Education

What Degrees Are Worth It

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 20 minute read

Many prospective college students believe that earning a degree would lead to a well-paying job after graduation. College graduates earn almost $1 million more than high school dropouts over the course of their lifetimes, according to research published in 2015 by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).

In addition, it appears that a majority of jobs require at least a two-year college degree. According to the CEW, by 2027, a college degree will be required for 70% of occupations. Forbes found that the expense of higher education has increased eight times faster than wages, making it so that not all occupations provide a return on the investment of a college education.

The high cost of higher education means that you should give serious thought to your future professional path before enrolling. It’s not always worth it to get a college degree because there are jobs that require one that doesn’t pay anywhere near a million dollars, and many more that pay less than the average wage of someone with only a high school diploma.

Jobs Not Worth the Investment in a Degree

While it’s true that a bachelor’s degree gives its holders a leg up in the job market, recent grads need to earn an average of around $50,000 per year to start making ends meet with the earning potential of someone with only a high school diploma, so you’d need to make a lot more than that to make back your initial investment of $1 million. 

That can’t be, right? One, those who go on to earn master’s, doctoral, or professional degrees often take a long break from working to focus on their studies. They are, therefore, forgoing the money from those years.

Second, the cost of higher education has increased at a rate far outstripping inflation, making student loans essential for the majority of today’s college students. More than two-thirds of bachelor’s degree graduates in 2016 used student loans to cover the cost of tuition, according to data from the Institute for College Access & Success.

Thus, college grads begin their careers years behind in salary and with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They need greater compensation initially so that their initial expenditure will be worthwhile.

Thankfully, they are qualified to do so due to their academic training. The average beginning wage for a recent college grad in the United States is $55,260, as reported by the NACE Summer 2021 Salary Survey.

On the other hand, this is just an average, and not all positions that call for a college education begin at that level. In most professions where you won’t see a good return on your school investment, your earnings potential won’t even begin in this range. And the more your degree, the higher your pay must be just to cover your expenses.

Methodology

In particular, we used the most recent information on the average cost of attendance at public or private undergraduate or graduate institutions (2018) from the National Center for Education Statistics to identify occupations with low return on investment (ROI).

Based on a statistical analysis conducted by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research with Saving for College, we determined the actual cost of a college education by including the average amount of student loans taken out. The average borrower takes 16 years to pay off their student loans, so we factored in how much it would cost them at the current federal interest rate for 2020-21.

The lowest-paying occupations needing a bachelor’s degree or above were then determined using BLS data. Our final ROI statistics were derived by comparing the lifetime earnings of these professions plus the genuine cost of the required education with the lifetime earnings of the average worker with only a high school diploma, as determined by ZipRecruiter, with each worker potentially retiring at age 65. In the end, we ranked the jobs based on their ROI.

1. Survey Investigator

  • Major: Marketing or survey research, statistics, or sociology
  • Entry Level of Education: Master’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $59,870
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: $292,330
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: $211,601

Investigators with an interest in surveys may study everything from public policy and popular culture to health, social science, public opinion, or even marketing. They may use interviews, questionnaires, or in-person, facilitated focus groups to collect data for their studies.

Data collection and analysis are also done by researchers. Information is gathered through several channels including the web, snail mail, the phone, and in-person interviews.

This field is more expensive to enter than those requiring only a bachelor’s degree, as the design, implementation, and analysis of survey research necessitates in-depth familiarity with statistical methods. However, the return on investment is low because wages do not reflect the higher cost of higher education.

2. Career Counselor

  • Major: Psychology
  • Entry Level of Education: Master’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $58,120
  • ROI of Attending a Public University: $220,580
  • ROI of Attending a Private University: $139,851

Career counselors are employed by educational institutions, most often universities, to help students prepare for the workforce following graduation. They might also guide students in the direction of potential vocations and the selection of relevant academic programs. Job recruiters and students can meet face-to-face at career fairs and other events frequently hosted by these groups.

Unfortunately, career counselors aren’t adequately compensated despite their expertise in assisting others in locating rewarding employment opportunities. A master’s degree is required for entry, making this field prohibitively expensive for the low salary it offers.

