50 college majors that earn the least money

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September 3, 2020
Photographee.eu // Shutterstock

50 college majors that earn the least money

Career choices are often based on personal interests, experience, and potential income—and more and more, they require at least a college degree. What undergraduates choose to major in during college can be a strong indicator of what an individual's financial future looks like—and it’s not always rosy news.

Using PayScale's 2019 College Salary Report, Stacker researched the 50 college majors that earn the least money. The 2019 report surveyed 3.5 million college graduates and 835 bachelor degrees ranked by mid-career median salary, or the fitted salary one makes after working in the field for over 10 years. By definition, a fitted salary combines the base annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, overtime, and other forms of cash earnings.

Stock compensation was not included when considering the annual salary of each college major but can be a significant portion of pay for specific executive and high-tech jobs. Further, a wage for the noted college major does not include the cash value of retirement benefits or the amount of other non-cash benefits, including health care and other ancillary benefits. PayScale's salaries, which were inflation-adjusted to June 2018 dollars to ensure apples-to-apples comparison over the data collection period, do not directly reflect that of the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). For most of the majors, BLS salaries are higher, even though the level of education required is the same.

Any ties in salaries were broken by early career pay, or by the fitted salary one makes in zero to five years on the job. Stacker also included the percentage of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place, suggesting that it could be true that when you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. The research also revealed some truth in the term starving artist: Many of the monetarily modest majors including singing, dancing, and artistry.

Additionally, several low-paying teaching majors on the list confirm the plight of educators who graduate but can't make ends meet on a minimum salary. Between rising student debt and inflation, it is likely many who majored in the noted subjects have second jobs to pay the bills.

Read on to find out the 50 college majors that earn the least money.

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michaeljung // Shutterstock

#50. Athletic training

- Early career pay: $38,600
- Mid-career pay: $55,400

Athletic trainers may not make an exceptionally high salary, but demand for their services is projected to grow. Many older Americans are becoming aware of the effects of sedentary lifestyles and are investing in their health.

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Jacob Lund // Shutterstock

#49. Tourism & travel

- Early career pay: $39,700
- Mid-career pay: $55,300

California State University touts high figures when promoting its travel and tourism major, including that one in every nine U.S. jobs depends on the industry, and that travel and tourism support over 8 million jobs nationwide. According to the school, management positions with a potential of earning more than $100,000 annually include working as a convention and visitors bureau director or a wedding planner.

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Olesia Bilkei // Shutterstock

#48. Special education

- Early career pay: $38,800
- Mid-career pay: $55,300

There are several special education career paths to take after majoring in the subject, aside from teaching. Becoming a residential manager, preschool director, or direct support professional is why some choose to the undergraduate major before getting their master's degree. Working with the disabled is in high demand due to teachers retiring and more students needing help.

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Ivan Chudakov // Shutterstock

#47. Rehabilitation services

- Early career pay: $32,800
- Mid-career pay: $55,100

Rehabilitation services salaries may be low, but part of these numbers include very low average pay for rehabilitation aides. These workers make an average of just $10 an hour which is much lower than the higher end of the spectrum for the profession—occupational therapists, who top out at approximately $46 an hour.

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DoD News/EJ Hersom // Flickr

#46. Clinical social work

- Early career pay: $41,400
- Mid-career pay: $55,000

Clinical social workers provide valuable services to people in various types of trouble. So why are salaries so low? In part due to an oversupply of clinical social workers, which drives salaries down.

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Spencer Platt // Getty Images

#45. Social welfare

- Early career pay: $44,500
- Mid-career pay: $54,800

Social welfare salaries are low in part because of the communities they serve. Serving needy populations, the market capitalization on such professions is low, meaning that there are limited commercial opportunities to drive higher salaries.

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Anastazzo // Shutterstock

#44. Biblical studies & practical ministries

- Early career pay: $34,600
- Mid-career pay: $54,800

While senior pastors can expect to earn more than those just starting out, anyone in the biblical studies and practical ministries professions faces inherent earnings issues in a capitalist economy. Religious organizations are nonprofits and face intrinsic caps on how much they are likely to earn, limiting the amount they can pay their staff.

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Photographee.eu // Shutterstock

#43. Communication sciences & disorders

- Early career pay: $40,300
- Mid-career pay: $54,600

Communications sciences and disorders specialists address an array of issues that technology may be rendering less reliant on therapy. For example, cochlear implants for deaf children and babies can now be purchased for as low as $530 with insurance, reducing the need for therapy as a greater number of patients can hear via the technology.

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COD Newsroom // Flickr

#42. Hospitality & the culinary arts

- Early career pay: $40,900
- Mid-career pay: $54,400

Sheer oversupply may be why some hospitality and culinary arts salaries are dropping. The number of new restaurants opening limits the ability of each restaurant to draw in large crowds of customers, dropping earnings and wages.

