The Top 20 Worst College Majors (For a High-Paying Job)

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Why do people go to college?

Although some attend a college or university primarily for the social scene and to go to as many parties as possible, most attend college to prepare themselves for a future career. A college degree is an important credential for landing a good job and being able to earn the money needed to live a good life.

But earning a college degree doesn’t always lead to a good job. In fact, in some situations, it’s possible to end up worse off by going to college than it would be skipping college and entering the workforce without a degree or attending a trade school.

How can this be? Isn’t college the golden ticket to a good life?

Sometimes – but not always.

Part of the problem lies in the outrageous cost of tuition these days. If you earn a college degree in a field of study that doesn’t pay very well, you could end up deep in student loan debt with a job that doesn’t pay you enough to repay the money you borrowed to earn your degree.

Do you see the problem?

Compounding the problem is the fact that there are many high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree.

If you’re going to earn a college degree then, you may as well study a subject that leads to a lucrative career.

I’ve already written about the best college majors for a high-paying job. I now want to take a look at the other end of the equation. Let’s examine the worst college majors you can pursue for a lucrative career.

What Makes a College Degree Bad?

Three main things contribute to a college degree program being bad. These include the demand for graduates (the unemployment rate), pay, and whether you can enter your career with an undergraduate degree or whether additional education is required.

Is there demand for graduates of your major?

If you graduate with a degree in something and hardly anyone is hiring people in your field, you may struggle to find work that pays well. Yes, it’s still possible to find a job in something other than your field of study (it happens all the time), but since the idea behind earning a college degree is to prepare you for a career, it makes sense to pursue a course of study with high demand.

Do careers for your major lead to good-paying jobs?

We all have bills to pay. Most people have either a monthly rent or mortgage payment to make. There’s also electricity, food, insurance, and all of those other expenses that come with being alive. Isn’t adulting fun?

Having financial struggles is always hard. Many could avoid the low-pay grind by choosing a college major that pays well and avoiding the ones that don’t. If you are considering pursuing a degree program that leads to a low-paying career, it might be a good idea to hit the pause button and think about your options.

Do you need additional education or certification to start a career?

There are now many careers where a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to get started. You may be required to earn either a master’s degree or professional certification (or both) to either get started in your career or to earn a decent living.

It wasn’t always like this. Many careers that now require an advanced level of education to enter the profession used to only require undergraduate degrees. For example, physician assistant programs used to be associate’s degrees (the profession now requires a master’s degree).

People also used to be able to become attorneys with only a bachelor’s degree (bachelor of law). It now requires a JD. There are other careers like this.

This problem actually has a name. It’s called credential inflation or credential creep. Is a master’s degree really necessary to practice as a physician’s assistant? Not really. Both associate’s degrees and master’s degrees are usually two-year degree programs.

If you are considering majoring in something that requires additional (often expensive) education and certification to get started in your career, it might be worth it to consider some alternatives.

The Top 20 Worst College Majors

It’s time now to present my list of the 20 worst college majors. But first, a little disclaimer.

This list is my personal opinion of the worst college majors. Not everyone is going to agree with me on my picks, and that’s okay. Also, there are certainly more than 20 majors that could be counted as “bad majors,” but these are the ones I consider to be the worst.

Without further ado, here is my list of the top 20 worst college majors you can pursue (in no particular order)…

1. Philosophy

I’m sure philosophy is a very interesting subject to study. After all, who doesn’t want to explore the meaning of our existence, free will, logic, metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory? I’m sure it’s all fascinating.

The only problem with pursuing a degree in philosophy is what do you do after you graduate? Last time I checked, there are no philosophy factories. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you have your degree in hand and you then have to ask, “okay, what now?”

Although some earn degrees in philosophy and use them as foundations for careers that require graduate degrees (like law or teaching philosophy at the college level), there are limited career options for those with undergraduate degrees in this field.

When was the last time you saw a job ad with philosophy degree listed as a requirement?

2. Art History / Museum Studies

Many pursue either art history or museum studies with dreams of working in a museum somewhere. Can’t blame them. It does sound like a nice, cushy job. But there are a couple of problems with this major.

First, there’s a lot of competition for the few available jobs in this field. When a museum does have an opening, it typically receives responses from many well-qualified applicants, some with significant experience.

It’s an issue of supply versus demand. There just aren’t enough museums for all of the art history or museum studies majors that colleges and universities are producing.

