10 Worst College Degrees to Earn in 2015

Before you decide to go to college — or, more specifically, before you agree to take on a mountain of debt to pay for it — you might want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth from the experience.

Most people go to college to learn, better themselves, and prepare for a career, and many students accomplish that goal. Some use their college years to become wiser and more well-rounded citizens, either through exposure to other students and their cultures or as a byproduct of their extensive studies. Other students go to college for the sole purpose of following their passion, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. To be honest, it’s hard to fault someone who has any of these goals in mind, especially since college can represent such a huge investment.

And what an investment indeed. According to College Board estimates, the national average for in-state tuition and fees at public, four-year universities came in at $8,893 during the 2013-14 school year. The total at private, four-year schools was $30,094. And no matter who you are, that’s a lot.

Still, it’s not all you’ll give up. Those four years spent in college also represent a time where you won’t earn much at all – and anything you do earn will likely be used to pay for books, living expenses, or student loans.

When College Doesn’t Pay Off

Regardless of whether you attend a traditional or online college, most experts agree that a bachelor’s degree is still a good investment overall. The tragic irony, however, is that many students will actually graduate worse off than they were before they started. There are plenty of reasons why this happens, of course, and each case is different — but the main theme I’ve noticed is that, in many cases, failure can be directly attributed to their choice of college major.

Like it or not, some college majors continually produce inferior results for the students who pursue them. And unfortunately, those results can lead both to trouble finding jobs and to inadequate wages. That kind of double whammy is indeed unfortunate for these graduates, but it’s not hard to predict at all. Why? Because the government offers up all kinds of help for those who look.

10 Bachelor’s Degrees to Avoid in 2015

As with most things, a little knowledge can go a long way. In fact, simply learning more about college degrees and their respective outcomes could be enough to deter anyone from wasting their time and money on a path that is not worthwhile. That’s why it is important to educate yourself on what might happen if you pursue a degree without thoroughly researching what your future might look like. After all, how duped would you feel to find out the college degree you earned was practically worthless?

Fortunately, we’re here to help. Using employment projections and wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and United States Department of Labor, we’ve compiled this list of college majors you should seriously consider avoiding in 2015:

1. Communications

A bachelor’s degree in communications could lead to nearly any career in the realm of media, visual arts, or broadcasting. Unfortunately, many of those careers, especially those in print media, have ventured into dinosaur territory when it comes to their future potential.

For example, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment for reporters and correspondents will actually decrease 14% in the decade leading up to 2022. Meanwhile, positions for editors are expected to decrease 2% during that decade, and employment for proofreaders and copymarkers will drop 1%.

What’s worse, none of those jobs is particularly lucrative anyway. According to the BLS, their median annual wages for 2013 were as follows: proofreaders and copymarkers ($33,130), reporters and correspondents ($35,600), and editors ($54,150).

2. Psychology

A bachelor’s degree in psychology will teach you how the human brain works and why humans act the way they do. Unfortunately, it won’t prepare you to be a psychologist; you’ll need a doctoral degree for that.

So, what do you do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology? The following careers and their corresponding annual median wages will give you an idea: Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor ($38,620) and psychiatric technician ($29,880). The latter is probably your worst option for this degree; Projections Central predicts that employment for psychiatric technicians will only increase 3.9% from 2012 to 2022. Simply put, graduating with a BS in psychology might actually cause you to struggle with your own mental health.

3. Theatre Arts

A theatre arts degree is the perfect primer — for a career as a waiter in one of the finest restaurants in town. Why? Because you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts to act, and you definitely don’t need one to get hired for what is often a low-paying job.

The median hourly wage for actors was $22.15 in 2013, according to the BLS, and an annual median wage isn’t even available. Projections Central notes that the demand for actors will only lead to a 4% increase in employment from 2012 to 2022.

If you want to be an actor, most experts suggest jumping in and just being an actor. Audition for parts in local dramas and musicals, or volunteer to work behind the scenes if you’re more interested in stage production. Make sure to mentally prepare yourself for a lifetime of ups and downs — probably mostly downs — and check your resume at the door because, chances are, no one will ask for it anyway.

4. Fashion Design

True, most professional fashion designers hold a bachelor’s degree in fashion design or fashion merchandising, according to the BLS. However, many people enter the career without a degree at all.

In fact, the most important qualities for a career in fashion design are the inherent skill it takes to design clothing and accessories and an innate artistic ability. If you don’t have those two things already, the best college in the world may not be able to teach them to you.

But the news gets even worse, since securing a job in this field — degree or not — might not be that easy. Projections Central predicts that employment for fashion designers will decrease 3% in the decade leading up to 2022. Of course, pay isn’t bad for fashion designers who are lucky enough to make it: Median wages for 2013 were $63,760. But it won’t matter if you don’t land a job to begin with.

