The worst-paid college majors in the U.S.

One of the most common reasons people choose to go to college is to open their hearts to the future—financial success, personal achievement, career prospects, and security during retirement. But do you know that someone decides to study teaching or art for money? maybe not. Unfortunately, many of the lowest-paid jobs are concentrated in these areas. This article looks at the lowest-ranked majors in terms of income potential.

Key points

  • Today, many of the lowest-paid undergraduate majors are in education and the arts.
  • In contrast, degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) dominate the highest-paid majors.
  • In a 40-year career, the income difference between low-paying majors and high-paying majors can exceed $3 million.

Lowest-paid major

According to Payscale’s 2021 college salary report, these are some of the lowest-paid majors that undergraduates can study. The rounded dollar figures represent the “mid-career salary”-or the median income of graduates with more than ten years of work experience.

The following are the bottom dozens selected from 827 university majors in 2021:

  • Metal processing: USD 40,300
  • Medical assistance: $44,800
  • Mental health: $45,000
  • Early Childhood Education: $45,400
  • Outdoor education: $46,300
  • Rehabilitation consultation: $46,400
  • Child and Family Studies: $46,500
  • Addiction research: $47,000
  • Horse Research: $47,100
  • Early childhood and basic education: $48,400

In comparison, the median mid-career salary for the most profitable bachelor’s degree in the same report was $187,300 (petroleum engineering). In addition, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with only high school diplomas earn slightly less than US$750 a week, that is, the median annual income is about US$39,000.

STEM fields dominate the highest-paid majors

The Payscale report found that STEM degrees—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—are often the highest-paid undergraduate majors. In fact, only one non-STEM major made the top 25. This is a bachelor of political economy.

Petroleum engineering is the highest paid undergraduate major, and the average salary for professionals with more than 10 years of experience is $187,300. The salary of operations research and industrial engineering graduates ranked second at $170,400. Electrical engineering and computer science ranked third at $159,300.

STEM majors between the ages of 25 and 59 have a median annual salary of $76,000, while those with a degree in arts, humanities, or liberal arts have a median annual salary of $51,000. The median income for a teaching or service degree (including education, psychology, and social work majors) is the lowest at $46,000. The business major is somewhere in between, at $65,000.

More importantly, according to a 2015 study by Georgetown University, “STEM majors have not only the highest salaries, but also experienced the greatest salary increases in their careers,” the report said. “Their salaries have increased by 50%, while the salaries of college graduates in teaching and service-related majors have increased by 28%.”

of course there are exceptions. The highest-paid educators certainly earn more than the low-income engineers. In addition to college courses, there are many variables that have a big impact on income—professional ethics, self-promotion ability, and even luck. Where you go to school is also a factor, because a degree from an Ivy League or top state university may be more profitable than a degree from a for-profit university. But the professional choice is still very different.

An undergraduate degree in some fields may be more profitable than a graduate degree in other fields.

“Bachelor’s degree holders in certain majors earn more than many graduate degree holders,” the Georgetown University report stated. It also pointed out that graduates with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and engineering have an average annual income of US$83,000, while education majors with a graduate degree still lag behind them, with an average annual income of US$60,000.

The wage gap was obvious when I first graduated. The report found that the entry-level income of ordinary college graduates was $37,000. But those with STEM degrees averaged $43,000, while those with arts, humanities, and liberal arts degrees averaged $29,000. Both of these figures far exceed the entry-level salary of freshly graduated high school graduates, whose average annual salary is $22,000.

Bottom line

The annual income of low-paid professional graduates is less than half of that of the highest-paid graduates, and the differences add up over a career span of more than 40 years. In fact, the author of the 2015 report believes that your major has a greater impact on finances than whether you go to college or not.

They wrote: “In a lifetime, the average salary gap between high school graduates and college graduates is $1 million, but the gap between the lowest and highest majors is $3.4 million.”

Future income is only a consideration in choosing a university major. Low-paying occupations can have their allowance. For example, teachers usually enjoy more vacations than many other professionals, usually have higher job security and better pension benefits, and are important to the functioning of society as a whole. However, an upcoming college student who hopes to earn a high salary after graduation may want to look elsewhere.


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