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Beware of These 26 Worst College Majors

Posted by Francesca Fulciniti | Jun 18, 2016 9:00:00 AM

College Info

 

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One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make while you’re in college (or even before you begin) is what you’ll want to major in. When you choose a major, you might primarily think about your academic interests or long-term career goals. But perhaps you’re concerned about more practical matters, like employment and earnings opportunities.

If you want to scope out majors that will make it more difficult for you to be professionally successful in the long run, you’ve come to the right place. Here, I’ll lay out what makes a major “bad” before listing the worst college majors in a variety of categories (like worst paying majors, majors with the highest unemployment rates, and lowest value majors). Keep in mind, however, that these can still be great subjects to study.

Already majoring in one of the subjects on this list or planning to in the future? Don’t worry - that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to professional failure. At the end, I’ll list tips and strategies for success if you’ve decided to pursue one of the majors on these lists.

Let’s get started!

 

What Makes a Major “Bad?”

There's no such thing as an objectively bad major — you should study whatever topic you choose. But in the context of this article, I’m defining the "worst" college majors as ones that may make it more difficult for you to:

  • Find employment post-graduation (based on average unemployment rates)
  • Make a good living (based on average salary)
  • Both find a job AND find a job that pays well

There are a lot of reasons why a particular major might make it more difficult for a graduate to find a relatively well-paying job quickly. You’ll want to do your own research on majors that you’re interested in, but here are some possible explanations for why a major may end up on one of our “worst” lists:

  • Competition in an industry is particularly high, making it harder for recent grads to break into the field.
  • There isn’t a lot of demand for a particular professional with that major, which drives down salaries.
  • A bachelor’s degree may not be enough to gain success in the field. Students may need to pursue a graduate degree in order to find gainful employment.
  • Jobs in a particular field may be found mostly in the public sector. Public sector jobs tend to pay less than private sector jobs.

These majors can still be great areas of study and lead to fulfilling careers; they are just, on average, less lucrative ones.

 

Majors With the Worst Employment Rates

The following majors are the ones that may make it most difficult for you to find a job after graduation, especially in your field. These majors are correlated with higher-than-average unemployment rates based on a recent report out of Georgetown University.

Here are some recent, important figures for reference:

  • Unemployment rates for high school graduates, aged 18-24: 18.9%
  • Unemployment rate for graduates with bachelor’s degrees, aged 18-24: 6.7%

*Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2014

You’ll notice that the unemployment rates listed below are much lower than 18.9%, which is the unemployment rate for people without a college degree. They are, however, higher than the average unemployment rate for young people with bachelor’s degrees (6.7%).

I’ve also included unemployment for “experienced graduates” of these majors - you’ll notice that unemployment rates drop as people age and gain more professional experience. We can’t tell, however, whether these people are working in the particular field they majored in at school.

On this list, recent college grads are defined as individuals with bachelor’s degrees aged 22-26. Experienced college grads are defined as individuals with bachelor’s degrees aged 35-54. The most recent data is from 2011-2012, which is a few years ago now, but given how long this sort of research can take it’s the best information we currently have.


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These majors may lead to increased job search timelines, which means more stress and less money in your pocket.


International Business

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 12.3%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: Not enough information available

Computer and Information Systems

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 12.1%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: 4.3%

Anthropology and Archaeology

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 10.9%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: 7.1%

Political Science & Government  

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 10.9%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: 5.8%

Architecture

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 10.3%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: 7.3%

Philosophy and Religious Studies

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 10.3%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: 6.4%

Fine Arts

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 10.2%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: 6.5%

Commercial Art and Graphic Design

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 9.9%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: 6.8%

Economics

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 9.8%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: 4.4%

Psychology

  • Unemployment for recent college grads: 9.3%
  • Unemployment for experienced college grads: 6.3%

 

Worst Paying Majors

If your primary concern when choosing a major is earning potential, you might want to stay away from the ones on the following list. They’re correlated with particularly low earnings for “experienced” grads (aged 25-59) according to that same Georgetown report.

Median earnings are more helpful than average earnings because averages are easily skewed by very high or very low outliers. Keep in mind that the most recent information from this report is from 2011-2012, so salaries are probably slightly higher now.

For reference, the average graduate with a bachelor’s degree makes $45,478 right out of college. The average adult with a bachelor’s degree regardless of age makes about $59,124.


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You may want to avoid the following majors if this empty wallet makes you sadder than it would the average person.


Fine Arts

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $28,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $52,000

Drama and Theater Arts

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $28,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $52,000

Anthropology and Archaeology

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $29,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $57,000

Physical Fitness, Parks, Recreation, and Leisure

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $30,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $53,000

Social Work

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $44,000

Family and Consumer Sciences

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $47,000

Music

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $52,000

Psychology

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $53,000

Philosophy and Religious Studies

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $56,000

Film, Video, and Photographic Arts

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $56,000

Chemistry

  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $73,000


Lowest Value Majors

In this category, I used information from that Georgetown Report to consider the lowest value majors. These are majors that are associated with both high rates of unemployment AND low salaries - that is, they’re the majors that showed up on both of the lists above.

Here, you can check out unemployment and median earnings for both recent and more experienced grads for the lowest value majors.