Second, this is a field where the school you graduated from matters. Let’s call it the snob factor. Many fancy museums prefer to hire people who are graduates of high-ranking schools. If you graduated from a solid but otherwise unremarkable state university, for example, and you are going up against several candidates who graduated from top-tier universities, landing an interview may be difficult.

3. Fine Art

Wouldn’t it be great to draw or paint pictures all day long? Kind of like Bob Ross. And get paid to do it? You could put on some soft, relaxing music while you work, fill the room with the soothing scent of potpourri, and sip on some gourmet coffee while you work.

What’s not to like about a career like that?

The only problem with this scenario is that you don’t need a college degree to be an artist. You don’t need to go deep in debt with a student loan that will take years to repay to hone your artistic skills.

Most artists are self-employed. And as a freelance professional, you don’t necessarily need a college degree.

Many artists are self-taught, and others learn their skills working as apprentices. Others learn how to become artists by attending specialized schools that focus exclusively on art.

The one exception to studying fine art as a college major is if you know you want to be a public or private school teacher who specializes in art. If you take this path, you will also have to obtain teaching certification to work in the field.

4. Athletic Training / Sports Management

Many sports fans have dreams of earning a degree in either athletic training or sports management and landing a job working for one of their favorite teams. It could be either a professional or college team. Regardless, they just love sports and want to make a career out of it.

There’s just one major problem: The demand for those with degrees in this field is very low.

Many colleges and universities are cranking out graduates with degrees in either athletic training or sports management, but few opportunities await these graduates. And to make matters worse, many who end up managing or training professional teams got their jobs because of who they knew, not because of their degrees.

If you look up “athletic training jobs” in a search engine, you’ll probably notice that most of the job listings are for positions with physical therapy companies. Because of this, you might actually be better off studying physical therapy or physical therapist assisting instead of athletic training to work for these companies.

5. Anthropology / Archaeology

If you’ve ever watched an Indiana Jones movie, you may have romanticized about traveling to distant and exotic lands and exploring their ancient histories.

Although the Indiana Jones movies are highly entertaining, their portrayal of anthropology and archaeology is mostly a fiction. Real anthropologists and archaeologists spend their time studying the lives of ancient civilizations and cultures instead of having swashbuckling adventures. Other than traveling to exotic locations, the work they do is actually pretty boring.

Another problem with these majors is the demand for graduates. Who hires anthropology or archaeology majors?

For the most part, the main employer of these graduates is colleges and universities that teach these subjects. And to land a good-paying career in these fields, you will most likely have to earn a PhD.

Who else needs anthropologists or archaeologists? Because of the lack of demand and excessive education required to earn a living in this category, I’m putting these majors on my bad list.

6. History

I love history. In fact, most of the books I read are on military history. I find that stuff fascinating.

Pursuing history to land a good job, however, is not a very good idea. Like some of the other majors on this list, it all comes back to the issue of demand. Who hires history majors?

Have you ever seen a job listing that specifically called for a history major? Unless you count public school teachers, there just isn’t much demand for people who have studied things that have happened in the past.

Yes, you can obtain your teaching certificate and teach the subject in a public or private school somewhere. That’s always an option. Another option is to obtain your PhD and teach history at a college or university, but that requires several additional years of school (and possibly more student loan debt).

7. Photography

It’s definitely possible to make a living as a photographer. Many people do it. Photographers are needed for weddings, family pictures, graduation pictures, and for many other events. The demand is there.

So, why is photography on my bad list if there is demand for photographers?

The problem with this major is you don’t need a college degree to strike out on your own and become a self-employed photographer. Do you really want to take on potentially tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to learn a skill you can pick up by practicing, reading books, watching YouTube videos, and reading blog posts on the internet?

Most professional photographers I know are self-taught. Photography is an art, and it does take skill to compose great images. But it’s a skill that most can learn on their own – no expensive college degree needed.

8. Graphic Design

Graphic designers are often employed by marketing agencies to create eye-catching graphics for their marketing campaigns. Many graphic designers are also self-employed and work as freelancers in the gig economy.

The reason why graphic design is on my bad list of college majors has nothing to do with the demand. It has to do with the fact that most people who hire graphic designers don’t care about college degrees. They mainly just care about how good you are at what you do.

When applying for graphic design jobs, graphic designers do submit resumes, but what sells potential employers is not whether or not you have a college degree, it’s your portfolio. It’s the samples of previous jobs you’ve completed that either makes an employer want to hire you or take a pass.

