5 College Degrees that Aren't Worth the Cost

No degree guarantees that a college graduate will earn more over a lifetime than a high school student. Worse still, there are many degrees where the average high school graduate will likely out-earn a college graduate.

If you've ever wanted to know the two main reasons why Americans decide not to go to college, the St. Louis Fed presented two convincing explanations. The more frightening of the two scenarios showed that, for students paying their own tuition, most will need a starting salary of $40,000 or better to overcome lifetime earnings of high school graduates.

How can it be that someone with a $40,000 starting salary can't out-earn the average high school graduate? The reason is two-fold. Most college students forgo income while attending college. Also, given the average annual tuition of $25,000, a student paying his own way is facing a $100,000 college bill. Add the loss of income and the six-digit education tab, and graduates start their professional lives in a large financial hole.

If a starting salary of $40,000 is what it takes to overcome the high costs of going to college, you will want to know what degrees aren't averaging the benchmark income. Georgetown pulled together statistics on average starting salary for many popular degrees. Below are five degrees with average starting salaries that may not be worth paying the costs for college.

Social Work

It's great that you want to go to work every day and help others, but keep in mind that the average high school graduate will likely earn more money in his lifetime. Social work has an average starting salary of $30,000. Even those with experience can expect to find jobs at only $40,000.

Elementary Teachers

Teaching elementary school is an excellent degree for employment. Recent college graduates have an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. However, paying back your college loans might be a serious challenge. The average starting salary is only $33,000, and it's not much better when you get experience. The average salary of an experienced teacher is $40,000.

Drama and Theater Arts

The riches and glamour of movie stars is not the reality of most college graduates with a drama and theater arts degree. Recent graduates can expect and average salary of $26,000 and an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. With experience, however, majors can boost their salary to $45,000.

Family and Consumer Studies

Remember taking home economics in grade school? Family and consumer studies is a broad degree that explores how families interact in society, and home economics is one of the areas of study. While the degree might be practical, it only pays $30,000 per year for a college graduate and $43,000 for those with experience.

Anthropology and Archaeology

According to Georgetown's statistics, it doesn't pay well starting out as Indiana Jones. New graduates from degrees in anthropology and archaeology start earning at around $28,000. While starting salary is low, after a few years of experience, graduates in this field can earn up to $47,000. Unemployment for recent grads is very high at 10.5 percent.

Should You Avoid These Degrees?

Before you go changing your major, you need to understand that the starting salaries are based on averages. I've already discussed how misleading statistical decision-making can be. What this list should get you thinking about is this: Are you weighing the costs and the benefits before selecting a college? And are you looking at tuition and income specifically?

The main culprit driving the Fed research was paying a $100,000 tuition bill. That means that if you explore ways to lower college costs, any college degree could be a good investment. Perhaps it's going to mean AP classes, a state school, or working hard to obtain scholarships. The point is that no college degree guarantees greater wealth and some degrees are riskier than others. If you want to increase your chances of your college degree increasing your earning potential, you need to think about the costs that go into obtaining a diploma and how you can minimize them.

JP is the author of the money blog My Family Finances, a site dedicated to helping families make wise financial decisions. He is also an MBA and works in corporate finance.

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