Is the Wrong College Major a Ticket to a Low-Paying Job?The compensation experts at Payscale recently released a study on the best- and worst-paying college majors in America, and Lynn O'Shaughnessy of CBS Moneywatch reports that "Child and family studies earned the honors as the worst-paying college major. The average graduate earns a beginning salary of $29,500."

"What's equally discouraging is that the salary of someone in this field will barely budge after 15 years in the profession," writes O'Shaughnessy. "Food is another common theme for students who major in the worst-paying college degrees. Students who earn degrees in horticulture, dietetics and the culinary arts are more likely to end up struggling financially."

Other majors making the list of lowest-paying include social work, theology, education, interior design, and my very own: art history.

So is that it? If I, an art history major, am your kid, should you just bury your head in your hands and sigh at how pathetic my income stream is likely to be?

It's Not What You Learn, It's What You Do

I don't think so. This may seem like a pointless distinction, but consider this: The problem isn't that majoring in social work will lead you to not earn very much money. It's more that being a social worker will cause you to not earn very much money. Consider these big earners with no-so-big-money college majors: Martha Stewart (history), Carson Daly (theology), former Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin (theology), and Michael Eisner (English), and Suze Orman (social work).

In my book, Debt-Free U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parents, I examine some of the data on the impact of a student's choice of major on his careers earnings, and here's my conclusion: What matters isn't so much what you major in, but more what you chose for a career. For instance, one study found that history majors who pursued careers in business consulting earned as much as business majors. The reason that history appears to be a major that doesn't pay off is that so many history majors choose to enter fields that don't pay well.

University of Texas at Austin professor Daniel Hamermesh studied the earnings of college graduates by major and concluded that "perceptions of the variations in economic success among graduates in different majors are exaggerated. Our results imply that given a student's ability, achievement and effort, his or her earnings do not vary all that greatly with the choice of undergraduate major."

Follow Your Passion

Given that, this is my message for parents and students when it comes to choosing a major: Relax and go with what feels right, and never let tables and charts with average salary figures steer you away from majoring in something you're passionate about.

This advice will also come in handy if you're planning on attending grad school: The high GPA that so often comes with studying your passion will make it easier to get into top programs in many fields. Top business schools accept many, many students with liberal arts degrees. And you might even qualify for some scholarship money in the process.

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After graduating from college and getting my B.A in Computer Science I went into the working world in computers. I did systems design, programming and computer design and then went cross country and landed a job working for the Hughs Corporation. I continued my education getting my masters and then went on for my PHD all in computer sciences. After working for several companies, Federal Reserve, First National Bank, NCR Corporation, I was in the big income money bracket, working rediculous hours but enjoyed what I did. After companies started to outsource jobs and the high paying jobs could be gotten over seas for 1/12 of the salary I was being paid I knew the writing was on the wall. I decided to become my own boss and went into a totally different field but was able to use my computer background. I bought an auto repair center and have never looked back. I enjoy what I do because there is instant job satisfaction and the income benefit is 4 times what I was making working for someone else. I have expanded my company and looking to expand even further. I do computer diagnostics on autos and trucks and have the mechanics to do the heavy work or repairs. So now I am considered a doctor in the auto repair business................

August 05 2010 at 8:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Social workers and Counselors don't make very much money but it also depends on where they work at. I can promise you a social worker employed at some hospital earns more money than working for the state in Child Welfare or some mental health clinic. But yes, some professions earn you more money but what is important is that you like what do. It would not be good for anyone to stay at a job that makes them miserable. If you hate the job then don't go into it. Most social workers who stay in the career likes what they do. So its more about enjoying what you do and your personality. As I was told once, find something you like because you will be doing it for a long time.

August 05 2010 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I spent over thirty-five years as a Social Worker. When I entered the field any B.A.-from art to zoology would serve as an entering degree for the position of "Social Worker". Earning the MSW was a good career move for me. Approximately half the time in my career I spent in clinical areas and half the time in higher education preparing "baby" Social Workers for the profession.

Generous compensation? Nope. Seeing situations that most people want to pretend do not exist? You bet! Non tangable rewards? Many, many, many! Knowing what I know now, would I have changed my profession? Nope.

I know that this may sound corney, but follow your heart. You will spend many hours at work during your life. Some weeks you will spend more hours in the work place then you will spend with your family. Be sure you love what you do.

This statement does not preclude that those in the profession, including professional organizations, actively advocate for salaries that reflect the valuable contribution this profession makes to the welfare of our country.

August 05 2010 at 2:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

That is perfectly true but if you want to be a Civil Engineer, I don't recommend a degree in sociology.

August 05 2010 at 2:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Sometimes it is not only about making a living but learning how to make a life. All of a sudden there is much to be said about a career as a community organizer, something Rudy Giulliani would publicly make fun of.

August 05 2010 at 2:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James Smith

I have a Bachelor of Science in both Computer Science and Computer Information Systems and a minors in both mathematics and electronics technology. I am unemployed with no hope or chance at a future unless I ruturn for a Master degree or get countless certification and even that might not be good enough. They have outsourced millions of those jobs overseas to India. Obtaining an entry level position in my field is almost impossible because they want one to three years of experience before they will hire you. I would be more than happy to start out at a salary half of the market value or even lower just so I can get that one to three years of experience.

August 05 2010 at 2:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This guy is onto something....I love the title of his book: Debt-Free U, How I paid for a College Eduction without Scholarships, Loans or Mooching off my Parents.
The selection of a major in a liberal arts college means very little. Regis Philbin majored in Sociology at Notre Dame, not Communications.
Suze Orman studied Social Work, not Economics. How could we forget Howard Cosell who became a lawyer and never practiced law.
Graduate School is a different story. You should select a field that is expected to pay off, or don't bother..

August 05 2010 at 2:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Dan Arnold

My advice to everyone is to take a basic physics course in high school or college. You will get a concept of how things really work and be less likely to believe junk science.

August 05 2010 at 1:56 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dan Arnold's comment

Yeah, but physics is changing since my discovery of the graviton particle.
And if you take Einstein's E = MC 2 and solve it for MC 2 = E you'll discover as I have that all matter is made of light (photons) because an equation works in both directions. So before you buy your Physics 101 text book, you might want to email me, which would put you at the top of your

August 05 2010 at 5:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Making a distinction between what one majors in and what one does after graduation is weak. It makes a lot more sense to study what one hopes to do. While there may be a few exceptions, there can't be a whole lot of art history (low pay) majors who become chemical engineers (high pay).

August 05 2010 at 1:41 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
chuck noll

When attending Dartmouth College which my Dad paid for I met my first and possibly only mentor when I was a Sophmore. Peter Vail went on to be a world renown Geoscientist. He recomended taking a specific Geology Course, and, if I liked it, he would guide me to the rest to gain my Degree in Geology. Today, at age 79 and after 56 years in the oil and gas business, I'm still at it. The moral is always be aware that you could meet the mentor for your career, at ANY time.

August 05 2010 at 1:25 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply