If you want skills to pay the bills, don't pick up one of these degrees.
It’s true that many employers expect job seekers to have some sort of post-secondary education to prove they have a good head on their shoulders. But if you want a good job, one that will help you pay off all that student debt you just accumulated, you’ll need to choose carefully.
These are the 15 most worthless degrees when it comes to making money, according to salary data from Payscale and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most are two-year associate’s degrees, but some four-year bachelor’s degrees are just as bad.
We count down the 15 worst, based on the typical salary you can expect to receive in your early career and after 10 years of experience. Dedication rarely makes up for a poor pick.
15. Massage therapy
Associate’s degree: $31,500 to $43,200
You might give the best back massages around, but you’d make more money working with your hands on a construction site.
That said, the demand for massage therapists is expected to jump in future years as the population ages and more people understand the benefits. You can expect higher pay with more specialized work.
Massage therapists typically work in spas, hotels and fitness centers. They shouldn’t be confused with physical therapists, who help individuals with chronic conditions or spinal injuries.
Instead, study: physical therapy.
An associate’s degree in physical therapy will get you a job as a physical therapist assistant and can earn you upwards of $48,800 in your early career, while a bachelor’s degree in the field can make you over $53,500. However, to become a full licensed physical therapist, you’d need a doctoral degree.
Associate’s degree: $31,500 to $43,200
The idea of working for the man doesn’t appeal to everyone, and that’s OK. But spending money on an associate’s degree in entrepreneurship isn’t that rewarding, either.
Some people make it, and some people don’t. If you’d really like to start your own business, a degree in entrepreneurship won’t guarantee success, and it’s a good idea to have a backup plan, as well.
Instead, study: business administration.
If you want to start from the ground up, it makes more sense to study the sector you’re actually interested in, or get your bachelor’s in business administration. Learn how to manage finances and operations and build good business practices before starting your own.
13. Graphic arts
Associate’s degree: $37,900 to $42,100
Ever hear of a graphic designer who’s a self-made millionaire? There's a joke that goes: What’s the best way to make $1 million as a graphic designer?
Start with $2 million.
Despite the boom in digital media, you may find studying graphic design is similar to other arts majors: It'll enrich your life, though not necessarily your bank account. Go into this field and you'll want to rely on budget stretchers, like a free browser extension that helps you save money every time you shop online.
Instead, study: computer science or human-computer interaction.
Companies developing cool new digital products are looking for user-experience and user-interface (UX/UI) designers — jobs that pay more than $90,000 a year, on average, says Glassdoor.
12. Radio and television
Associate’s degree: $30,600 to $42,000
News travels fast these days. You don’t need to switch on the TV or listen to the radio when everything’s available on the internet.
Advertisers know that, too, and have been taking their dollars elsewhere.
As a result, traditional broadcasting is fading out, and opportunities in radio, local TV and cable are scarcer than they used to be and not as lucrative.
Instead, study: marketing or technical writing.
An associate’s degree in marketing alongside broadcast or digital media will help you better adapt to the 21st century. Or, opt for a bachelor’s degree in technical writing, where you can put your communication skills to more practical use.
11. Veterinary technology
Associate’s degree: $30,600 to $41,000
You might adore working with animals, but that will be the primary benefit of this gig.
An associate’s degree in veterinary technology will let you work alongside veterinarians in their offices, or at zoos and animal control facilities, but the pay isn’t great. Even after a decade in the field, you’ll earn only around $41,000.
If you can stick it out and get a bachelor’s degree in pre-veterinary medicine and then complete veterinary school as well, you can get a job you’ll love with much better pay.
Instead, study: medicine.
Don’t have the time or money to become a full vet? Try an associate’s degree in medicine. You won’t earn much more than a vet tech in the early years, but after a decade working with humans you could be making $60,000 or more.
Associate’s degree: $24,700 to $40,300
If you’ve been bingeing on Netflix’s Glow Up lately, you might be tempted to make it big in the beauty industry. But unless you can cater to Hollywood darlings or the likes of America’s Next Top Model, a degree in cosmetology doesn’t offer much growth.
Most cosmeticians work in beauty salons and spas, although some can help support dermatologists and skin surgeons with their patients.
If you’re just starting out in the field, the pay is pretty low, at around $24,700. After 10 years, it becomes more respectable.
Instead, study: dermatology.
If your passion lies in skincare, you could go all the way and study dermatology, which is in huge demand.
The job comes with a six-figure salary — but you have to become a full medical doctor. That means a bachelor’s degree, followed by med school and years of on-the-job training.
9. Office systems technology
Associate’s degree: $29,300 to $39,100
This degree program could land you a job behind the desk in legal departments or medical offices, but don’t expect the pay to compensate for the lack of excitement in your day-to-day duties.
You’ll learn how to keep records and enter data in Excel spreadsheets, but you won’t have much else to do in an office setting.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects a decline in secretaries and administrative assistants in the future, expecting most higher-level staff will take on these responsibilities without extra help.
Instead, study: computer science.
The BLS estimates that employment in computer and information technology occupations will grow by 11% between 2019 and 2029, with more emphasis on cloud computing and storing big data. An associate’s degree in computer science could earn you between $43,000 to $74,000, depending on experience.
