pay for school. 


Be smart about how you fund your education

Finally, if you're attending a school that has one of the worst majors in college in terms of earning potential, you'll want to ensure you make smart choices about how much you borrow to earn your degree.

You should look carefully for scholarship opportunities, checking out online resources as well as professional organizations and local groups you're a member of. Check with the school's financial aid office about scholarships and grants as well. The more of this type of aid you get, the less you'll need to borrow and repay after graduating. 

If you've exhausted free sources of funds, then consider trying to work while in school to help defray your educational expenses. You may be able to qualify for work study programs, or even earn your degree by going to school part-time while working. Of course, this won't be possible for everyone. 

Borrowing may be inevitable, but aim to keep the amount of loans you take to a minimum. Try to exhaust federal student loans first, since these have low fixed interest rates, provide more flexibility in repayment plans, and even provide some options for loan forgiveness.

Finally, if you take out private student loans, it's crucial to shop around to find the best rate so you can minimize interest expenses. Juno can help. We get groups of borrowers together to negotiate for them with lenders and help them save money on borrowing.

Join Juno today to find out more about your options for affordable private student loans to help fund your degree.  


Christy Rakoczy Bieber
Written By
Christy Rakoczy Bieber

Christy Rakoczy Bieber is a full-time personal finance and legal writer. She is a graduate of UCLA School of Law and the University of Rochester. Christy was previously a college teacher with experience writing textbooks and serving as a subject matter expert.

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