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The Worst Paying College Majors To Avoid

5 minute read

By Katie Ormsby

As the old adage goes, money isn’t everything. Some college majors lead to low-paying but fulfilling careers. However, most graduates have bills to pay and loans to repay. That makes earning potential a valid factor to consider when picking a college major. After all, you don’t want to wind up regretting your choice.

According to The Washington Post, nearly 2 in 5 American college grads regret choosing their major. And when you drill that down to humanities and arts majors, the number increases to about half of graduates. Such high levels of regret may have something to do with the low-paying jobs many of them work after graduation.

If earning potential is one of your biggest concerns, then here are some college majors you may want to avoid. We’ve used data from the New York Fed to compile the median wage, unemployment rate, and underemployment rate for each one.


  • Median wage after graduation: $33,600
  • Unemployment rate: 6.0%
  • Underemployment rate: 54.2%

As Missouri State University puts it, “Anthropology is the holistic study of people and cultures in every corner of the globe, from prehistoric times to the present day.” Students look at humans from a variety of angles, including languages, economics, and politics.

While some anthropology majors pursue advanced degrees to become archaeologists or paleontologists, many enter the workforce after completing an undergraduate degree. Unfortunately, those graduates face a combination of low salaries and high unemployment.


Fine Arts

  • Median wage after graduation: $35,000
  • Unemployment rate: 5.1%
  • Underemployment rate: 56.5%

Fine arts majors explore art through a wide range of mediums, including painting, sculpting, photography, and graphic design. Elmhurst says the major helps students develop their skills as “artists, creative thinkers, designers and problem solvers.”

However, fine arts graduates are in fierce competition with each other for a relatively limited number of permanent positions in the field. As a result, they deal with high unemployment and underemployment rates in addition to low pay.


Early Childhood Education

  • Median wage after graduation: $34,000
  • Unemployment rate: 1.4%
  • Underemployment rate: 19.6%

If you’re considering education majors, then you might have early childhood education in the mix. According to the University of Washington, the major gives students an “opportunity to study early childhood development, early learning, and family studies.”

Early childhood education graduates often work in preschools and childcare centers. Those who want to get on track to a higher pay scale may want to pursue an elementary education major instead. That choice sets you up to become a certified teacher.


Theology and Religion

  • Median wage after graduation: $34,000
  • Unemployment rate: 1.5%
  • Underemployment rate: 47.0%

Theology and Religion is another major students may want to avoid if landing a high-paying career is a priority. Graduates commonly struggle with low salaries and high underemployment rates. That said, it can help students develop useful skills.

For instance, Marquette says students “learn to think and read carefully and critically, and write and speak clearly and persuasively, on some of the most complex topics.” So, much like other majors on this list, it has educational value for students.


Social Services

  • Median wage after graduation: $34,000
  • Unemployment rate: 3.1%
  • Underemployment rate: 31.9%

Social services majors study “social welfare systems with the hope of helping improve lives,” according to U.S. News & World Report. With this in mind, students learn about human challenges like homelessness and substance abuse in order to help people facing such struggles.

It’s a noble calling but not one that frequently leads to high-paying jobs. Additionally, students interested in becoming social workers should keep in mind that a master’s degree is a common requirement. Other related fields include counseling and community outreach.



  • Median wage after graduation: $35,000
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Underemployment rate: 50.0%

According to Verywell Mind, “Psychology is one of the top six most popular college majors.” However, students who don’t plan to pursue a postgraduate degree may want to avoid it. That’s because many careers related to psychology require a master’s or doctorate.

Of course, psychology majors learn skills that can help in other fields like sales, advertising, and marketing. Students seek to understand human behavior, after all. Unfortunately, psychology majors often face low wages and high underemployment rates upon graduation.


Leisure and Hospitality

  • Median wage after graduation: $35,000
  • Unemployment rate: 3.7%
  • Underemployment rate: 59.8%

Leisure and hospitality majors learn the industry’s “traditional tried and true, current best practices and evolving trends,” according to Boston University. The major helps students prepare for careers in hotel hospitality, event planning, tourism marketing, etc.

While it can be a fun major that challenges students’ creative, entrepreneurial, and leadership abilities, it doesn’t lead to a lucrative career for many graduates. So, students prioritizing money over passion may want to stay away from the leisure and hospitality major.


General Social Sciences

  • Median wage after graduation: $34,800
  • Unemployment rate: 2.7%
  • Underemployment rate: 50.0%

According to the University of Oregon, general social sciences majors “learn how to analyze social issues using research and critical thinking” in order to work in an “interconnected global environment.”

The source says graduates can work in a variety of fields such as “business, government, law, and education.” However, many grads of general social sciences deal with low wages and high rates of underemployment.


Family and Consumer Sciences

  • Median wage after graduation: $32,300
  • Unemployment rate: 4.1%
  • Underemployment rate: 40.6%

Family and Consumer Sciences majors learn how to “help people make informed decisions about their well-being and relationships,” according to Colorado State University. Students develop skills that can be beneficial in a variety of fields.

For example, the source says those fields include nutrition, wellness, fashion merchandising, and interior design. Despite that range, graduates face a low median wage after graduation as well as a high unemployment rate.


The Bottom Line

Students don’t always consider earning potential when selecting a major. But it is an important factor to consider given the high cost of a college degree. Of course, that doesn’t mean students can’t follow their passions. Plenty of people who chose the featured majors have success in related fields.

However, low median salaries and high unemployment rates are indicators that a major may not be the most practical choice. Broad statistics don’t tell the whole story, so you may want to meet with a career counselor and talk to graduates of the major to get a fuller picture of the reality for graduates.


Katie Ormsby