Make That Diploma Count

Reality check. College is a lot of time, effort and a sizable chunk of your hard earned cash. Three pretty precious commodities. So if you’re going to do this thing, you want to make it count. You wouldn’t sink your life savings into fur-lined boots for kittens, so make sure you think about how to get what you pay for when it comes to your degree.

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Why Are You Getting the Degree Again?

You probably don’t want to be qualified for the job out of college that you were really qualified for right out of high school. Forty-six percent of college graduates are in jobs that don’t require a degree at all.

Return on investment for your education comes from two directions: how likely you are to find a job in your field, and how much you can earn. You want to avoid those degrees that don’t do well on either scale. And the worst of the worst – the degree that pays poorly for a job that almost never exists.

Worst College Majors

5 Worst Majors by Employability

A college graduate’s worst nightmare is putting in the blood, sweat, tears and dollars only to find that the job they are most qualified for is in retail or as an administrative assistant. These are the degrees that don’t open a lot of doors.

1.  Religion/Theology – Unless the goal is truly to become a pastor or priest, there is very little practical application of degree in religious studies in most fields.

2.  Latin – It is actually still possible to get a degree in a language that no one speaks. But the employ-ability niche for this major is about as wide as a Popsicle stick.

3.  English Literate – Slightly better than Latin, people do still speak English. But the practical application of a degree in English Literature is a one-trick pony. You can teach. There just aren’t many other jobs that need a degree in English Literature to do.

4.  Music Therapy – While on the surface this sounds like putting a passion for music to a practical purpose, the truth is there are very few job opportunities for music therapists beyond working with severely developmentally disabled or incarcerated populations.

5.  Art History – Unlike fine arts degrees, which open doors in the graphic design and multimedia worlds, art history leads to little beyond museum curating. And museum curating is not beating out many industries for growth these days.

5 Worst Majors by Income

While employ-ability is better in these areas, competition with less skilled job-seekers or dependence of public funding sources impact earning potential.

1.  Child and Family studies – This major will pay only $29,000 on graduation, and fifteen years hard work will only increase your income to $38,000.

2.  Elementary Education – Teachers are a dedicated bunch, and they need to be. Working in the field pays only $31,000 for a 2010 graduate. This can be made tougher in areas where teaching jobs are in jeopardy from budget cuts although in general teachers have good opportunity to work in the field where they have their degree.

3.  Social Work – Like teaching, social work is a labor of love filling an important niche. But be honest about what the $31,000 salary will do for you and your family.

4.  Athletic Training – The problem here is that you’re putting the cost of your degree against someone else’s personal training certification. The competition with the certificate isn’t trying to pay off a loan, so you’ll be fighting for the $32,000 a year income.

5.  Culinary Arts – Forget the glamor of “Master Chef” or other reality TV shows. The reality is that a costly culinary degree makes a typical graduate worth $35,900 in annual salary. Plan on eating at work.

Evaluating the  Return on Your College Investment

A college degree costs, on average, $40,000. Very few people have that kind of money just lying around – they carve out those dollars with personal budget cuts, working to save and student loans. And while the average annual income for a person with a college degree is higher than the average annual income for a person without, best return-on-investment happens when the degree translates into opportunity. If you compare a $40,000 investment in a good mutual fund with a $40,000 in a major that doesn’t get you a job or decent earning potential, getting a degree feels a little less like a no-brainer.

If you’re going to invest in yourself and your future, make that $40,000 work for you. If all your degree is going to get you is four or five years of hard work and a chunk of debt, think really hard. Don’t let all your hard work and effort turn into a pair of fur-lined boots for kittens.

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