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rawpixel.com // Wikimedia Commons

#41. Speech & hearing

- Early career pay: $40,300
- Mid-career pay: $54,200

Speech and hearing professionals’ salaries suffer from improved technology. Hearing aids have become increasingly sophisticated, reducing the need for much administrative assistance after purchase.

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NPS Photo

#40. Parks & recreation management

- Early career pay: $39,500
- Mid-career pay: $54,200

Parks and recreation workers typically work for the government, which means they may see less pay raises than other workers. Some government workers just this year received their first pay raise in over a decade.

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Hotaik Sung // Shutterstock

#39. Pastoral ministry

- Early career pay: $36,500
- Mid-career pay: $54,100

Pastoral ministers help people in times of spiritual distress and lead religious organizations. But people don’t pay for spiritual counsel, and therefore there are no earnings that may drive salaries up.

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fizkes // Shutterstock

#38. Office management

- Early career pay: $36,000
- Mid-career pay: $54,100

Manager may sound like a high-ranking title, but an office manager’s responsibilities are inherently clerical. This means they oversee other administrative activities in an office, and even when supervising, act in an assistant capacity to the executives and other workers in an office.

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#37. Ceramics

- Early career pay: $38,700
- Mid-career pay: $54,000

Students looking to major in ceramics will learn about the science behind materials, sculpture, and drawing. Courses in personal style development, wheel-throwing techniques, firing and kiln operation, oxidation, ceramic murals, mixed media, and slips and glazes are usually required to graduate. Many with a degree in ceramics become professional potters, teachers, artists, or sculptors.

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Freedom Studio // Shutterstock

#36. Bible studies & theology

- Early career pay: $37,800
- Mid-career pay: $53,900

All jobs depend on having clients, and this includes religious jobs. Bible studies and theology professionals face challenging headwinds in the United States in this respect. Fewer Americans than ever report themselves as religious.

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Photographee.eu // Shutterstock

#35. Family studies

- Early career pay: $35,400
- Mid-career pay: $53,900

Family studies professionals help tutor, develop, and supervise children. Some competition they face in commanding high salaries? Teenage babysitters, whom parents may feel more comfortable paying lower wages.

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Amanda Bicknell // Wikimedia Commons

#34. Community development

- Early career pay: $42,000
- Mid-career pay: $53,600

Community development workers perform a wide array of tasks, from zoning and building inspections to budgets. However, they are typically paid by the government, so their salaries are capped within a certain range.

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wavebreakmedia // Shutterstock

#33. Counseling psychology

- Early career pay: $40,000
- Mid-career pay: $53,300

Many undergraduates are interested in the inner workings of the human mind. However, this rush to study psychology has resulted in an oversupply of majors, which is part of what some psychologists say is driving down salaries.

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Mark Van Scyoc // Shutterstock

#32. Health & human services

- Early career pay: $40,600
- Mid-career pay: $53,100

Many health and human service workers operate in crisis situations; however, this vital work doesn’t always come with a high level of pay, and is often run by state government agencies, some of which have been levied with huge fines for mismanagement that might have otherwise been allocated to salaries.

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PhuShutter // Shutterstock

#31. Legal assistant studies

- Early career pay: $34,400
- Mid-career pay: $52,900

Legal assistants may hope to become lawyers, who typically earn significantly higher salaries. However, without a law degree, legal assistants are only legally allowed to perform certain tasks, which caps the value of their services.

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Rob Byron // Shutterstock

#30. Health promotion

- Early career pay: $39,200
- Mid-career pay: $52,200

Health promotion professionals work to educate the public about various health initiatives and promote healthy living. However, the internet and the vast amount of information available about these health conditions may have driven down the need for these services.

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Kucher Serhii // Shutterstock

#29. History teacher education

- Early career pay: $44,900
- Mid-career pay: $51,700

Majoring in history teacher education likely means most graduates will teach the subject in elementary, secondary, or postsecondary schools. Being a history teacher, like other instruction degrees, requires those who major in the subject to become state-certified after student teaching. History teachers may work with special education teachers to make learning more accessible for students with learning difficulties and can work with debate teams, for example, because of their knowledge of current events.

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XArtProduction // Shutterstock

#28. Therapeutic recreation

- Early career pay: $36,700
- Mid-career pay: $51,700

Therapeutic recreation specialists work with patients to improve the minds, bodies, and spirits—typically of those with disease or disability. This demographic may be less likely to have resources to pay therapists significant sums, which may play a role in driving down salaries.

