It’s no secret that a college degree can go a long way in landing you a high-paying career. In fact, in a recent GOBankingRates survey, 47.6% of Americans said they wouldn’t have been able to get their current job without a bachelor’s degree. However, not all career paths lead to a large salary — and they might not be worth the high cost of a college education.
To determine which careers don’t justify the price of a degree, GOBankingRates looked at the cost of a degree, the average salary and the potential earnings after 30 years for 20 different jobs. Whether you’re an incoming freshman or about to graduate from college, choose your major and career carefully. Keep in mind that some degrees won’t make very much money at all.
Aspiring dietitians typically need to complete a degree in foods, nutrition and wellness studies to start advising patients and clients on what to eat for a healthy lifestyle. While the average annual salary of $51,599 for dietitians almost reaches the nationwide mean wage of $51,960 per year, it might look paltry when you’re faced with the cost of the degree: a whopping $148,364. After subtracting the cost of your education, your 30-year earnings will amount to $1,399,606 — or approximately $46,654 per year.
19. Catering Manager
To qualify for a job as a catering manager, you’ll need to complete a hospitality administration/management degree, which will set you back $144,480 in return for an average salary of $47,845 per year.
During a 30-year career, you’ll earn $1,435,350 overall. After subtracting the cost of your degree, you’ll end up with $1,290,870 — which averages out to only $43,029 per year.
18. Meeting or Event Planner
College students aspiring to be meeting or event planners typically seek out a degree in hospitality administration/management, which costs a total of $144,480 and yields an average annual salary of $47,385. A meeting or event planner’s 30-year earnings are $1,421,550 before the cost of the degree is deducted, and $1,277,070 after. A 30-year career salary of $1,277,070 averages out to $42,569 annually — which is $9,391 less than the nationwide yearly mean wage.
A communications degree might help jump-start your copywriting career, but the degree’s not worth it at a price of $154,836 — especially when the average annual salary equals only $49,697. Over a 30-year period, you’ll earn $1,490,910, which drops down to $1,336,074 after you pay education expenses.
16. Bereavement Coordinator
A degree in psychology will cost you $161,728, which can result in a job as a bereavement coordinator providing an average annual salary of $48,202. Within a 30-year career, you’ll earn $1,446,060, reduced to $1,284,332 after paying for your degree. After educational expenses, your average annual salary would equal approximately $42,811 — which is far less than what the average American earns.
15. Food Services Manager
To qualify for this job, you’ll need a degree in foods, nutrition and wellness studies, which costs $148,364 in exchange for an average annual salary of $44,795. Over a 30-year career, you’ll earn $1,343,850, which is reduced to $1,195,486 after degree expenses.
14. Career Counselor in Higher Education
An aspiring career counselor in higher education can get on that career track with a degree in psychology, which costs $161,728. The average annual salary for this job equals $47,977. Over a 30-year career, $1,439,310 can be earned, which is reduced to $1,277,582 after paying off the degree. That equates to an average annual salary of approximately $42,586 — which is $9,374 less than what the average U.S. earner makes.
13. Religious Educator
The path to becoming a religious educator requires a $190,108 religion/religious studies degree. You can expect an average annual salary of $54,303 at this job, equaling $1,629,090 over a 30-year career. Once you pay off your degree, your 30-year career earnings shrink to $1,438,982, or about $47,966 annually — which is $3,994 less than what the average American earner pulls in.
12. High School Teacher
A degree in education — costing $171,132 — is what you’ll need to land a job as a high school teacher making an average annual salary of $49,115. Although total earnings over a span of 30 years equal $1,473,450, that figure shrinks to $1,302,318 once you pay off degree expenses — and results in a lower-than-average annual salary of approximately $43,411.
11. Marketing Coordinator
A communications degree with a price tag of $154,836 is what you’ll need to break into this career. But average annual earnings only equal $43,193, which amounts to $1,295,790 over a career spanning three decades. After paying off the degree, that number drops to $1,140,954, which means you’ll only earn about $38,032 annually — or $13,929 less than what the average American earner makes.
10. Social Worker
The average annual salary for social workers is only $45,598. During a 30-year career, you can earn $1,367,940, but once you get through shelling out payments on your $164,724 degree, you’ll only keep $1,203,216. This ends up equaling around $40,107 per year, which is $11,853 less than the average U.S. earner makes.
