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All Contents © 2017The Kiplinger Washington Editors
Going to college promises the opportunity to further your education, meet new people and get a taste of independence. It does not guarantee a lucrative career after graduation. While it's true that a worker with a bachelor's degree typically earns 67.7% more than someone with just a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, what you study can be a better indicator of your future employability and earnings potential.
We analyzed data for 215 popular college majors, looking at the typical starting and mid-career salaries expected from each. We also examined recent online job postings seeking candidates with those majors, as well as long-term growth expectations for related occupations, to determine hiring demand in these fields.
Of course, the best major for you can't be measured in paychecks alone. Many people hope their careers will give them a sense of purpose, too. So we factored in the percentage of workers with given majors who feel their jobs are having a positive impact on the world.
The following 10 college majors tend to offer limited career opportunities and lower earnings potential. Granted, numbers alone shouldn’t deter you from a field you are truly passionate about—but it's important to understand what you may face in the real world.
For each of the 215 college majors, compensation research firm PayScale provided median annual salaries for entry-level workers (with five years or less of work experience) and mid-career employees (with at least 10 years of experience). PayScale also provided “high job meaning” scores, which indicate the percentage of workers with given college majors who say their work makes the world a better place. Workforce research firm Burning Glass Technologies supplied the number of online job postings listed between the first quarter of 2015 and the second quarter of 2016 that were seeking applicants with each of the 215 college majors. Projected 10-year growth rates from 2015 to 2025 for related occupations came from Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), a labor-market research firm owned by CareerBuilder. EMSI collects data from more than 90 federal, state and private sources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| Originally Published August 2016
Starting salary: $35,200 (median for all 215 majors: $42,600)
Mid-career salary: $56,000 (median for all 215 majors: $70,800)
Annual online job postings: 1,000
Related job: Fitness Trainer
Projected 10-year job growth: 15.8% (all occupations: 11.0%)
Exercise is good for your health, but majoring in it may not be so great for your career. The broader field of fitness is actually a smart choice with the aging population and focus on wellness pushing demand for many related jobs, such as physical therapists (among our best jobs for the future), occupational therapists, trainers and nutritionists. But, potential employers do not frequently seek out workers who major in exercise science.
If your love of sports is undeniable, this major may be right for you despite its spot in our rankings. Just be prepared to head into education overtime for the most promising related careers. For example, to become a physical therapist, you'll need to spend another three years after college getting your Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Athletic trainers also need additional licensing and certification and commonly have master's degrees.
You might be better off pursuing a more general major such as health, which typically generates a starting salary of $38,200 and a mid-career salary of $67,400. Health majors also are in far greater hiring demand, with 107,682 online job posting over the past year.
Starting salary: $34,700
Mid-career salary: $57,000
Annual online job postings: 10,620
Related job: Animal Scientist
Projected 10-year job growth: 8.7%
To become an animal scientist, who researches farm animals and food production, you typically need to get a doctoral degree. And considering that such professionals can expect median pay of about $65,200 a year, the added investment in your education may not be worth it. With just an associate's or bachelor's degree, you can become an agricultural technician, but you can expect smaller paychecks, too—about $35,080 a year.
Studying food science results in a more palatable payoff. With just a bachelor's degree you can find work as a food scientist, where the median income is nearly $62,000 a year. With increasing public awareness of nutrition, health and food safety, you'll enjoy greater demand, too; 13.2% more jobs are expected to be added by 2025.
Starting salary: $37,800
Mid-career salary: $56,300
Annual online job postings: 12,198
Related job: Clergy
Projected 10-year job growth: 20.6%
A true spiritual calling may come with significant rewards—just don't expect to get them in monetary form. Directors of religious education earn a median salary of about $45,462 a year, clergy members make $43,693 a year, and other religious workers earn just $31,352 annually.
More surprising than the small paychecks: Only 53% of religion majors report feeling that their work leaves a positive impact on the world, about on par with the 52% of all majors who say the same.