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Western Pennsylvania Conference - United Methodist Church // Flickr

#27. Youth ministry

- Early career pay: $35,300
- Mid-career pay: $51,700

Youth ministers work with children and teens to coordinate related activities at a church or religious organization. Churches typically operate as nonprofits, and therefore the salaries of their workers, including youth ministers, lack the ability to respond to the market and offer higher salaries.

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belushi // Shutterstock

#26. Recreational therapy

- Early career pay: $35,900
- Mid-career pay: $51,600

Recreational Therapists help many Americans, especially older adults, deal with disabilities, injuries, and illnesses—typically with arts and crafts, aquatics, games, and other activities. Although the pay is not high, these professions are projected to increase in demand, as an aging generation of Americans looks to the future.

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Monkey Business Images // Shutterstock

#25. Elementary teaching

- Early career pay: $35,300
- Mid-career pay: $51,600

Elementary teaching majors will teach kindergarten through eighth grade. Courses in classroom management and curriculum and instruction help prepare future graduates to teach. A core group of classes, including English, mathematics, history, social studies, foreign languages, and science are required for all elementary teaching majors, who must become certified in the state they work in.

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University of the Fraser Valley // Flickr

#24. Social work

- Early career pay: $36,200
- Mid-career pay: $51,400

One factor that may be driving down social work pay is an oversupply. Social work is one field in which too many people have earned degrees to fill an insufficient amount of jobs.

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metamorworks // Shutterstock

#23. Musical theatre

- Early career pay: $41,600
- Mid-career pay: $51,300

Musical theatre degrees prepare graduates for an array of professions in the musical theatre industry. However, getting these jobs—particularly acting in a musical theater production—typically involves getting cast, meaning that those who don’t get picked don’t get paid at all, driving down average salaries.

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zhu difeng // Shutterstock

#22. Radio broadcasting

- Early career pay: $41,000
- Mid-career pay: $51,200

Radio broadcasting faces an uncertain future. Digital natives and the internet revolution have reduced consumption of radio media, so fewer people than ever will be tuning in to radio broadcasts, driving down ad revenue and associated salaries.

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wavebreakmedia //Shutterstock

#21. Elementary education

- Early career pay: $37,000
- Mid-career pay: $50,900

Majoring in elementary education means teaching and instructing adolescent-age students. Majors in the program must choose a specific subject to study, including either math, history, science, or English. Some who major in the subject consider careers as guidance counselors, juvenile correction officers, long-term substitute teachers, online instructors, preschool teachers, or adjunct professors.

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Gaudilab // Shutterstock

#20. Office administration

- Early career pay: $38,800
- Mid-career pay: $50,600

Graduating with a major in office administration opens doors to many career paths, including medical office manager, staff specialist, executive assistant, management secretary, and purchasing consultant. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics details other career opportunities that do not require a degree but have comparable and higher annual salaries for those who major in the subject. Among those occupations are police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers, who make $40,660, and administrative assistants, who make $38,880.

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Eleonora_os // Shutterstock

#19. Early childhood special education

- Early career pay: $34,500
- Mid-career pay: $50,600

Early childhood special education is both a challenging and low-paying career that requires a lengthy amount of schooling. After attaining an undergraduate degree, most prospective teachers who want to teach preschool children with special needs must get their master's degrees. Some basic courses required in an early childhood special education major include early learning through play, teaching linguistically and culturally diverse children, and psychological factors in young children with disabilities.

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COD Newsroom // Flickr

#18. Human services management

- Early career pay: $43,000
- Mid-career pay: $50,000

Human services management jobs are a specific role for those interested in helping or managing others in social work or related fields. Although the average salary is not extremely high, these positions pay more than non-supervisory roles in the same field, and many of these roles require additional licensing.

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pixelheadphoto digitalskillet // Shutterstock

#17. Christian ministry

- Early career pay: $35,500
- Mid-career pay: $50,000

Christianity has been on the decline in the United States for years. This means that fewer Americans are attending church, or giving to their churches, which means fewer resources to supplant the salaries of Christian ministry workers.

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Pressmaster // Shutterstock

#16. Human services

- Early career pay: $36,200
- Mid-career pay: $49,700

Human services professionals typically work to help groups function well together or individuals flourish in their lives. Although the typical worker in such an industry will not make a high average salary, the demand for their services is projected to grow, as baby boomers look for assistance living out a high quality of life in their golden years.

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Igor Bulgarin // Shutterstock

#15. Voice & opera

- Early career pay: $32,500
- Mid-career pay: $49,700

Voice and opera students preparing to perform on a professional level after graduation must learn theatrical techniques and stage repertory through courses including diction, foreign languages, music theory, and humanities. While receiving private instruction during the undergraduate curriculum, students also perform in choral ensembles. Students who choose not to sing opera after studying the major can easily transition into other careers, including teaching art, drama, or music, or becoming a musical director or composer.

