Five of the Worst Degrees to Earn If You Want to Make a Lot of Money

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Worst Degrees for Making Money

If you're after a big pay day, you may want to steer clear of these degree duds and shift your focus to a more productive field.

There's no question that a college degree can help you pursue a higher-paying career. In fact, a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that college graduates age 25-32 working full time earned about $17,500 more a year than those in that age group with just a high school diploma.
That being said, all degrees are not created equal when it comes to compensation. As the Georgetown University "What's it Worth" study on the economic values of common majors states, "different majors have different economic value. So, while going to college is a wise decision, what you take while you're there matters a lot, too." And degrees aren't equal when it comes to career options either.
For example, "A business degree is much more of an onramp into a particular set of careers than say, a psychology degree," says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs.com, a website that matches candidates with telecommuting jobs. Sutton Fell says not to rigidly connect a degree with a specific job in your mind. "The trick is to not think of X degree landing you X job, but as a gateway to a variety of career options," she says. So where to start?
Start right here. We've identified five degrees connected to some of the lowest median earnings* in Georgetown University's 2013 "Hard Times" study regarding the value of various college degrees. We've also provided alternative majors that the study found were linked to considerably higher median earnings.*
Read on for the possibly low-pay majors you may want to avoid and the potentially higher-paying possibilities you may want to consider.

Degree to Avoid #1: Bachelor's in Psychology

Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $30,000**
If the workings of the human mind interest you, you might be considering a degree in psychology. Just don't expect to be raking in the dough right away.
Low-Pay Factors: Simply put, Sutton Fell says psychology is one of the most popular majors out there, so the supply of graduates is pretty huge, but the demand from employers is less so. Essentially, a surplus of grads for few jobs drives salaries down and competition up.
AnnMarie McIlwain, CEO of CareerFuel.net, a destination site for job seekers and entrepreneurs, says high-paying positions in psychology typically require at least a master's degree, so recent grads typically won't qualify.

Degree to Consider #1: Finance

Find Programs Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $44,000**
Are you good with money and someone who thinks, if given the chance, you could help others make a bundle? Then finance could be a degree program that's right up your alley.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Finance Program.
Why It's a Good Alternative: "A high value is placed on those responsible for handling money and making more money for individuals and corporations," says Sutton Fell, "there's a huge amount of trust and risk involved in hiring for finance-related careers, so they tend to pay higher."

Degree to Avoid #2:Bachelor's in Social Work

Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $29,000**
Helping people is your M.O. So maybe you're drawn to a degree program like social work. But you probably won't see your skill in handling all the emotional ups and downs of this field reflected in your paycheck.
Low-Pay Factors: "The human services industry tends to pay less across the board, including social work and counseling," says Sutton Fell. "It's definitely something that people should be drawn to because they're interested in helping others, not because they're looking for a big paycheck," she says, because often jobs are on the state level and susceptible to program downsizing and budget cuts.
As with many of these degrees, the need for further education is an issue when it comes to social work. "There are higher paying venues within the field," according to Gail McMeekin, the Massachusetts-based career counselor and author of the best-selling book "The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women," "but often the higher earning positions require a graduate degree."

Degree to Consider #2:Computer Science

Find Programs Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $50,000**
Interested in the intricacies of the technology behind your favorite video games, websites, and apps? Well, there's never been a better time to be a computer nerd, and computer science is a solid degree choice for anyone who identifies as one. And with technology always in demand, your interest in computers could translate into a career with healthy salary potential.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.
Why It's a Good Alternative: "Right now, technology skills such as computer science are in high demand and paying well," says McMeekin. Why? For Sutton Fell, computer science falls under the STEM degree umbrella and graduates will find higher paying jobs because they're required to have very specific knowledge, such as coding, programming, and familiarity with different operating systems.
Those skills are in high demand right now and relevant to lots of fields, which contributes to the higher average salaries, says Sutton Fell.

Degree to Avoid #3:Bachelor's in Film, Video and Photographic Arts

Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $30,000**
Are you a confirmed film or photography buff? You might enjoy a film studies or photography degree. However, once you graduate, you may have to shoot a lot of film waiting for any money to come in.
Low-Pay Factors: Sutton Fell attributes the low pay of film and video degree holders to the dearth of opportunities. Very few people get those Hollywood blockbuster, money-making producer and director gigs and instead wind up on smaller budget productions, if they can even find steady work.
"There are limited opportunities for people to reach the top of this career field, so while the potential to make big bucks is there, it's an extremely competitive field," she says.