When applying for a graphic design job, an employer will almost always hire someone with an amazing portfolio over someone with a college degree and an average portfolio. It’s your skill in creating eye-catching art that employers are after – not your formal education.

9. Theater

Most people enjoy live theater. I know I sure do. It’s a lot of fun to escape from reality for a couple of hours and watch a good story unfold in front of you on stage.

But acting is a tough gig to break into. You have to be really good at it to make a living. You also may have to do a lot of auditioning before you can land an acting job somewhere.

And then there’s the pay. It’s low – like really, really low. Yes, there’s always the possibility you could become a breakout star and make millions, but most don’t.

The theater business is tough. It’s tough to land work in the field, it doesn’t pay very well, and for most, it’s a dead-end career. For these reasons, I’m including it on my list of worst college majors.

10. English / Literature / Creative Writing

Many companies hire highly creative writers to work in their advertising departments to write sales copy. A good writer can draw customers in and make an average product look amazing in the eyes of shoppers.

So, why is English, literature, and creative writing on my bad list?

It’s mainly because there’s not much else you can do with these majors. Yes, you can always teach these subjects in a public or private school, but you do have to obtain a teaching certificate to work as a teacher. It’s also not a career that appeals to everyone.

I’ve already written about how you can start your own freelance writing business and earn a living working from home. But the interesting thing about being a full-time freelance writer is you don’t need a degree to be successful. Clients rarely care about your formal education.

Like graphic design, freelance clients are mostly interested in the writing samples you show them when contacting them for work. If you can show them some highly-polished pieces that have been published on some big-name websites, that will impress them much more than a degree in creative writing or English.

11. Hospitality and Tourism

The idea behind majoring in hospitality and tourism is that you will land a job with a tourist attraction of some kind and work to promote it. Or you might work to promote all of the attractions and amenities a town or community has to grow its tourism industry.

The problem with this major is the lack of demand. Most tourist attractions and communities prefer to hire locals to do their marketing because a local is going to be far more knowledgeable and passionate about what they are promoting than some random person with a hospitality and tourism degree.

Many who major in hospitality and tourism end up working unfulfilling jobs as reservation sales agents, hotel front desk managers, or hotel convention managers. These are also jobs that don’t necessarily require a degree in hospitality. Degrees in business administration or marketing work just as well.

12. Music

Are you a talented musician? Perhaps you can play an amazing rendition of Stairway to Heaven on the guitar. If so, perhaps you’re considering earning a degree in music to advance your career as a performing artist. But there’s just one big problem…

You don’t need a college degree to be a musician. You just need to be a really good musician.

When people hire musicians, they typically hire them based on how talented they are. College degrees are usually irrelevant.

One thing you can do with a degree in music, however, is to obtain a teaching certificate and teach music in a public or private school somewhere. You have to really love teaching and kids for this to be a good option though.

13. Animal Science

Animal science is a popular major for those who love animals (duh!). It’s also a common major for those who plan on going to graduate school to become veterinarians.

So, why is this major on my bad list?

I don’t think it’s a very good major because of the limited career opportunities if you don’t go to vet school. Most of the careers for this major are jobs you can land without a college degree or a degree in other fields.

Just a few career options for those who earn degrees in animal science include zookeeper, working in an animal shelter, as an animal health technician, and as an animal handler for law enforcement. Some also work as animal production managers in dairies, cattle farms, horse farms, poultry production facilities, and fish farms.

I’m certainly not saying there’s anything wrong with any of those jobs. I believe that all work is honorable and worthy of respect. The problem is you don’t need a degree in animal science to work in most of them.

They also don’t pay very well. For example, according to PayScale, the average hourly rate for zookeepers is only $12.53. While money certainly isn’t everything in life, it is important to earn enough to pay your living expenses and to repay your student loan without struggling.

14. Criminal Justice

Many people pursue criminal justice degrees in hopes of working for a law enforcement agency of some kind. Maybe they would like to be a criminal investigator or work for the FBI.

The problem with this major is you don’t need a college degree to work in law enforcement. In most cases, to become a police officer, you have to graduate from a police academy. And most people become criminal investigators after working as police officers for a period of time and earning a promotion.

But what about working for the FBI? Surely a degree in criminal justice is the ticket to a career as a G-Man, right?

Not necessarily.