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gpointstudio // Shutterstock

#14. Health & human performance

- Early career pay: $35,400
- Mid-career pay: $49,600

Health and Human Performance professionals perform an array of work. This includes many wellness-focused offerings, including personal training and health coaching. Demand may be decreasing for specialists, as wellness becomes an increasingly hot topic in media, and more people may feel educated without the help of specialists.

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Monkey Business Images // Shutterstock

#13. Mental health counseling

- Early career pay: $34,100
- Mid-career pay: $49,100

One reason therapists may not earn much? They may suffer from too much competition. Many therapists complain that their local markets are saturated, limiting their ability to bring in new clients and command high wages.

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Freedom Studio // Shutterstock

#12. Ministry

- Early career pay: $34,000
- Mid-career pay: $48,900

Ministry jobs typically come out of a church or other religious organization. Since most religious organizations are nonprofit, this means that the amount of money that they will pay is not subject to the market, and will come out of a budget dependent on donations.

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Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shannon Renfroe/U.S. Navy // Wikimedia Commons

#11. Child development

- Early career pay: $34,600
- Mid-career pay: $48,800

Child care workers have an average hourly wage of just $10.31 an hour. Some advocacy groups and politicians have advocated paying a higher wage to these groups to meet growing demands for at least a $15 minimum wage these groups are demanding.

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Kristen Wong // Dod

#10. Community & human services

- Early career pay: $39,500
- Mid-career pay: $48,100

Community and Human Service workers work to improve the lives of their communities and the individuals who work in them. And even though salaries are not as high as those from other majors, the BLS has noted that job growth in this field is projected to remain high in the next decade.

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fizkes // Shutterstock

#9. Counseling

- Early career pay: $37,500
- Mid-career pay: $48,000

Similar to therapists, those who specialize in counseling suffer in part from competition. Wages are lower than they might otherwise be because of the sheer number of people offering counseling services.

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SpeedKingz // Shutterstock

#8. Middle school education

- Early career pay: $37,800
- Mid-career pay: $47,900

After majoring in middle school education, graduates go on to teach students in grades 5 through 9. Teaching that specific age group entails taking undergraduate courses in a breadth of subjects, including English, science, mathematics, and social studies. Washington University in St. Louis suggests those majoring in middle school education may consider adding a concentrated study in their curriculum since middle schools are interdisciplinary and teachers who have expertise in more than one content field may have an advantage in the job market.

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hryshai olena // Shutterstock

#7. Baking & pastry arts

- Early career pay: $35,600
- Mid-career pay: $46,600

These days, it seems that everyone is a food blogger. And this means that more people than ever are likely to be trying their hands at baking and pastry-making at home, reducing the need for specialized bakers.

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Iam_Anupong // Shutterstock

#6. Early childhood & elementary education

- Early career pay: $35,800
- Mid-career pay: $46,100

Students who major in early childhood and elementary education prepare to teach in both preschool and after-school programs, as well as kindergarten through sixth grade. Graduates must become certified to instruct students in whatever state they choose for work. With further schooling, some graduates of the major go onto to become administrators, such as principals, superintendents, directors of curriculum, and college deans.

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Monkey Business Images // Shutterstock

#5. Early childhood education

- Early career pay: $33,500
- Mid-career pay: $43,000

A child's cognitive, emotional, and language development occur in the first five years of life, making early childhood education critical in an adolescent's academic career. The 77% of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place are teaching the next generation of leaders, yet it is one of the lowest-paying majors on the list, further proving those who enter the field are likely more concerned about the community than salary.

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woodleywonderworks // Flickr

#4. Outdoor education

- Early career pay: $35,200
- Mid-career pay: $42,800

Outdoor education professionals help people enjoy the great outdoors. However perfect they may be for the outdoors enthusiast, some of these jobs are run by the government, which means they are capped within a certain pay bracket.

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Kathryn Calvert // U.S. Air Force

#3. Child & family studies

- Early career pay: $33,400
- Mid-career pay: $42,700

Childcare is one of the lowest-paying professions in the United States. One reason may be that many teenagers and other younger adults will work as babysitters and tutors to make side money, which makes it more difficult for professionals to demand higher wages.

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Staff Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla // U.S. Air Force

#2. Medical assisting

- Early career pay: $32,500
- Mid-career pay: $42,700

One issue that may be keeping medical assisting wages low is an oversupply. Some argue that too many qualified medical assistants are currently searching for work, keeping salaries low.

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Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder // U.S. Air Force

#1. Vocational rehabilitation

- Early career pay: $33,700
- Mid-career pay: $42,300

Vocational Rehabilitation professionals provide job development and training for people who are looking for work. The internet may have reduced the demand for such services, driving down wages, as people have more access than ever to professional development without the services of a professional.

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