Worst-paying Degrees

There's no denying the value of a college education: According to US Census surveys, the median salary for college grads is more than $20,000 higher than that of people with only a high school diploma. And the unemployment rate for people with bachelor's degrees is almost half the rate for people without.

But some degrees are worth more than others, as PayScale.com shows in its 2010 report on the earning power of bachelor's degrees.

It's no surprise that engineering degrees continue to be top earners, while -- also no big shocker -- you have to go pretty far down the list before you see the liberal arts well represented.

But there's more to choosing a major than comparing dollar amounts. We salute and congratulate the graduates whose interests and hard work have led them to the following degrees -- the lowest-earning degrees on PayScale's list.


Some mega-millionaire movie stars with drama degrees -- Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, for instance -- may be skewing these numbers upward. For every Denzel and Meryl, there are thousands of thespians struggling to make ends meet. But you don't study drama because you want to get rich -- you study drama because you love the theater. And an ability to act comes in handy in many professions.

Starting salary: $35,600; mid-career salary: $56,600

Fine Arts

Well, it takes an artist to make a thrift-store wardrobe look like a million bucks.

Starting salary: $35,800; mid-career annual salary: $56,300

Hospitality and Tourism

Jobs that include service tips may be skewing these numbers downward -- and this is an industry that looks to be on the rebound as the economy improves. Plus, the perks associated with jobs in hospitality and tourism may compensate for the comparatively low salaries -- many jobs in the industry allow extensive travel or provide considerable travel discounts.

Starting salary: $35,800; mid-career annual salary: $56,300


For the right people, teaching is an immensely rewarding career -- and it's truly a noble one. The good news is, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment opportunities for primary, secondary and special-education teachers are expected to grow by 14 percent in the coming decade. And there will be plenty of new opportunities in continuing education for adults, as professional skill requirements change ever more rapidly.

Starting salary: $36,200; mid-career salary: $54,100 Horticulture It seems that a green thumb doesn't necessarily bring in the greenbacks. But when you work among flowers and plants as a horticulturist in a nursery or garden, who needs 'em?

Starting salary: $37,200; mid-career salary: $53,400


As an old proverb puts it, when you learn a new language, you "gain a new soul." Who could put a price on that? And certainly, knowing Spanish -- the language with the second-highest number of native speakers after Mandarin -- in addition to English opens up a world of job opportunities beyond Spanish teacher or translator. As a plus, you can better enjoy a world of fantastic Spanish-language music, movies and literature.

Starting salary: $37,200; mid-career salary: $53,400 Music

Hey, if being a musician were easy, everyone would do it. Some of us are guitar heroes; most of us just play the video game.

Starting salary: $34,000; mid-career salary: $52,000


This is the perfect example of a degree earned by someone who's not in it for the money. People who choose to study theology often feel they're pursuing a higher calling and often feel a strong desire to do good in the world, no matter the cost.

Starting salary: $34,800; mid-career salary: $51,500

Elementary Education

Specializing in elementary education means a lower median salary than an education degree.

Starting salary: $33,000; mid-career salary: $42,400

Social Work

They say crime doesn't pay. As this list seems to point out, neither does helping people. So it's a good thing that many college students seem to believe that helping others is its own reward -- social workers are an indispensable safety net for people who've fallen on difficult times. And the BLS reports that the outlook for opportunities in this field are favorable -- particularly for social workers who work in rural areas or with senior citizens.

Starting salary: $33,400; mid-career salary: $41,600

[Source: PayScale salary survey. Methodology: Annual pay is for bachelor's graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting salaries are for graduates with two years of experience; mid-career salaries are for graduates with 15 years of experience. PayScale also provides salary information by college; for more information, check out PayScale's Best Colleges Report.] 

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