Majoring in philosophy still gives you the opportunity to delve into religious studies and also provides you with a degree that is in much higher demand. A hefty 2.7 million online job postings over the past year sought out candidates who had studied philosophy. And that demand results in higher pay potential: Philosophy majors report a median starting salary of $42,200 a year and mid-career salary of $85,000 a year. Plus, the critical thinking and extensive writing skills demanded by this major can be applied in many career fields.
Starting salary: $39,600
Mid-career salary: $66,500
Annual online job postings: 3,639
Related job: Producer
Projected 10-year job growth: 8.5%
Unless you're a Hollywood heavy hitter, the life of a producer may not be as glamorous as you might picture it. The median income of directors and producers is $69,776 a year—not too shabby, but well below the huge paychecks of a select few who make tens of millions of dollars per picture. (For example, J.J. Abrams stands to pocket more than $36 million for his 2015 Star Wars blockbuster.) Plus, demand is low for these majors, and they give themselves poor marks for holding meaningful jobs—only 36% of production majors report leaving a positive impact on the world.
You can apply your love of stories to studying English literature. This degree can still help you toward a career in radio, television or film production (if paired with the appropriate internships, extracurriculars, passions and skills). But it can also prepare you for a broader range of opportunities should you decide to head in a different direction. The number of online postings seeking out English majors over the past year totaled nearly 2.4 million. And workers with this degree report a median annual salary of $40,400 to start and $75,300 by midcareer.
Starting salary: $39,300
Mid-career salary: $59,600
Annual online job postings: 67,545
Related job: Graphic designer
Projected 10-year job growth: 8.4%
The numbers for graphic design majors aren't very attractive, but looks can be deceiving. Graphic designers specializing in print—working at newspapers, magazines and other publishers, for example—are facing major cutbacks along with the rest of the industry. On the other hand, people focused on creating designs and images for mobile devices, Web sites and the like are in high demand as all sorts of businesses look to develop and improve their digital presence. So if your heart is set on graphic design, skew your studies toward a technology-centric career path.
Better yet, try majoring in multimedia and Web design instead. The median salary for these degree holders starts at $42,200 a year and moves up to $63,500 by mid-career. With either major, you can land a job as a Web developer, a role that is expected to add 24.2% more new positions by 2025. The typical pay is about $60,050 a year—better than the $44,680 earned by most graphic designers. Plus, it gives you plenty of opportunities to break into the hot tech sector and perhaps gain the work experience needed to become a highly paid and sought-after software developer (among our best jobs for the future).
Starting salary: $39,100
Mid-career salary: $59,600
Annual online job postings: 923
Related job: Anthropologist
Projected 10-year job growth: 18.2%
The projected job growth rate for anthropologists and archaeologists may be high, but the number of actual positions is low. Currently, there are 8,255 such workers in the U.S.; by 2025, those ranks are expected to grow by 1,505 spots. While that's a big percentage jump, that still leaves relatively few openings for the more than 12,000 people who recently studied anthropology in college and grad school. (You would need a master's degree or higher to become an anthropologist.)
You can still study some anthropology while broadening your opportunities by majoring in history. Over the past year, employers sought out job candidates with this degree in more than 2.7 million job postings. Plus, former history majors report higher earnings with a median $41,100 a year early in their careers and $74,200 a year by mid career.
Starting salary: $36,600
Mid-career salary: $55,800
Annual online job postings: 72,864
Related job: Paralegal
Projected 10-year job growth: 14.8%
While the need for legal services is great, the field remains highly competitive as law firms and their clients continue looking to cut costs. And even while that results in a growing demand for paralegals and legal assistants, as those lower-paid workers are being entrusted with more responsibilities, more than half (50.9%) of paralegal studies majors report finding themselves underemployed, according to PayScale. (Among all workers, 46% say they are underemployed.)