Degree To Consider #3:Accounting

Find Programs Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $43,000**
Have a nose for numbers? Can you run calculations without a calculator? If so, you just might have what it takes to succeed in an accounting degree program. And with accountants always in need, you should have no trouble calculating how this degree can help with your personal cash flow.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.
Why It's a Good Alternative: As McMeekin points out, "All businesses, small and large, need accounting," so demand for this field is high. She also adds that the fact that the tax code is so complex that people and organizations are willing to pay for expertise in this field.
For Sutton Fell, it's once again about supply and demand. "The old adage that 'nothing is certain but death and taxes' makes it clear that accounting is a tried-and-true career where the demand for workers and the amount of work steadily increases over the years," says Sutton Fell. What's also increased alongside demand is salaries, she says.

Degree to Avoid #4:Bachelor's in Philosophy and Religious Studies

Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $29,000**
If truly understanding the logic behind phrases like "I think, therefore I am" sounds like your cup of tea, then philosophy and religious studies may seem like the ultimate subject for you to study. But after you graduate, you might feel like you wasted your time when you see what the job market looks like for these grads.
Low-Pay Factors: According to McMeekin, right now there's an increased interest in this culture about spiritual issues, but to actually get a philosophy teaching job you need further education than just a bachelor's. So whatever position you'd be able to get with a bachelor's, she says, is going to be low-level and likely low-paying.

Degree to Consider #4:Mechanical Engineering

Find Programs Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $57,000**
If you've ever stopped to think about what our lives would be like without the convenience of automation and machinery, then you probably already appreciate mechanical engineers. You might be the type of person who would be happy to tinker around with machines for free, but you'll probably still appreciate the healthy paycheck that someone with a mechanical engineering degree can pursue.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Mechanical Engineering Program.
Why It's a Good Alternative: Demand is the name of the game for mechanical engineering degree holders, which makes this a good field to consider studying for those who are mechanically-inclined. "These jobs are also in demand as every field that manufactures [anything in a factory or plant] needs this skill set," says McMeekin.

Degree to Avoid #5:Fine Arts

Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $29,000**
Always been the artsy type and feel like you express your ideas best through painting, sculpting, or another artistic medium?
Spending your class time indulging your artistic side sounds fun, but it may not be too much fun after you graduate when you see your first paycheck.
Low-Pay Factors: Everybody in the arts seems to be searching for that big break, but few get it, says McMeekin, who explains the only way you can make a lot of money with a bachelor of fine arts degree is by marketing your work continuously and learning business skills, which aren't always taught as part of your degree coursework.
Or you'd have to hire an agent or manager, she says, which will cut into your earnings and decrease your year-end take home pay.

Degree to Consider #5:Nursing

Find Programs Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $48,000**
Ever think that your empathy for others could point you towards a degree and career path? Well, if you're the type to put the people around you before yourself, nursing could be just the right major choice for you.
And while your nursing degree helps you learn to bring smiles to others, it might bring you some smiles as well, as this degree was linked by the "Hard Times" report to a pretty healthy salary.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.
Why It's a Good Alternative: According to McMeekin, nursing is a hot field right now and will be into the future. There are also a lot of outlets in which to seek employment, from hospitals and doctor's offices to schools and homes for the elderly.
To that point, Sutton Fell sees nursing as a strong major for those scientifically inclined and good with people now because of the need for care as people grow older and continue to live longer lives. "The aging population and huge number of baby boomers reaching retirement over the next decade make nursing, especially geriatric nursing and any sort of elder-care career incredibly important," she says.

Degree to Avoid #6:Journalism

Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $32,000**
Maybe you've been told you have a way with the written word. But if you think an education in journalism will help you write your way to a great salary out of college, you may be in for a surprise.
Low-Pay Factors: For McMeekin, traditional media like newspapers and news shows are fading in popularity, which is causing jobs to disappear and salaries to drop.
For those who still want to get into the field, she advises students to get work experience in online media to be successful and follow the new trends for how and where people get their information.

Degree To Consider #6:Information Systems

Find Programs Median Annual Earnings for Recent Grads: $44,000**
Computer databases, networks, computer security. Sound like subjects you could get into? If so, you'd be at home as an information systems major.  And according to "Hard Times," median annual earnings for recent grads with this degree aren't bad.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Information Systems Program.
Why It's a Good Alternative: For McMeekin, information systems and technology is a solid degree option right now because the computer concepts taught are needed across all fields and continue to change constantly. Graduates with information technology may be in a better position than other fields, she says, because a company "needs fresh talents and ideas all the time" to keep ahead of the curve when it comes to processing their sensitive data and keeping it under wraps.

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