10 college majors you may regret choosing

A PayScale report identifies majors that produce graduates who are most likely to say they are underemployed.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 27, 2014 1:23PM

This post comes from Maryalene LaPonsie at partner site Money Talks News. 


Money Talks News on MSN MoneySelecting a college major seems to be a difficult proposition for many students. Liz Freedman of Butler University reports that anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of newly enrolled college students are undeclared majors, and an estimated 3 out of 4 students will change majors at some point.

College diploma © CorbisWhile we hate to put any more pressure on stressed-out students, we can't help but point out that a recent report from compensation website PayScale finds some majors may be destined to be underperformers. They sound good -- "Liberal arts degrees are so flexible!" -- but the harsh reality is you may end up underemployed and unhappy.

Here are the 10 bachelor's degrees PayScale says might be dogs. The job titles represent the occupations commonly held by those with that college major who said they are underemployed.

1. Criminal justice

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 62.4 percent.
Starting median salary -- $34,500.
Common job titles -- paralegal/legal assistant, security guard, police officer.

2. Business management and administration

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 60 percent.
Starting median salary -- $44,300.
Common job titles -- office manager, customer service representative, retail store manager.

3. Health care administration

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 57.6 percent.
Starting median salary -- $43,800.
Common job titles -- medical or dental office manager, medical office biller, medical coding specialist.

4. General studies

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 54.5 percent.
Starting median salary -- $32,100.
Common job titles -- administrative assistant, customer service representative, cashier.

5. Sociology

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 52.5 percent.
Starting median salary -- $38,900.
Common job titles -- receptionist, human resources assistant, teacher assistant.

6. English language and literature

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 52.1 percent.
Starting median salary -- $39,700.
Common job titles -- paralegal/legal assistant, administrative assistant, office manager.

7. Graphic design

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 51.5 percent.
Starting median salary -- $37,300.
Common job titles -- Web developer, user interface designer, marketing assistant.

8. Liberal arts

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 50.3 percent.
Starting median salary -- $34,200.
Common job titles -- receptionist, retail store manager, bank teller.

9. Education

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 50 percent.
Starting median salary -- $40,500.
Common job titles -- day care teacher, teacher assistant, tutor.

10. Psychology

Percent who say they are underemployed -- 49.5 percent.
Starting median salary -- $38,200.
Common job titles -- receptionist, retail store manager, bank teller.

By and large, most of those reporting that they are underemployed say so because they believe they're underpaid. However, PayScale says that for most majors, less than half of those who say they are underpaid actually have incomes more than 10 percent below market pay.

In fact, only 37.7 percent of liberal arts majors who said they were underpaid are actually underpaid. This may indicate that we have inflated the perceived value of degrees to the point where college students have unrealistic ideas about their earning potential after graduation. Or maybe they’ve simply chosen the wrong major.

5 ways to choose a winning college major

So you may be wondering how to pick a major that won't have you working as a cashier at the mall while paying off your mountain of student loan debt. While there are no guarantees a degree will be a winner and result in a dream job, here are five ways to improve your options:

  • Talk to recent graduates. Don't trust what the glossy brochure or slick website tells you. Of course they'll say a general studies degree can be the foundation for many jobs. They want you to enroll. Rather than trust the school, find people who actually graduated with the major you're considering and see what they say. You can either ask the school to refer you to recent grads or spread the word on your social media sites to find people who’ve been there, done that.
  • Consider whether a bachelor's degree is enough. The PayScale list may be surprising because it includes some fields you might think would be high-paying. Business administration? Isn’t that supposed to be educational gold? Oh, wait, it's the MBA -- a master's degree -- you're thinking about. The PayScale report only considers underemployment for those with bachelor's degrees, and some of these fields may have good job opportunities that pay well, but only if you have an advanced degree.
  • Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you're not sure whether a bachelor's degree is enough, head to BLS.gov. This is the website for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency that slices and dices employment numbers for the government. While you can't look up degrees, you can look up careers. If you want to be a psychologist, the BLS is great for telling you that a bachelor's degree won't get you far when you need a doctoral degree to be licensed.
  • Remember regional differences. The BLS will also give you the expected job growth of a career, currently spanning the period from 2012-2022. For example, criminal justice majors will discover that job opportunities for police officers and detectives will increase only 5 percent during that period, a rate slower than average. That said, BLS estimates are national numbers, and job opportunities in your area may be different. Again, talking to recent graduates is a good way to gauge what job market you can expect to encounter if you have the same degree.
  • Choose a STEM major. Finally, if you really want to hedge your bets, select a STEM major. That would be: science, technology, engineering or math. There seems to be some debate about whether there is a shortage of STEM workers, but, as PayScale notes, there isn't one STEM major on its underemployed list.

Finding the right major is an imperfect process, but a little real-world research goes a long way. Take the time to learn more about job prospects in your region for your chosen field. Pick the wrong major, and you could find yourself taking dictation for the next 30 years.

But, hey, no pressure.

What was your major? Was it a winner or a dud?