5. Sociology

Sociology is the study of how societies function — interesting, sure, but that doesn’t make it a good investment. Most people who earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology parlay that degree into a career as a social worker, correctional officer, probation officer, or correctional treatment specialist. Unfortunately, the employment prospects don’t look good in these fields. Projections Central predicts that job openings for correctional treatment specialists and probation officers will increase just 1% from 2012 to 2022, and 4.9% for correctional officers and jailers. Demand for social workers is expected to see a 9.5% increase, though.

Wages for sociology graduates aren’t all that exciting either. The BLS reports that the median annual wage for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $48,440 in 2013, while correctional officers and jailers earned just $39,550.

6. Liberal Arts

A liberal arts degree is the laughing stock of college degree programs for a reason: it’s not specialized enough to prepare you for a specific career. That’s why most liberal arts majors end up working in an entirely different field, such as real estate, business, finance, or sales.

A 2014 BLS report even listed liberal arts majors as a group that “fared poorly” when it came to overall unemployment. What this goes to prove is that a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts might make you a well-rounded person, but it won’t necessarily help you get a decent job.

7. Microelectronic Engineering

Microelectronics is the study and manufacture of tiny electronic devices and instruments. Students who earn this degree often find work as semiconductor processors or even as material engineers. The bad news is, technology and robots have replaced many of the jobs that would normally be open in this field. In fact, Projections Central predicts that employment for semiconductor processors will tank 27% from 2012 to 2022. Meanwhile, job openings for material engineers will slip 1% during that time.

And while median annual wages for material engineers came in at more than $80,000 in 2013, semiconductor processors only earned a median annual wage of $33,950. Studying technology is usually a great way to go, but microelectronic engineering might just be too specialized to pay off.

8. Fine Arts

A bachelor’s degree in fine arts could lead to a career in nearly any artistic field, including music, sculpture, animation, photography, or performance arts. The thing is, practicing in your parents’ basement or taking a few studio classes could take you down the very same path.

Either way, the outlook isn’t all that bright to begin with. Projections Central estimates that employment for artists could decrease by as much as 1.5% from 2012 to 2022. Meanwhile, film and video experts are only expected to see a 0.6% increase, and photographers only a bump of 4.3%.

BLS numbers also show dismal wages for these workers. Photographers, for example, only earned an annual median wage of $29,280 in 2013. Fine artists, $42,610. These numbers just go to show that unless you are truly gifted and driven, art might be something you want to do in your spare time while you pursue a degree in a field that makes more financial sense.

9. Criminal Justice

Earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice might make sense in certain situations — but using it to launch your career as a police officer or detective isn’t one of them.

That’s because, according to the BLS, police officers and detectives are not always required to earn a degree beyond their high school diploma. Instead, people entering these professions typically complete a training academy sponsored by their agency, and perform a set number of hours of on-the-job training.

And even if either of those careers did require a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, the jobs may not be plentiful when you graduate. According to Projections Central, employment for police patrol officers is only expected to increase 5.9% from 2012 to 2022, and jobs for detectives and criminal investigators only 2%.

10. Hospitality and Tourism

The good news for lodging and tourism majors is that employment projections for this industry are mostly favorable. The bad news is, the pay you can expect to earn with this degree can range from okay to downright horrible.

Let’s start with hotel, motel, and resort desk clerks: Employment in these fields is expected to increase by as much as 13% from 2012 to 2022, but the median annual wage was only $20,400. Meanwhile, jobs for lodging managers are only supposed to rise 1.4% during the decade, and the median annual wage for this profession is a mere $46,830. Travel agents are expected to see a 12.1% drop in employment during the same decade, and open jobs for travel guides are only expected to increase 3.6%.

Following Your Dreams Without the Degree

It might be disappointing to learn that your passion might not actually be profitable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t follow your dreams. If you love art, for example, nothing is stopping you from taking art classes on the evenings or weekends. Likewise, those who love theatre can become active participants in their neighborhood or county theatre group, or pursue a real career as an actor by auditioning for parts like everyone else.

You can even take your chances and pursue one of these degrees against all odds if you want, although many would advise against it. But you may be happier and ultimately more successful pursuing a career you’re passionate about, even if it’s not in a promising field, than picking a lucrative major and phoning it in.

The most important thing is to understand how much you’re borrowing for college and how that figure relates to what you’ll earn in the real world. In order to get some idea, calculate how much it will cost you to earn any one of these degrees, and then compare that to the average salary after college. If the numbers don’t add up, think long and hard before signing on the dotted line.

In traditionally low-paying careers such as theater and the arts, a looming debt burden might make it even harder than usual to get by. And since student loans aren’t usually dischargeable in bankruptcy, your decision is one you’ll have to live with for a lifetime – whether you want to or not.

There’s nothing wrong with following your dreams, but the wrong college degree might actually turn out to be a nightmare.

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.