3. Public Defender

  • Major: Law
  • Entry Level of Education: Juris Doctor (J.D.)
  • Median Annual Salary: $61,345
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: $206,040
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: $86,240

Particularly in the field of corporate law, many lawyers can expect to earn six figures. Some people do, though. It will be difficult for lawyers who are committed to social justice initiatives like public defense to make back the cost of their education.

This is especially true given the fact that the average law school debt is around $145,000 as of 2015–16, the most recent year for which data is available from the National Center for Education Statistics. That sum incorporates not only the cost of a lawyer’s undergraduate education but also the cost of their legal education.

Defense attorneys working in the public sector can benefit from Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Under an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, you can make a reduced payment on your student loans each month based on your income for a period of 10 years. After 120 consecutive on-time payments made while employed full-time in the public sector, the remaining sum will be pardoned.

If you use the loan calculator on the Federal Student Aid website and enter an estimated debt of $113,300 at the time of graduation, your initial monthly payment may be as low as $350, compared to the $867 that would be due under the regular 10-year repayment plan. But the good news is that you’ll only have to pay back a total of $55,574; the rest $112,238 will be written off.

Public service loan forgiveness (PSLF) can make working as a public defender worthwhile, but you’ll need to plan on making payments for ten years to qualify. Therefore, if you want to make as much as the typical high school graduate, you still need a beginning yearly salary of $56,000 to $60,000.

4. Graphic Designer

  • Major: Graphic design
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $53,380
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: $175,225
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: $122,034

Graphic designers are responsible for producing consumer-facing visual content. While the majority of their work is done on computers, some artists still prefer to draw by hand. Brochures, websites, magazines, and other printed materials that feature images are all considered visuals. 

To make complex information more easily understood, graphic designers frequently collaborate with writers and editors. Cautious planning of your education path and careful management of your student loan debt could yield a favorable return on investment from this degree. 

But if you aim for the middle of the wage spectrum, you’ll end up making about as much as the typical high school graduate.

5. Interpreter or Translator

  • Major: Any, although typically a foreign language or American Sign Language (ASL)
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $52,330
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: $130,075
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: $76,884

Translators are responsible for rendering the written text into another language. Interpreters are people who can take spoken language and translate it into another language, including sign language. While some individuals may be able to perform both functions, in most cases they are considered to be distinct careers.

Because of the importance of accurately conveying the intended meaning of the source text, many interpreters and translators choose to focus on a certain area of expertise while working with clients. However, a large number of people are adept in more than one niche.

A bachelor’s degree is often required for a career in interpreting or translating, but the ability to speak two languages fluently is of far greater importance. Therefore, your chosen area of study in college will not matter as long as you can communicate effectively in the target language.

6. Minister or Pastor

  • Major: Religious studies or theology
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $51,940
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: $113,305
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: $60,114

The Christian clergy consists of ministers and pastors who have been ordained by their peers. The specifics of their work are defined differently by various faiths. A pastor’s primary responsibilities include leading worship services and advising members of his congregation on matters of faith and morals.

Ministers typically need a bachelor’s degree, however many pursue more education at the master’s and doctorate levels. Accordingly, the ROI may be much lower than estimated here; yet, if one serves a megachurch, the income may be higher than average. However, no one chooses this line of work for the pay, but rather out of a sense of duty to others.

7. Meeting, Convention, or Event Planner

  • Major: Hospitality
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $51,560
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: $96,965
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: $43,774

Professionals in the meeting and event planning industry coordinate gatherings of many kinds, from weddings to business conventions to academic conferences. Finding a suitable venue, arranging for food and other on-site services, managing guest registration, and setting up necessary equipment are all tasks that fall under their purview as event organizers.

In addition, they organize things like events, activities, and guest speakers. However, after factoring in the expense of your schooling, your compensation will be just slightly higher than the typical income of someone with merely a high school certificate unless you specialize in designing high-end events, such as celebrity weddings.

8. Exercise Physiologist

  • Major: Exercise physiology, exercise science, or kinesiology
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $50,280
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: $41,925
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $11,266

Unlike athletic trainers, exercise physiologists provide personalized exercise plans for people with health issues. Heart and lung diseases are common among their patients, as are other chronic ailments. The goal of an exercise physiologist is to improve the patient’s overall health by enhancing their cardiovascular and respiratory systems. 

Some exercise physiologists collaborate closely with family doctors, who may send their patients to them for treatment. There are plenty of lucrative health professional areas that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, but this isn’t one of them.

9. Athletic Trainer

  • Major: Athletic training
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $49,860
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: $23,865
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $29,326

Professional football players and young children both benefit from the services of athletic trainers. When an injury happens on the field, they are often the first medical personnel there to assess the situation and begin treatment.

Treatment plans are normally developed and carried out in close collaboration with qualified medical professionals. In addition, they collaborate with the heads of athletic departments to guarantee that all activities are conducted in accordance with local, regional, and national safety standards.

Athletic trainers aren’t adequately rewarded despite the fact that they perform a wide range of functions, from administrative to medical. The passion for sports is more important than financial gain in this line of work.

10. Reporter or Journalist

  • Major: Journalism or broadcast journalism
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $49,300
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $215
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $53,406

Journalists are the people who cover breaking news and events and report them to the general audience. Though many operate independently, most journalists are employed by a single media outlet such as a newspaper, TV network, radio network, or website. 

Journalists in the modern era are expected to do more than just write stories; they also frequently film videos, gather audio or graphics, and keep up a social media presence.

You will put in a lot of effort for very little income with this job. Journalists and reporters frequently work late into the night and on weekends to cover breaking news. Still, many graduates will not have a salary adequate to justify their educational investment.

11. Social Science Research Assistant

  • Major: Psychology or sociology
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $49,210
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $4,085
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $57,276

Research assistants in the social sciences can be found mostly in academic institutions and the scientific research and development sector. They take care of data entry and help get study results published.

The pay is very low for this position, despite the fact that many positions in scientific research are well compensated. With a high school diploma, you can expect to earn less than the national average as a social science research assistant. Therefore, the expense of earning such a degree is not justified.

12. Music Director or Conductor

  • Major: Music theory, music composition, or conducting
  • Entry Level of Education: Master’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $52,250
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $20,090
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $100,819

Music directors, often known as conductors, are the individuals in charge of leading musical ensembles onstage. This includes the orchestras that play for ballet, opera, and theater performances.

By coordinating the players’ tempos, rhythms, melodies, and volumes, they create a unified musical whole. Though a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient in some cases, most employers seek out those with at least a master’s. Because of this prerequisite, the job’s profitability is severely compromised.

13. Museum Worker (Researcher, Archivist, or Curator)

  • Major: Art, history, archeology
  • Entry Level of Education: Master’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $52,140
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $24,600
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $105,329

A museum researcher’s job is to design, arrange, and carry out studies that will be used in the museum’s displays and programs. One’s area of expertise determines the topic of one’s research, which could be related to science, culture, history, or the arts.

Historical papers are carefully kept in storage by archivists. Many people choose to focus on one time period in history so they can gain a deeper understanding of the documents from that time. They may also manage public events like tours and lectures and collaborate with researchers whose work is related to their holdings.

Collectors, organizers, and presenters of collections are known as “curators.” Collectibles in a collection may also be researched and authenticated by this person. Large museums and galleries typically employ curators who have a specific area of expertise, such as botany, art, or history. 

They also aid with the museum’s management through administrative duties and may act as a public face for the institution at events and media appearances. None of the professions in museums are worth the cost of a master’s degree, including research assistant, archivist, and curator.

14. Clinical Social Worker

  • Major: Social Work
  • Entry Level of Education: Master’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $51,760
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $40,180
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $120,909

Assisting with housing, financial aid, and adoptions are just a few of the many common issues that social workers help their clients with. They might help schools figure out how to better deal with students’ academic or behavioral issues. 

In addition, many people are employed in the healthcare industry, where they help patients deal with life-altering diagnoses or participate in the treatment of substance misuse.

Although a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for entry into the field of social work, individuals who wish to become clinical social workers authorized to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders are required to earn master’s degrees. A license from their state of operation is also required.

These further demands increase the cost of entering this industry without commensurately increasing the value of the wages offered. Additionally, the calculated return on investment is probably better than the real return on investment. 

The Center for American Progress estimates that the typical debt for a master’s in social work will be $115,000 by the year 2020, while the median salary for the first year after graduation will be $49,400. As compared to the norms we utilized in our calculations, both the debt and the income are significantly larger.