More from Money Talks News


Aug 27, 2014 1:42PM
Aug 31, 2014 3:22PM
My major - PhD in art history - is not on this list, but it should be.  But, I knew from the start I would never make lots of money.  I enjoyed my university and museum positions, and this field has brought me life-long pleasure, as I have been able to travel widely, to visit museums and historic sites, and appreciate them fully.  I continue to study and research.   I live very comfortably and I have no regrets.  The point is not always about money, but quality and enjoyment of life. 
Aug 31, 2014 8:20AM
Sorry, but most of the good majors are hard and involve math.  Buckle down and party less.
Aug 28, 2014 8:21AM
Women's studies.  Totally useless tripe, but it makes left-wing agitators feel "educated."
Aug 31, 2014 9:08AM
30,000, 40,000....What's wrong with that?  Yeah, so they're not rich, but money isn't everything.  I deliberately avoided high-paying jobs all my life, knowing that I don't handle stress well.  I've lived on 24,000 most of my life.  When people told me I could be making more, my response was, "Some things are more important than money."  Like having a job you love...no matter what the money moguls will have you believe.
Aug 31, 2014 1:38PM
Taking a job in education was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It's true though, I only made $31,000 my first year, so I decided to bartend on the weekends, and i picked up a real estate license. Eventually I went on to earn a masters degree and became the principal of a high school. Sure, I still don't make over $150,000 a year, but no career starts off at that salary right out of college. Life is a series of stepping stones, and obtaining that all important 4 year degree can put you way out in front of others who don't. It is really a matter of ambition and being willing to work hard for what you want that separates us.
Aug 31, 2014 8:43AM
Obtain a law degree and learn how to rob law abiding citizens of their hard earned cash the easy way. Who knows, you may even become a community organizer someday and do very little which will propel yourself into a senator's office for doing almost nothing where you can use your position to benefit businesses in which you own stock further increasing your wealth followed by the ultimate coup, the presidency where you'll be rewarded the Nobel Peace prize, but more importantly, the million bucks that goes with it, all on the prospect of what you may do while you are in office and not any real achievements. 
Aug 27, 2014 6:52PM
Those with 4-year degrees in Education are teachers - and they are the ones who will be teaching YOUR children to read and write. 
Aug 27, 2014 5:17PM
Nearly any college degree these days; they are a dime a dozen. Go to a trades school. The world is begging for people who can fix things. Kind of surprised none of them had for a job title "Fast Food Cook".
Aug 31, 2014 8:05AM
Go to a trade school. Learn how to actually do something.
Aug 28, 2014 4:39PM

Stupid article...


Anyone who expects to make big money right out of college should go back and "occupy" Wall Street.  Take a shower first though would you please???


how about the fact that ALL of those positions could reasonably be looked upon as OPPORTUNITIES for advancement???

Aug 27, 2014 2:20PM
Aug 31, 2014 2:33PM
I went to trade school, wife went to college.  I bought a house in my name at 25 she lived there.  I finished trade school, she finished college.  I made over 50,000 at 25 she made about 27,000.  I paid off her credit cards (college) and student loans...She lost her job.  I pursued my masters card she looked for work.  I made 90,000 plus (specialized field)  she looked at retraining.  I bought investment property she just hung out.  I sold my investment property....hey lets have kids.  She stayed at home I bought a bigger house (my name) 3,400 sq ft.  she stayed at home.  Kids go to school, she looks for work.  Me- 90,000 +  health care and retirement. Her- 12.00 hr and nothing.  Consequences of worthless college major. Choose your path wisely.
Aug 27, 2014 5:14PM
And all of this is based on statistics gathered from  ". . . people who say . . . " 
Aug 31, 2014 12:48PM
Unfortunately a Bachelors today in a lot of areas is equivalent to a High School diploma in the 60's when they didn't give you a gratis diploma even if you failed.
Aug 31, 2014 3:39PM
Criminal Justice as a paralegal? Uhh, No. Completely different training. Of course, a quick read through any college program catalog would tell you that.
Do these writers ever bother to do even basic research before they write?

Aug 31, 2014 12:40PM

After reading the fine print and seeing the data was collected from young adults it all made sense. They are "unhappy" with starting salaries because they are part of the "ME" generation and Pre-Madonna's. I have a business degree and over a million dollars in net worth at my company; I'm 46. I went in the Army and used my GI Bill to finish a two year degree; then on to a four year and borrowed what I needed and (paid it back). My parents really didn't need to help me much; although they could have afforded to....I did it mostly on my own.

Sure I know it's because I'm white and privileged and had a free ride.....frankly I'm just sick and tired of lazy people that aren't accountable for their actions..here's the real deal:

The GOVERNMENT isn't going to save you, someone will take that job if you don't. Yes, you are going to die someday....quit bitching, crying, and watching tv...GET A JOB!!

Aug 27, 2014 2:58PM
How about a PhD in Underwater Basket Weaving? Is there a demand for professionals in that field?
Sep 1, 2014 7:38AM
Gee, MSN...I got my Bachelor's in Criminal Justice (back in '88, after being laid off due to the housing bust). Not only did I have my entire college education paid for (and then some), thanks to the old GI Bill (tax-free, of course), I've *always* been employed. I may have not made the "big money" some other degree might have got me, but I've been happy in my work. *That*, MSN, makes up for everything.
Aug 31, 2014 4:45PM
I call shenanigans on this study.  Business and Healthcare Administration are safe bets in the world of business because they actually relate to the work involved; sounds like the people who chimed in on this study who are bitter at # 2 and 3 aren't pushing themselves enough which is exactly what it takes to become successful in your career.  As a Bachelor's and MBA holder, the success won't be spoonfed to you just because you have a college degree.  
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