8. Pastry and culinary arts
Associate’s degree: $27,700 to $39,100
Your kitchen concoctions may thrill your friends and family, but a degree in pastry and culinary arts won’t make you much bread.
Culinary school is also expensive, so it may not be worthwhile getting a degree in this field when experience will do much more for you. Start as a line cook and go from there.
Chefs with culinary arts degrees earn only 2% to 11% more than their peers whose formal schooling ended at high school, says a report from Eater.
Instead, study: hospitality management.
It pays to be in charge. An associate’s degree in hospitality management could earn you between $33,900 to $50,900, and a bachelor’s degree will take you even further. Depending on where you work, overseeing a restaurant or catering service will be one of your responsibilities.
7. Mental health
Associate’s degree: $28,100 to $38,500
An associate’s degree in mental health can take you in many directions. You could specialize in substance abuse treatment or work with individuals with developmental disabilities.
However, without a bachelor’s degree, those paths end quickly. Your job opportunities will likely be limited to assistant roles at rehabilitation centers or nursing homes, so you may want to consider a more advanced program.
Instead, study: nursing.
An associate’s degree in nursing will let you become a licensed nurse in just two years. The BLS projects the field to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2019 as the population ages and focuses more on preventive care.
Bachelor’s degree: $38,300 to $38,400
Don’t bother doing the four years for a degree that won’t pay.
You don’t even need a college degree to find work in the jewelry or metalwork industry, says the BLS. A high school diploma may be enough, since you’ll develop most of your skills on the job.
Pay is also completely flat. A bachelor’s degree in metalsmithing won’t earn you $40,000, even after a decade of experience. That’s worse than most associate degrees.
Instead, study: welding.
It might not be as flashy as jewelry making, but welding could earn you more than double what you’d typically get with metalsmithing, and your salary will actually increase with experience.
5. Medical transcription
Associate’s degree: $28,800 to $36,400
Enjoy taking notes in school? A medical transcriptionist uses their keen ears, nimble fingers and knowledge of medical terminology to listen to voice recordings that health care workers make and convert them into written text.
With experience or further certification, you can get into more specialized fields. However, job opportunities in medical transcription are on the decline, particularly with advances in voice-recognition software.
For more stable opportunities that pay better, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Instead, study: accounting.
With an associate’s degree, you can find work as a bookkeeper, payroll clerk or accounting assistant at a variety of corporations and government agencies. Like medical transcription, your job prospects may improve with further certification in a specialized field, but the pay is much higher on average.
4. Pharmacy technology
Associate’s degree: $28,000 to $36,400
You don’t actually need higher education to dispense prescriptions behind the counter and keep patient records at a pharmacy.
A high school diploma with some on-the-job training may be sufficient to work as a pharmacy technician, although some states require you to take a specialized training program and pass standardized testing.
It makes more sense to work as a technician right away and save up for a more advanced degree. A specialized six-year Doctor of Pharmacy straight out of high school would let you become a full pharmacist and earn a six-figure salary.
Instead, study: medicine.
A two-year degree in medicine would help you become a medical assistant or technician, earning you between $34,100 and $62,000.
3. Social work
Associate’s degree: $29,900 to $34,700
You might consider it your calling to help those in need, but without further education, you won’t be helping yourself much.
An associate’s degree in social work won’t actually get you a job as a social worker. You may find employment in some entry-level positions in human services, like a social services assistant or a resident counselor.
If you get your bachelor’s, however, you could earn between $36,600 and $51,600, depending on your level of experience.
Instead, study: social studies.
Consider an associate’s degree in social studies or social sciences if your interest lies in government services or administrative positions. You’ll have more opportunity for growth, with mid-career salaries at around $49,000, and you can choose to continue your education later on to up your paygrade.
Associate’s degree: $29,600 to $34,200
Drawing blood isn’t for the squeamish, but phlebotomy still ranks near the bottom of the pack when it comes to money-making degrees.
Most of your training will come on the job, and you may be able to join the profession with only a one-year certification program or even straight out of high school.
And although the job market is projected to grow by 17% between 2019 and 2029, the demand hasn’t yet translated into better pay. It might be a safer bet to major in a broader field.
Instead, study: medical technology.
You can still become a phlebotomist with an associate’s degree in medical technology, but you won’t be as limited in the job market. In fact, you could find work in a variety of medical offices and laboratories, and your pay could double that of a phlebotomist.
1. Early childhood education
Associate’s degree: $26,200 to $32,800
Molding young minds is a serious responsibility with great benefit for the world — but until you get your bachelor’s, your big reward will be the smile kids' faces as they learn their ABCs.
An associate’s degree in early childhood education could qualify you for some preschool teacher positions or as a teaching assistant in elementary schools.
You won’t get hired as a kindergarten or elementary school teacher without a bachelor’s.
Instead, study: education.
If you can stick it out and get your teaching license, you could earn upward of $34,100 just from entry-level pay. You also won’t be limited to preschool studies, broadening your opportunities.
Some states only require a bachelor’s degree and certification, but others may ask you to complete additional education programs, so make sure you do your research first.