Top 10 Worst Paying College Degrees

The 2010 version of’s annual ranking of college degrees by salary is an important (and perhaps harrowing) read for any high school student or their parents when it comes to choosing a post-secondary degree program.

While a degree in #1-ranked Petroleum Engineering may not appeal to many prospective students other more popular programs like Computer Science (#11), Molecular Biology (#32) and Film Production (#43) all sit in the top half of the list.

But at the other end of the list are the 10 worst-paying degrees. They aren’t necessarily the degrees with the worst job prospects, and they qualify students for some of the most important jobs in a civil society, but they don’t offer the financial rewards of other professions:

10. Special Education

It takes a special sort of person to care for and teach a child with physical or developmental challenges. Special Ed teachers require specialized skills and training, in addition to infinite amounts of energy, compassion and patience. Unfortunately their salaries don’t reflect the importance of the work that they do.

9. Recreation and Leisure Studies

Municipal parks and recreation jobs often require a degree in leisure studies. The people who oversee community centres, ball diamonds and parklands play an important role in the health and well-being of a community, providing opportunities for physical activity for people of all ages, but especially for children. The people who run these and other facilities (and fight to save them from government cutbacks) are on the front lines in the battle against childhood obesity.

8. Theology

Future religious leaders are obviously motivated by something more important than money, but once again their salaries aren’t commensurate with the value of the services they provide. Feeding the homeless, helping addicts get treatment and keeping kids from joining gangs are just some of the many roles that pastors, rabbis, imams and shamans play. They also serve as a trusted source of sound moral advice, and a crucial buffer against extremism within their particular faith communities. 

7. Paralegal studies/Law

This one might seem a bit out of place so far down the list, and it may be only a temporary dip. The demand for paralegals is predicted to increase significantly in the coming years, and unless a large number of young people enter the field salaries should rise as skilled workers become harder and harder to find.

6. Horticulture

Farming has never been particularly lucrative outside of big business, and while many graduates in this field may find work in garden centres or assisting in crop production it’s the connection to living things and to the land that will have to play a more important role in their motivation than money.

5. Culinary Arts

The food industry is a lot like professional sports – for every Julia Child or Gordon Ramsay who finds fame and fortune there are millions of others who spend their whole careers just trying to get into the game. An experience master chef in a high-end restaurant may be able to command a decent salary, but a new grad can face stiff competition for even an entry-level position.

4. Athletic training

Multi-million dollar professional sports teams provide a few trainers, coaches and other support staff with steady employment. But there are countless other trainers, coaches and support staff who work with amateur athletes, most of whom are able to pay them very little or none at all, even as they approach the Olympics or other world-class levels within their sport.

3. Social Work

Thankfully most social workers are motivated by a desire to reach out and help others, not by money. Their jobs require a wide range of skills, from sociology to psychology, and they must often deal with some of the most unpleasant aspects of human nature: crime, abuse and neglect.

2. Elementary Education

Educating young people is one of the most important jobs there is, yet it is one of the least financially rewarding careers in the United States. Some other countries may do better (the data can be viewed in a number of different lights) but on the whole those who are entrusted with providing children with a strong start to their academic careers are the least valued teachers in the education system.

1. Child and Family Studies

And finally, shamefully, at the bottom of the list is the degree that qualifies students to look after the only group of people more impressionable than school-age children – babies and toddlers. There’s growing evidence to suggest that the information and stimuli a child receives in the first five years of his or her life plays an overwhelming role in their future success. Graduates with this degree can provide high-quality early childhood education, and have many other skills in family and social services, community support work, and childhood education and development.