Want to Make Bank After College? Don’t Pick One of These 11 Majors

College graduates gather for commencement
University of Central Florida students gather inside the CFE Arena for the commencement ceremony on May 4, 2018. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

We’ve already looked at the best college majors for all you undeclared freshmen out there. But what about the worst?

OK, so there’s really no such thing as “the worst” college major, and I have nothing against following your dreams. But six months after you graduate when that first student loan payment is due, you might feel a tinge of regret if you picked that major your parents scoffed at.

So, we looked at the median salaries for workers under 30 for 172 of the most common degrees to find the worst college major in terms of annual pay. We also considered how this pay has changed since 2013 to find majors that are getting even worse in terms of pay for recent graduates.

Pick one of these 11 majors at your own risk…

The 11 Worst College Majors for Recent Graduates

For this analysis, we dug into census data from 2017 and 2013 to find the college majors with the worst annual pay for recent graduates and the majors that have seen the biggest drop in median earnings over the past four years.

To make sure we were keeping everything consistent, we excluded folks with graduate degrees (that means you might still be able to make bank with one of these majors; it might just take an advanced degree). We also only included full-time, year-round workers.

We then looked at the jobs that the greatest percentage of graduates currently have, according to the American Community Survey. That way you get an idea of what types of occupations these graduates gravitate toward.

Still, you’ll see a lot of these degrees are what I would call “passion majors,” and our earnings data doesn’t include any side gig income that, say, a designer might make by selling T-shirt prints. Also, as you’ll see, a low-paying major isn’t necessarily a bad one — there are teachers, nurses, and social workers who are very important to our country with these degrees.

Here they are, arranged by median salary:

1. Industrial and organizational psychology

Median salary: $26,000

Change in earnings: -28%

A whopping 33% of those with a degree in industrial and organizational psychology are employed as a human resource worker. It makes sense, since this degree is pretty specialized for that field of work.

Graduates also became secretaries or administrative assistants, medical assistants or social service managers.

2. Composition and rhetoric

Woman writes in a notebook
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Median salary: $30,000

Change in earnings: -22.7%

The greatest percentage of those who majored in composition and rhetoric do end up as writers, authors or editors (which likely explains the low pay ¯_(ツ)_/¯).

Other graduates include customer service representatives, retail supervisors and receptionists or information clerks.

3. Humanities

Median salary: $30,000

Change in earnings: -7.2%

This is a pretty general degree, and many graduates, around 10%, end up as elementary or middle school teachers right after college.

Teacher’s assistants and marketing or sales managers are also among the most common occupations for recently-graduated humanities majors.

4. Zoology

Median salary: $31,000

Change in earnings: -4.2%

I came really close to majoring in zoology before settling on music, and finally economics. Here’s why: More than 10% of all graduates currently work as veterinary assistants or take care of lab animals. Awww.

And nearly one-in-10 of all graduates are currently employed as “nonfarm animal caretakers.” Basically, zoo workers or those who work at aquariums.

5. Studio arts

Picture of woman painting a mural
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Median salary: $34,000

Change in earnings: -11.4%

This was a tough list, emotionally, to put together. And it’s because of majors like studio arts. I lived and worked with artists all through college, so I know the passion that a degree in this field requires — but the pay just isn’t there for young graduates.

Roughly 13% of these grads end up as designers. Others end up as auditors, miscellaneous managers or retail supervisors. (Obviously, this doesn’t include side gigs these folks may run, like an Etsy store.

6. Linguistics

Median salary: $35,000

Change in earnings: -27.9%

Oddly enough, the largest percentage of young graduates with a linguistics degree actually end up as accountants or auditors. And the logic behind understanding the syntax of language also makes software development a popular field.

But, the majority are spread across other, low paying careers like paralegals or manufacturing sales representatives.

7. Music

Female Musiciasn Creating Music
Pekic/Getty Images

Median salary: $36,000

Change in earnings: -4.6%

If I had remained a music major, I would have had a rough time financially right after graduating — and that’s coming from a journalist. I still play drums in my spare time and once taught percussion as a side gig, but I do think I ultimately made the right choice.

About 8% of new graduates start their careers as singers or musicians. The next most common occupations are miscellaneous managers, elementary or middle school teachers and waitress or waitresses.

8. Liberal arts

Median salary: $36,000

Change in earnings: -4.6%

Here’s another really general major that doesn’t pay off in the short term for new graduates. But that’s not to say it’s an unimportant or unnecessary degree — many graduates (around 10%) start out as elementary, middle or school teachers.

Others end up as customer service representatives, retail supervisors or teacher’s assistants.

9. General social sciences

Median salary: $36,000

Change in earnings: -4.6%

This is another general degree in which the greatest percentage of graduates end up as elementary or middle school teachers. And, in another instance of a low-paying major making a high impact, many other recent college graduates became social workers.

Those with this major also start out as retail salespeople, customer service representatives or office clerks.

10. Nutrition sciences

Median salary: $37,000

Change in earnings: -3.6%

More than one-in-six recent nutrition science graduates end up as dietitians or nutritionists, a nod to how specialized this degree is. But graduates are also employed as secretaries or administrative assistants, retail salespeople and personal care aides.

11. History

A man reads a book
turk_stock_photographer/Getty Images

Median salary: $38,000

Change in earnings: -2.1%

A plurality of history majors become elementary or middle school teachers, while the next big chunk become retail supervisors. Other recent graduates include customer service representatives, miscellaneous managers and secretaries or administrative assistants.

What if I Already Graduated With One of the Worst College Majors?

Don’t despair if you happen to have just graduated with one of these degrees. Personally, I wish I had majored in zoology rather than economics — I think I would be down to trade days of playing with numbers for days playing with red pandas.

But as you can see, these majors might make it difficult to pay back your student loans solely on your income in your first years in the workforce.

No-spend weeks might not make a huge dent in student loan debt, but they will help you be more conscious of frivolous spending.

It might not be the most popular option, but you could always move back in with your parents. Even something as simple as bringing your lunch to work four days a week can help pay down student loan debt.

Still, if you do happen to be a college freshman or high school senior reading this, you might want to check out this list instead — before you register for classes next semester.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.  He was a music major for exactly two semesters in college.

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