14. Marital and Family Therapist

  • Major: Psychology
  • Entry Level of Education: Master’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $51,340
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $57,400
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $138,129

Therapists specializing in marriage and family issues meet with clients individually to aid in the management of marital and family dynamics. Even when working with individuals, they take a family-centered approach by considering the impact of clients’ roles at home on issues like depression, anxiety, and self-esteem.

Working in private practice, marriage and family therapists have to actively seek new patients. Therefore, your earning potential is tied, at least in part, to your capacity to market and sell your services.

16. Recreational Therapist

  • Major: Recreational therapy
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $47,710
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $68,585
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $121,776

Recreational therapists help their patients feel better by engaging them in fun activities like art projects, performing in plays, listening to music, playing games, going swimming, or going on group vacations. They aid people with impairments, injuries, or illnesses by creating, leading, and coordinating treatment programs. 

They frequently engage with the elderly population in assisted living and nursing care settings. The satisfaction in this line of work also comes from doing good for others, but not financial gain.

17. Substance Abuse Counselor

  • Major: Psychology or social work
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $47,660
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $70,735
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $123,926

Addiction specialists provide guidance to those struggling with substance abuse disorders. Someone with an eating issue or an addiction may also seek help. Whether dealing with patients one-on-one or in a group environment, they offer treatment and support to aid in the recovery process from addiction.

While a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for entry into the field of substance addiction counseling, a master’s degree is often required for offering individual mental health counseling. Salary.com, however, suggests that a master’s degree may allow you to negotiate a better salary.

18. Specialist in Community and Social Services

  • Major: Psychology or social work
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $46,770
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $109,005
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $162,196

The work of community and social service professionals can be seen in various forms of aid to the community, including food, shelter, and other forms of assistance. There are a lot of people working for state and municipal administrations. 

Others are employed by institutions such as schools, social advocacy groups, and nonprofits that provide services to individuals and families.

This is a great profession, and it may provide significant personal fulfillment, but it does not pay well. Four years of education will set you back even if you don’t factor in the money spent on tuition and living expenses.

19. Biological Technician

  • Major: Biology
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $46,340
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $127,495
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $180,686

Biological technicians are the people who work alongside doctors and biologists to carry out tests and experiments. Samples and data are often collected and analyzed in laboratories using a combination of standard laboratory equipment, specialist computer software, and cutting-edge robotics. 

However, if they help out zoologists and wildlife biologists, they may also gather samples in the field. Although many jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields can pay well, this isn’t one of them. 

As a lab assistant, you will not recoup your educational investment. But if you can use your previous work experience to advance your career, you will have a better chance of success. Keep in mind that obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree is usually necessary for work in this area of study.

20. Tutor

  • Major: Any
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $40,590
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $374,745
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $427,936

A tutor’s work with a pupil is often one-on-one. They could be employed by a university, or a nonprofit dedicated to advancing education, or they could be self-employed. If you want to teach children in a certain field, you’ll need an advanced degree in that field. 

However, students of all ages can benefit from tutoring in virtually any subject, from the basics like reading and writing to more advanced topics like calculus and even the arts.

In spite of the fact that you will be interacting with children (just like any teacher), the typical salary in this field is significantly lower than that of a traditional classroom educator.

21. Copy Marker or Proofreader

  • Major: English or journalism
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $37,550
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $505,465
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $558,656

Copy is checked by a proofreader to correct any typos, grammatical mistakes, and spelling mistakes. Articles, essays, books, and even technical writing like manuals are all examples of a copy. In addition, they make sure that all citations are properly formatted and that all data presented are accurate.

Although there is considerable crossover between proofreading and editing (especially in related disciplines like copyediting), editing also entails preparing, reviewing, and amending text (and therefore often pays more than proofreading). 

Therefore, if you have a background in English or journalism and are looking to maximize the value of your education, a promotion to the editor may be in order.

22. Broadcast Announcer

  • Major: Journalism, broadcasting, or communications
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $36,770
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $539,005
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $592,196

While most broadcast announcers (DJs included) are hired by radio stations, many operate independently as podcasters or in other media. DJs, newscasters, and sportscasters all fall within the purview of announcers, who also play music, conduct interviews, and answer listeners’ phone calls. 