9. Hotel Resident Manager
A hotel resident manager typically resides on the property and juggles different responsibilities, which include overseeing the daily activities of staff and ensuring customer satisfaction. In addition, a hotel resident manager must pay attention to the property’s operational efficiency and profitability.
To become a hotel resident manager, you’ll need to complete a hospitality administration/management degree that costs $144,480, and you can expect average earnings of $40,068 annually. Your 30-year earnings should equal $1,202,040, but that figure is reduced to $1,057,560 when you deduct the cost of the degree.
8. Elementary School Teacher
An education degree costing $171,132 is what it takes to break into this career that will earn you an average annual salary of $45,055. Over a span of 30 years as an elementary school teacher, you’ll take in $1,351,650, but that amount will shrink as you pay off your degree, leaving you with $1,180,518 — or around $39,351 per year. Even though being a teacher can be meaningful, you’ll make almost $12,609 less every year compared to what the average U.S. earner makes.
7. News Reporter
A $154,836 communications degree is the pathway to a news reporter job, which can yield average annual earnings of $39,611 and 30-year earnings of $1,188,330. Once you pay off your educational expenses, however, you’ll be left with $1,033,494, or around $34,450 annually — which is $17,510 less than the average annual earnings in the nation.
6. Associate Pastor
Once you earn a religion/religious studies degree costing $190,108, you’ll be eligible to apply for an associate pastor position with annual average earnings of $47,183. After 30 years on the job, you’ll earn $1,415,490. But, once you subtract the cost of your degree, you’ll have $1,225,382 — or a below-average salary of about $40,846 annually.
5. Graphic Designer
To realize your dream of working as a graphic designer, you’ll likely need to earn a fine arts degree costing $182,352. After your efforts, you can expect an average annual salary of $43,995, totaling $1,319,850 in earnings over a 30-year career. Once you pay off your degree, however, you’ll be left with only $1,137,498, or about $37,917 per year — which is far less than the average U.S. earnings of $51,960 annually.
4. Chemical Dependency Counselor
Obtain a $164,724 degree in sociology, and you’ll be able to earn an annual average salary of $38,944 as a chemical dependency counselor. Over a 30-year career, you’ll be paid a total of $1,168,320. Once you subtract the cost of your degree, however, you’ll be left with $1,003,596, equaling an annual salary of only $33,453 — which is much less than what the average earner in America pulls in.
3. Painter or Illustrator
You’ll pay $182,352 for a fine arts degree that can qualify you for jobs as a painter or illustrator. In return, you can expect an average annual salary of $41,863, or $1,255,890 in total over a 30-year career. After paying off your degree, however, those lifetime earnings will shrink to $1,073,538, or only about $35,785 per year.
2. Day Care Center Teacher
To qualify for jobs in this space, you might decide to earn a degree costing $171,132. But the low average annual salary of $31,947 will make it difficult to pay back your education investment. Your 30-year career earnings as a day care center teacher will only equal $958,395, or $787,263 after degree expenses. That leaves you with a meager annual salary of about $26,242 — which is a little more than half of the annual average earnings nationwide.
1. Human Services Worker
A degree in psychology, totaling $161,728, will likely help you land a job as a human services worker, but the payoff is less than inspiring — only $28,512 per year. Over 30 years, your career earnings will be $855,360, shaved down to $693,632 after paying off your costly degree. That means your annual average earnings would be approximately $23,121, which is not nearly enough to afford the cost of living in America’s most expensive cities.
Instead, click through to see college majors with the best return on investment.
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Grace Lin contributed to the reporting for this article.
Methodology: To find jobs that aren’t worth their education requirements, GOBankingRates used Salary.com to identify which four-year degrees are the most costly and not worth obtaining based on career salaries. Factors included: (1) cost of a degree in 2017-18, sourced from CollegeCalc.com, (2) job median salary and aggregate earnings after 30 years, sourced from Salary.com and Payscale, based on current averages; and (3) 30-year earnings after subtracting the cost of education. Factors were scored and then summed up for a combined score. The nationwide annual mean wage was sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2018 national occupational employment and wage estimates.