Updated: May 24, 2024

Top 5 Lowest Paying College Degrees

If you ask any college graduate why they chose higher education, you will almost certainly always get a similar answer: "To add value as an employee in order to secure a higher salary." Okay, so yo...
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If you ask any college graduate why they chose higher education, you will almost certainly always get a similar answer: "To add value as an employee in order to secure a higher salary." Okay, so you may not get that exact answer, but chances are you'll hear something close to it. Millions of Americans attend college each year in hopes of investing in their future success. What defines success? Is it a higher salary, a fulfilling job or something else? CNNMoney.com released figures collected by PayScale.com to find out the "College Degrees that Don't Pay." Although the salaries were low, the individuals interviewed  didn't seem to mind.

1. Social Work

Median Starting Pay: $31,800

Median mid-career pay: $44,900

Those who go into social work do not only have to deal with stressful situations at work, but with such a small paycheck they also have financial strain to add to the list. The Bureau of Labor statistics reports that those who go into social work have "a strong desire to help improve people's lives." There is no doubt social work is a noble profession — while the pay may be lacking,  the reward of helping others seems to keep this degree a popular one among college graduates.

2. Athletic Training

Median starting pay: $32,800

Median mid-career pay: $45,700

Many boys dream of professional sporting careers when they are young, but few pursue work in the athletic arena. Athletic trainers clearly show their dedication to athletics with the long hours they work and their compassion for injured players. Athletic trainers are expected to help teach athletes stretching techniques, stay on call to tend to injuries and also handle insurance and paperwork. All these expectations do not come with a high paying salary, which can be frustrating for a trainer. Trainers are crucial parts of the team yet they do not make anywhere near the amount athletes and coaches make. The salary may be low, but many trainers enjoy the hustle and bustle of being close to an athletic team and not needing to sit at an office desk all day.

3. Recreation and Leisure

Median starting pay: $33,300

Median mid-career pay: $53,200

This degree sounds enticing enough. Who wouldn't want to work a job in the field of leisure? This is a 'fun' job, but there are still a lot of demanding aspects. Individuals who work in Recreation and Leisure have to maintain high energy levels and stay organized. They must also work with all sorts of people to help improve their lives through activities. People who go into this field are often positive, up-beat individuals that want to work in an active environment that provides the opportunity meet a diverse array of people, and also provide helpful services. This is yet another occupation where it seems the low salary is worth the working environment.

4. Art

Median starting pay: $33,500

Median mid-career pay: $54,800

This one shouldn't be too much of a shock: after all, the term "Starving Artist" didn't gain popularity on falsity. People who decide to get a degree in art understand that it is a difficult field to go into and make money from. Many college graduates with a degree in art have to look for freelance work and undertake other low-paying jobs. Getting a degree in the arts is a conscious decision to pursue your passion. One positive thing about having a degree in art is the experience and knowledge you gain while in school is highly applicable to what you will be doing in your future. A few lucky artists that are able to break out from obscurity do enjoy a rather large salary from doing what they love to do.

5. Interior Design

Median starting pay: $34,400

Median mid-career pay: $56,600

Interior Design is a profession that combines an artistic eye with strategic placement. Job sites range from people's homes to businesses, retail stores and more. The pay here is not very high either, but interior designers who work hard and are able to establish a name for themselves earn additional opportunities to make money. This is a difficult profession because interior designers have to put in a lot of extra work to promote themselves, which can be a challenging task.

Students that pursue one of these degrees are often warned early on about the low pay. At what point does a person give up material comforts for financial success? It seems that the age-old argument of "money can't buy you happiness" is in play here.

As many people are losing their jobs due to the rough economy some see it as an opportunity to go into a field they want to work in or go back to school. For those who are just graduating and need a little advice on the job search check out this article on "Employment Tips."