5 College Degrees That Provide the Worst ROI

Source: Thinkstock

More and more, young people are asking themselves, “Is it worth it to pay for a college degree?” And, of course, given the almost $20,000 annual salary gap between the median earnings of degree holders and non-degree holders, the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes.”

The real value of your college education depends first and foremost on, well, you. Your determination, motivation, and willingness to get back up and try again will provide you with an advantage over other candidates who may sit around and expect things to happen for them. A go-getter mentality is perhaps even more important than the actual degree you choose. Many employers simply want a skilled and hard worker who is college educated.

This is not always the case, though, and oftentimes, the type of degree you obtain makes a real difference in your job success. Because college is so expensive, return on investment (ROI) is a calculation that is often used to determine the value of a college degree. In a nutshell, the ROI of a college degree compares the amount of money you put into obtaining your degree versus the typical earnings someone with your degree receives. We created a list of college degrees with the worst ROIs.

To calculate annual the ROI for each degree, we used data from Payscale’s college ROI report. Using data from five of the largest colleges in the country — where available, we used data from the University of Central Florida; Ohio State University, Columbus; the University of Texas, Austin; Arizona State University, Temple; and Michigan State University — we determined which majors had the lowest 20-year return on investment.

To calculate the example net ROI of each of these degrees, we used data from the National Center for Education Statistics to calculate the cost of a degree. For the 2012-2013 school year, the average cost of tuition, fees, and room and board for undergraduate students at all degree-granting institutions was $20,234; our figures are based on this average cost. We then calculated the income a degree holder would earn over a 20-year time period if he or she were to graduate college and then immediately choose a job related to his or her degree.

From that number, we subtracted the cost of education and the amount of money that degree holder could have earned during that 20-year timeframe had he or she skipped college and earned the median income for a high school graduate — $28,000 per year, according to the Pew Research Center. To simplify the calculations, we did not account for interest, promotions, inflation, or other factors.

Source: Thinkstock

Sociology

  • Average 20-year annual return on investment: The ROI is between -3.9% and 10.1%, depending on school choice. The average ROI for five of the largest schools is 3.45%.
  • Common occupations: Office manager, social worker
  • Pay: Social workers receive a median salary of $44,200 per year.
  • Average cost of a four-year degree: $80,396
  • Example 20-year net return on investment for a social worker: $243,604

Popular careers for English majors

Source: Payscale.com

careers for english majors
Methodology
Jobs ranked by popularity among graduates. Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees from all colleges. See full methodology for more.

English

  • Average 20-year annual return on investment: The ROI is between -3.9% and 10.1%, depending on school choice. The average ROI for five of the largest schools is 3.45%.
  • Common occupations: Writer, English teacher, editor, publishing jobs
  • Pay: A proofreader earns around $45,000 annually, as of 2012.
  • Average cost of a four-year degree: $80,396
  • Example 20-year net return on investment for a proofreader: $259,604

Source: Thinkstock

Humanities

  • Average 20-year annual return on investment: The ROI is between -3.9% and 10.1%, depending on school choice. The average ROI for five of the largest schools is 3.45%.
  • Common occupations: Event planner, museum curator, lobbyist
  • Pay: The median annual salary for a museum curator is $44,410.
  • Average cost of a four-year degree: $80,396
  • Example 20-year net return on investment for a museum curator: $247,804

Source: Thinkstock

Arts

  • Average 20-year annual return on investment: The ROI is between -21.9% and 7.1%, depending on school choice. The average ROI for five of the largest schools is 3.27%.
  • Common occupations: Artist, art teacher, art-related workers
  • Pay: As of 2013, the median annual salary for an artist or crafts artist was $44,380.
  • Average cost of a four-year degree: $80,936
  • Example 20-year net return on investment for an artist: $246,664

Source: Thinkstock

Education

  • Average 20-year annual return on investment: The ROI is between -16.7% and 4.6%, depending on school choice. The average ROI for the largest five schools is -11.2%.
  • Common occupations: Teacher, administrator
  • Pay: The median annual salary for an elementary school teacher is $53,090.
  • Average cost of a five-year degree: $101,170
  • Example 20-year net return on investment for an elementary school teacher: $400,630

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