The FBI investigates and prosecutes a lot of white-collar crime. As such, it needs a small army of accountants, attorneys, computer experts, and other specialists. The FBI uses forensic accountants to sort through financial information to look for things like money laundering, and it also uses attorneys to prosecute individuals accused of committing crimes.

In other words, the FBI prefers to hire specialists, and criminal justice is a very general major.

15. Culinary Arts

Many pursue degrees in the field of culinary arts with the goal of landing a job as a chef working at a fancy restaurant, maybe one with a Michelin Star.

The problem with this major is one of demand.

Schools are graduating more culinary arts majors than there are openings at fancy restaurants for chefs or sous chefs. As a result, many graduates of these programs end up flipping steaks at local restaurants for low pay.

16. Radio/Television and Film Production

Many have dreams of working in the fields of radio, television, and film. After all, who wouldn’t want to rub shoulders with famous personalities, work in Tinseltown, or have your name appear in the credits of a movie?

How cool is that?

The problem with this major is the entertainment industry is tough to break into. Many others want a piece of the action, too. The competition is fierce. This is also an industry where who you know is far more important than having a college degree. It’s all about your connections.

Also, what do you do if you happen to land a position working in the entertainment industry and then decide it isn’t for you? You are essentially stuck with a college degree in a field of study that doesn’t lead to many other careers.

17. Fashion Design

Everyone has to wear clothes (at least I hope you do). Because of this, the clothing industry is enormous. It has to be to clothe the billions of people on our planet. And fashion designers are needed to create all of the new designs you see in stores and online when shopping.

So, what’s the problem with fashion design as a major?

The problem with this major is it’s a career that many enter without having a college degree, or they may have a college degree in an unrelated field. Like graphic design, this is a field where you are hired not based on your degree, but based on your skill in designing clothes.

The big labels that make clothing want the best fashion designers they can find. And when screening applicants for positions, the most important thing they look for is artistic talent.

18. Liberal Studies

Liberal studies is a major where you take courses in a little of everything. You might take courses in history, literature, geography, psychology, and many other things. The problem with this degree is it makes you well-rounded, but you don’t specialize in anything.

Liberal studies is a major that doesn’t prepare you for any specific career. It’s too generalized. These days employers prefer to hire people with certain skills. And if an employer receives many applications for a job, the one with the degree in liberal studies is probably going to be passed over in favor of applicants who have more relevant degrees.

19. Paralegal Studies

Do you dream of arguing cases in front of juries as an attorney? If so, you may have considered earning a degree in paralegal studies with the intent of working for a while to get some experience before enrolling in law school. It sounds like a great idea, but there’s one big problem…

Many law firms have cut back on their use of paralegals in recent years.

With the invention of low-cost online legal services, the demand for many things that attorneys and paralegals used to do (and charge big bucks for) can now be done online in less time and for much less money. Because of this, many firms aren’t using the services of paralegals as much as they previously did.

If you plan on attending law school, you can do so with any undergraduate degree. The most important thing the admissions committees consider is your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score.

20. Any Degree Program That Ends with the Word “Studies”

In recent years there has been an explosion of colleges and universities offering degree programs ending with the word “studies.” Just a few examples include women’s studies, equine studies (the study of horses), family studies, gender studies, American studies, interdisciplinary studies, and others.

The problem with these programs is they rarely lead to a specific career. While I’m sure the subjects the “studies” majors explore are very interesting, they don’t exactly blow the socks off of hiring managers when they flip through resumes looking for the right person for a job they need to fill.

Worst College Majors – Final Thoughts

What you major in is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in your life. Get it wrong, and it could negatively affect your career for the rest of your life.

When choosing a college major, take the time to consider the potential careers that majors you are considering lead to. What is the demand in the job market for that major? What do careers in that field pay? Will you need to earn a graduate degree to be successful, or will an undergraduate degree alone be enough?

These are not questions to be taken lightly. If you do your homework and select a major in a lucrative field, you can set yourself up for life. But if you choose the wrong major, it may be hard to recover.

Cyrus Vanover

Cyrus Vanover, MBA, is a financial copywriter who has written for companies of all sizes. He is also the author of the personal finance book, "Earn A Debt-Free College Degree." His goal is to help families save money, make more money, and achieve financial independence. Based in the mountains of Virginia, he enjoys hiking the local trails, listening to 80s music, and reading books on military history in his spare time. Read more.

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