They oversee the development of their shows’ creative material and often offer opinions on current events. Although you may have aspirations of becoming a radio or a talk show host, you should know that announcers, as a group, make less than the ordinary worker who has only a high school certificate. 

However, the median income may be impacted by the fact that many in this group have to settle for lower hours of employment.

23. Coach or Scout

  • Major: Physical education, physiology, sports science
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $36,330
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $557,925
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $611,116

In order to excel at their sport, athletes need the guidance of coaches. They organize workouts and games, set team policies, and call plays in games. Scouts are responsible for evaluating potential new members of professional, collegiate, and other sports teams. The majority of coaches also engage in the practice of scouting for new team members.

Coaches at the high school level are typically full-time educators. But if you want to be a coach for a living, you should really love sports more than money, because this is another profession that rarely pays back the cost of higher schooling.

24. Legislator

  • Major: Political science, government, economics, history, law, public administration
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $33,200
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $692,515
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $745,706

Members of the legislature serve in the legislative arm of government. By creating bills, proposing them, and holding votes, they create, introduce, or enact legislation at the regional, state, and federal levels. 

Members of parliament at all levels of government are elected by the electorate. Although there is no formal minimum educational requirement, most candidates need at least a bachelor’s degree to be taken seriously.

Legislators can come from any walk of life, but many hold academic credentials in fields like politics, history, or government. It is also usual for professionals to have master’s degrees in fields like law, business, government, or public finance management.

This is mostly due to the fact that the vast majority of state and local legislators earn far less than $20,000 annually. However, municipal lawmakers almost always have day jobs in addition to their legislative duties. 

So, it’s true that you can recoup some of your college costs if you work your way up the political ladder far enough if you’re serious about making politics your career. Career Exploration claims that legislators in the highest ranks can expect to make well over $100,000 per year. Also, Senators and Representatives take home $174,000 annually.

25. Teacher of Preschool

  • Major: Early childhood education
  • Entry Level of Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Annual Salary: $31,930
  • ROI of Attending a Public College: Negative $747,125
  • ROI of Attending a Private College: Negative $800,316

Curriculum development and instruction for children under the age of five who have not yet started kindergarten fall within the purview of preschool teachers. Children are taught fundamentals like counting, shapes, and colors through a variety of fun and engaging methods. Language, motor, and social skills are the primary areas of focus in the classroom.

The BLS indicates that an associate’s degree is sufficient for admission into the teaching profession in the field of early childhood education; however, more than half of U.S. preschools require their teachers to have bachelor’s degrees. 

Even before taking into account tuition and living expenses, the typical wage for a preschool teacher is lower than the average for someone with simply a high school certificate, making this a career that is not worth the cost of the degree.

Bottom Line

Getting a college education is still worthwhile, even though not all careers that demand at least a bachelor’s degree pay off. For many companies, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum qualification for any open position. However, possessing a degree is often more valuable than a specific major. 

As a result, there are more career options available to those with a degree. The median wages of those with a bachelor’s degree at midlife are more than double those of those with only a high school diploma, according to an analysis from the Brookings Institute in 2020.

In addition, the NACE Salary Survey conducted in the winter of 2021 indicated that college graduates experience a much-reduced rate of unemployment, even in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

If you want to avoid student loan debt and get a decent living wage, you should probably avoid these fields. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t automatically avoid further education.

It’s worth noting that the majors required for many of these occupations are among those recognized in PayScale’s annual College Salary Report as leading to the most meaningful work, despite the fact that the positions themselves don’t offer the greatest ROI on their degree investments. Money isn’t everything, but it helps.

If you are having a hard time repaying your student debts, though, you may feel as though it is. All of these returns on investment take into consideration the cost of further education, so make sure you do the math before committing to any of these occupations. 

By attending a less expensive school and applying for all the grants and scholarships for which you are eligible, you can increase your return on investment and graduate with less debt than otherwise would be the case.

Please keep in mind that these estimates are based on averages and that your actual earnings may be higher or lower. The key is to use the data to help you make a well-informed decision regarding the prices of college and the options available to you, such as whether or not to attend a more expensive school or whether or not to take on too much student loan debt.

Curated posts

Someone from Aurora, CO just viewed Best Credit Unions for Car Loans