Also, furthering your education and investing more in a law degree may not improve your job prospects. The demand for lawyers is lower than average with their numbers expected to grow just 6.7% by 2025.
If it's your dream to become a paralegal, you don't need a bachelor's degree in this specific field to achieve it. In fact, you can do it with an associate's degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree in another subject and a certificate in paralegal studies. Similarly, if you hope to go to law school eventually, you can do so with a wide range of majors that won't pigeonhole you and limit your career opportunities. For example, you might study finance and economics, one of our Best College Majors for a Lucrative Career, and still pursue a career in law.
Starting salary: $36,500
Mid-career salary: $57,300
Annual online job postings: 31,438
Related job: Artist
Projected 10-year job growth: 4.3%
Andy Warhol said, "Making money is art…and good business is the best art." Too bad the reverse is frequently untrue. Fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators, typically enjoy very little pay, earning a median income of about $23,860 a year. Demand for their work, after all, is dependent largely on people's discretionary income (and fleeting tastes); when times are tough, purchasing art is left out of most household budgets.
Would-be-artists might take a page from Warhol's sketchbook and apply their talents to the more lucrative world of marketing. Recent grads with degrees in advertising can expect to make a median income of $44,300 a year and, given more experience, $81,400 a year. Marketing specialists, as well as market research analysts, are expected to add 28.2% more new jobs by 2025 and typically earn more than $62,200 annually.
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Starting salary: $37,300
Mid-career salary: $56,200
Annual online job postings: 19,351
Related job: Photographer
Projected 10-year job growth: 12.7%
While the number of photographers is expected to grow faster than average over the next decade, the demand doesn't develop into a lucrative career. The median income for a photographer is just $30,715 a year. Plus, you can't count on capturing a steady paycheck. Many companies are fulfilling their photographic needs with freelancers. Indeed, a whopping 61.7% of photographers are currently self-employed (compared with just 6.5% of all workers).
Shutterbugs might consider majoring in visual communications instead. Broadening your focus in this way still allows you to apply your camera skills and keen eye while improving your career prospects. Visual communications majors tend to earn $39,400 early in their careers and $62,500 after a few years in the field. Plus, demand for people in this field is relatively high with employers specifying it in nearly 245,000 online job postings over the past year.
Starting salary: $35,000
Mid-career salary: $51,900
Related job: Chef
Projected 10-year job growth: 9.3%
Low pay plus few job prospects are the recipe for a troubling career. Chefs and head cooks can expect a median income of less than $40,180 a year, and you need five or more years of experience, making even less money, to become one. But if food is your passion, you might jump right into the field after high school and save your tuition money; most jobs as a cook do not require a college degree.
Instead on working the line, you can focus your education on the business side of the kitchen, which might prove particularly helpful if you're an aspiring restaurateur. Business administration majors typically have a starting salary of $45,800 a year and $72,900 by mid-career. The degree also qualifies you for many more opportunities; nearly 4.3 million job postings were seeking candidates with a bachelor's in business administration.
1. Culinary Arts
3. Child and Family Studies
4. Animal Science
5. Radio and Television
6. Interior Design
10. Graphic Design
Kiplinger updates many of its rankings annually. Above is our 2015-16 list of the worst college majors for a lucrative career. Keep in mind that ranking methodologies can change from year to year based on the data available at the time, changes to how the data was gathered, switches to new data providers and tweaks to the formulas used to narrow the pool of candidates.
1. Exercise Science
3. Animal Science
5. Biblical Studies
6. Child and Family Studies
7. Culinary Arts
9. Social Work
10. Art History
1. Human Services and Community
2. Fine Arts
3. Social Work
4. Early Childhood Education
5. Art History
6. Interdisciplinary Studies
7. Studio Arts
8. Mass Media
10. Family Consumer Sciences
2. Fine Arts
3. Film and Photography
4. Philosophy and Religious Studies
5. Graphic Design
6. Studio Arts
7. Liberal Arts
8. Drama and Theater Arts
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