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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 $1.6 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.

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15. Recreational Therapy

  • Mid-Career Pay: $51,600

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 84% of employees feeling like their job makes the world a better place, according to PayScale.

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14. Child Development

  • Mid-Career Pay: $51,400

Those working in child development can be preschool teachers, behavioral therapists, child life specialists and a wide array of other careers. In the first five years of a child development career, the average salary is $37,400 on average.

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13. Educational Psychology

  • Mid-Career Pay: $51,200

Those with an educational psychology degree work primarily in schools assisting students who face challenges like learning disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Though PayScale classifies this degree leading to low-paying jobs, it contains the opportunity for higher paying careers. 

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12. Middle School Education

  • Mid-Career Pay: $50,800

A remarkable 73% 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. Mental Health Counseling

  • Mid-Career Pay: $50,000

When mental health counselors start out, they can expect to earn $36,100 for the first five years of their career. Luckily, that number jumps up almost $15,000 after 10 years in the field. 

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10. Early Childhood & Elementary Education

  • Mid-Career Pay: $48,400

People who have zero to five years of experience in related fields typically see $38,000 in annual pay. PayScale reported that satisfaction in this career is high, with 77% believing their work makes the world a better place. 

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9. Equine Studies

  • Mid-Career Pay: $47,100

Those with an equine studies degree can look forward to managing a stable or a barn, as well as training horses. The salary for people with this degree ranges starts at $39,200 for entry level positions. 

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8. Addiction Studies

  • Mid-Career Pay: $47,000

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 84% of people working in this field feel their job has high meaning.

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7. Child & Family Studies

  • Mid-Career Pay: $46,500

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 73% of people working in this field report feeling their job has high meaning, according to PayScale data.

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6. Rehabilitation Counseling

  • Mid-Career Pay: $46,400

Within the first five years of their careers, rehab counselors can expect to earn $39,200 a year. This only increases by $7,000 after 10 years of work.

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5. Outdoor Education

  • Mid-Career Pay: $46,300

People who earn a bachelor’s degree in outdoor education can expect to receive a median annual salary of $37,400 during their first five years in the workforce. Though the salary is considered low, 52% of those with this degree report believing their job makes the world better, according to PayScale.

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4. Early Childhood Education

  • Mid-Career Pay: $45,400

According to PayScale data, 78% 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. Those with bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education can expect to earn on average $36,100 in the first five years of their career, climbing around $9,000 on average at the 10-year mark.

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3. Mental Health

  • Mid-Career Pay: $45,000

People who earn a bachelor’s degree in mental health can expect to receive a median annual salary of $36,900 during their first five years in the workforce.

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2. Medical Assisting

  • Mid-Career Pay: $44,800

A bachelor’s degree in medical assisting typically earns around $36,000 in the first five years of a career, according to PayScale data.

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1. Metalsmithing

  • Mid-Career Pay: $40,300

Workers with a bachelor’s degree in metalsmithing can expect to earn $40,000 a year in their early career. That only increases by $300 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.