Anthropology and Archaeology

  • Unemployment for recent grads (22-26 years old): 10.9%
  • Median earnings for recent grads: $29,000
  • Unemployment for experienced grads (30-54 years old): 7.1%
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $57,000

Philosophy and Religious Studies

  • Unemployment for recent grads (22-26 years old): 10.3%
  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Unemployment for experienced grads (30-54 years old): 6.4%
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $56,000

Fine Arts

  • Unemployment for recent grads (22-26 years old): 10.2%
  • Median earnings for recent grads: $28,000
  • Unemployment for experienced grads (30-54 years old): 6.5%
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $52,000

Philosophy and Religious Studies

  • Unemployment for recent grads (22-26 years old): 10.3%
  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Unemployment for experienced grads (30-54 years old): 6.4%
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $56,000

Psychology

  • Unemployment for recent grads (22-26 years old): 9.3%
  • Median earnings for recent grads: $31,000
  • Unemployment for experienced grads (30-54 years old): 6.3%
  • Median earnings for experienced grads: $53,000

 

Are You Doomed If You’ve Chosen One of the Worst Majors?

The short answer: no. There are a lot of reasons you can be successful even if you’ve chosen a major that’s associated with low salary, high unemployment, or both.  

Many students prioritize personal and academic interests over high future salaries, and that’s 100% OK (as long as you’re well-informed and realistic about your employment prospects). Still concerned? Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t be too worried about choosing a “bad” major.


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Don’t abandon ship until you’ve read the rest of this post.


You Don’t Have to Pursue a Career That’s Directly Related to Your Major

Some of the majors listed above are fairly flexible or broad in scope (like psychology or philosophy). If you’re concerned about getting a job or making enough money after you graduate, you should know it’s possible to switch gears and look for entry-level employment that isn’t directly related to your major.

Many employers will view your past employment history as more important that your college major, especially as you get older. You may have to spend more time working your way up the ranks from an entry-level position, but that’s super common with recent college grads anyways.

 

You Can Pursue Graduate Degrees in Your Field

A graduate degree may lead to an increase in salary and a decrease in the chance you’ll stay unemployed. Some BA degrees won’t get you anywhere in a particular field without a graduate degree (e.g. you can do next to nothing in psychology without at least a master’s).

This won’t apply to every major, but you may want to look into whether a graduate degree (either an MA or a PhD) is all but required for a job in a particular field. Graduate degrees can be expensive and costly, but they can really pay off in the long run with better employment prospects and higher salaries (again, though, it’s important to do your own research on this).

Alternatively, you may be able to pursue a graduate degree in a new field, especially if your undergraduate major is one of the more flexible options.

 

4 Tips If You’re Studying One of the Worst College Majors

If you’ve chosen one of these majors (and will be sticking with it), there are a few important things you can do to make sure you don’t end up unemployed or underpaid.

 

Know What You Can Expect to Make

If you have a specific career in mind, you can look at websites like payscale.com or salary.com for more info on average earnings. If you’re happy (or unhappy) with these prospects, this will give you an idea of whether you should stay the course or pivot to another career path.

 

Speak With Other Graduates in Your Major

Are they working in the same field, or are they doing something different? Are they happy with what they’re earning? Was it difficult to find a job? Keep in mind that any information you get is is anecdotal evidence, so take it with a grain of salt.

 

Meet With a Career Counselor

You can often schedule a meeting with a counselor through your school’s career center. They can speak with you more about possible career options based on your major, interests, and strengths. They may also have more info about job growth and earning potential.

Finally, career counselors may have contacts in your field in case you wanted to connect with grads in your major - this could turn out to be a great resource.

 

Have a Career Plan

Coming up with a solid plan means asking yourself a ton of questions about what you want, including:

  • Do you want to stay in your field and look for jobs directly related to your major, or do you want to branch out?
  • Can you start getting entry-level experience now so that you’ll be better prepared to enter the workforce after you graduate?
  • Would it pay off to look into graduate degree programs? Would a graduate degree make you significantly more valuable as an employee?

As your answers to these questions shift (or not) over time, you can amend your plans and goals so that your professional career ends up where you want it to.

 

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Coming up with a plan - even if you have to scrap it a few times - is never a bad idea.

 

Wrapping Up

The way I defined “worst” at the beginning of this article was pretty narrow. If your primary concerns are job availability and/or salary, the majors listed here may not be the best fit for you. However, that doesn’t mean that these majors should be avoided at all costs and under all circumstances, and it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful if you’ve chosen one of these majors.

It does mean that you should think carefully and critically about your career prospects, especially if you’re interested in choosing one of these majors. To be frank, however, everyone should be doing this if they want to be optimally successful with their degree, no matter how “good” of a major they’ve chosen.

 

What’s Next?

Still stressed about selecting a college major? Only you can figure out which major is best for you, but we may have some information to make the decision a bit easier.

Learn about how to choose a major for your college application, and then check out our post on the average college GPA by major.

If you’re thinking longer-term about your career prospects, you might be interested in learning about job shadowing - it’s a great way to test out a particular profession to see if it may be a good fit.

 

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Francesca Fulciniti
About the Author

Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.



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