The value of a college degree often extends beyond the lecture halls as students gain soft skills, networking opportunities and more during their time on campus. However, with student loan debt totaling over $1.5 trillion in America, it might be wise to avoid less lucrative areas of study to minimize the number of years that you spend burdened with debt.
To compare the return on investment for different bachelor’s degrees, GOBankingRates analyzed the mid-career pay for hundreds of majors from PayScale’s College Salary Report. The majors on this list offer the worst salaries on average for workers who have accrued more than 10 years of experience in their fields.
Click through to see the return on investment for these college majors — or lack thereof.
- Mid-Career Pay: $53,000
Although ceramics made the list of college degrees that won’t make you money, PayScale data shows that workers with this fine arts major rated themselves as highly satisfied with their jobs, which range from art teacher to industrial designer. People with zero to five years of experience typically earn $40,900, which means their salaries can jump approximately $12,000 by the 10-year mark.
14. Office Administration
- Mid-Career Pay: $52,100
People with a bachelor’s degree in office administration see an average annual salary of $35,800 in the early parts of their careers. By the time they accumulate over 10 years of experience, that figure increases by more than $16,000. A little over half of employees with an office administration degree believe that their work makes the world a better place, according to PayScale’s College Salary Report.
13. History Teacher Education
- Mid-Career Pay: $51,900
PayScale’s College Salary Report shows that only 42 percent of alumni with a bachelor’s degree in history teacher education think their work has high meaning. It could be related to the fact that entry-level salaries for these workers — coming in at $44,100 — typically experience sluggish growth, which might negatively affect morale. Pay increases by a scant $7,800 around the mid-career point.
12. Music Theory
- Mid-Career Pay: $51,400
The early career pay for people with a bachelor’s degree in music theory — averaging $46,400 annually for the first five years of work experience — increases incrementally by the mid-career mark. This small $5,000 bump can be felt across jobs including music ministry director, market research associate and music director. The demographic with music theory degrees skews male, according to PayScale data.
11. Applied Management
- Mid-Career Pay: $51,200
Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in applied management can explore many different career paths and jobs, including industrial engineer, treasury analyst, human resources coordinator and operations manager. Early career pay for alumni with applied management majors — averaging $42,500 a year — can grow to a median salary of $51,200 by the mid-career point.
- Mid-Career Pay: $50,400
Workers with a photojournalism degree rated themselves as extremely satisfied with their jobs, according to PayScale data, and 63 percent found that their work makes the world a better place. Early career pay for these people averages $38,400, which typically increases by $12,000 around the mid-career mark.
9. Musical Theatre
- Mid-Career Pay: $49,300
That bachelor’s degree in musical theatre will yield just shy of $50,000 annually after you spend more than 10 years in the field. Only 40 percent of musical theatre degree recipients believe their work has high meaning, possibly because the jobs commonly held by people with this major — such as administrative assistant, executive assistant and office manager — are unrelated to their area of study.
8. Voice and Opera
- Mid-Career Pay: $48,400
Although the early career pay for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in this subject averages only $31,300 a year, that figure increases by a hefty $17,100 when people hit their mid-career mark. The median annual salary of workers who have more than 10 years of experience is $48,400.
7. Middle School Education
- Mid-Career Pay: $48,200
A remarkable 74 percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree in middle school education said they have jobs that make the world a better place, according to PayScale’s College Salary Report — but it’s understandable given the nurturing nature of their education credentials. The average alumnus sees a pay bump of roughly $10,000 between the early and middle points of their careers.
6. Elementary Teaching
- Mid-Career Pay: $44,000
The demographic for elementary teaching skews 89 percent female, according to PayScale data. Alumni with a bachelor’s degree in elementary teaching tend to see an early career salary of $38,500 a year, which gradually grows to $44,000 after they gain 10 years of work experience.
5. Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology
- Mid-Career Pay: $43,900
People with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife, fish and conservation biology can find work as ecologists, environmental scientists and more. Although the mid-career pay isn’t high, nearly 60 percent of workers with this degree feel that their jobs make the world a better place. Graduates with zero to five years of experience can expect to see a median salary of $37,200 a year.
4. Early Childhood Education
- Mid-Career Pay: $40,500
According to PayScale data, 95 percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education are female, and 77 percent find that their jobs have high meaning. Their above-average job satisfaction comes as no surprise given how influential early childhood education can be. People who have zero to five years of experience in related fields typically see $33,400 in annual pay, which grows to just over $40,000 after 10 years.
3. Early Childhood Special Education
- Mid-Career Pay: $37,900
People who earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood special education can expect to receive a median annual salary of $35,500 during their first five years in the workforce. The average salary increase between these workers’ early and mid-career points is minimal — only $2,400.
2. Piano Performance
- Mid-Career Pay: $36,200
Piano performance is the first of two majors on this list to offer an average mid-career salary that is actually lower than the typical early career pay. People with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance and zero to five years of work experience earn $38,100 annually, which is nearly $2,000 more than someone with the same credentials and 10-plus years of experience.
- Mid-Career Pay: $32,500
Workers with a bachelor’s degree in metalsmithing bear witness to a significant drop in earnings between the beginning and middle points of their careers. Early career pay averages $37,000 a year, which drops by $4,500 after 10 years of work experience. Metalsmithing graduates have been known to enter a variety of professions such as chocolatier, jewelry designer and compliance manager.
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Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed alumni salaries from PayScale’s College Salary Report to compare the career value of different bachelor’s degrees. The report observes 403 majors across U.S. universities, and in this study, the majors are ranked by lowest mid-career pay (i.e., 10-plus years of experience).
About the Author
Grace joined the GOBankingRates team in 2017 with an editorial background in print journalism and magazines. Prior to editing and writing for GOBankingRates, Grace pitched books and movies from Renaissance Literary & Talent, a literary agency and management firm representing clients such as the estate of Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Goldie Hawn and Heidi Murkoff of the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series.