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15 College Degrees That Won’t Make You Money

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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.

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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.

See the return on investment for these college majors — or lack thereof.

Last updated: May 12, 2021

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15. Counseling

  • Mid-Career Pay: $49,300

Although counseling made the list of college degrees that won't make you money, PayScale data shows that 78% of workers feel their jobs have high meaning.

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14. Recreational Therapy

  • Mid-Career Pay: $49,200

Recreational therapy degrees can lead to careers that help provide those with illnesses or disabilities a new level of independence through activities like sports, trips, and crafts. It's no surprise that a career with recreation in the name results in 82% of employees feeling like their job makes the world a better place, according to PayScale.

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13. Child Development

  • Mid-Career Pay: $49,100

Though PayScale classifies this degree leading to low-paying jobs, it contains the opportunity for higher paying careers. For example, Executive Administrators are considered in the field of child development, and make $60,000 a year on average.

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12. Middle School Education

  • Mid-Career Pay: $48,300

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.

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11. Educational Psychology

  • Mid-Career Pay: $47,600

Those with an educational psychology degree work primarily in schools assisting students who face challenges like learning disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Though the mid-range salary can be considered low, the high end earning potential for educational psychologists is over $120,000 according to PayScale.

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10. Early Childhood & Elementary Education

  • Mid-Career Pay: $46,500

According to PayScale data, 78 percent of people in this field 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 $36,200 in annual pay, which grows to just over $40,000 after 10 years.

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9. Rehabilitation Counseling

  • Mid-Career Pay: $46,100

The salary for people with this degree ranges between $41,000 for entry level and just over $60,000 for people with 20 years experience.

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8. Addiction Studies

  • Mid-Career Pay: $44,800

A bachelor's degree in addiction studies can lead to becoming a mental health counselor, case manager, or residence manager at an emergency shelter, to name a few impactful careers. PayScale reports 83% of people working in this field feel their job has high meaning.

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7. Outdoor Education

  • Mid-Career Pay: $44,200

The gender breakdown for those working with an outdoor education degree is 62.5% female and 37.5% male, according to PayScale data. The highest salary PayScale reports for this field is $84,000 as a Human Resources Director.

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6. Child & Family Studies

  • Mid-Career Pay: $43,600

Those with child & family studies bachelor's degrees can serve as victim advocates, children's ministry directors, or academic counselors, among other careers. Perhaps because of their ability to work one-on-one with the people they're helping, an impressive 74% of people working in this field report feeling their job has high-meaning, according to PayScale data.

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5. Early Childhood Education

  • Mid-Career Pay: $43,300

People who earn a bachelor's degree in early childhood education can expect to receive a median annual salary of $34,100 during their first five years in the workforce. Though the salary is considered low, 78% of those with this degree report believing their job makes the world better, according to PayScale.

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4. Mental Health

  • Mid-Career Pay: $42,500

Those with bachelor's degrees in mental health can expect to earn on average $35,200 in the first five years of their career, climbing around $7,000 on average at the 10-year mark.

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3. Medical Assisting

  • Mid-Career Pay: $42,300

People who earn a bachelor's degree in medical assisting can expect to receive a median annual salary of $35,100 during their first five years in the workforce.

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2. Addictions Counseling

  • Mid-Career Pay: $42,200

A bachelor's degree in addictions counseling typically earns around $38,000 in the first five years of a career, according to PayScale data.

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1. Metalsmithing

  • Mid-Career Pay: $38,400

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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Grace Lin contributed to the reporting for this article. 

Methodology: GBR uses PayScale’s College Salary Report to rank how different majors for bachelor’s degrees compare based on alumni salaries. The report observes 834 majors across U.S. universities. In this study the majors are ranked by lowest mid-career pay.