5 Bachelor’s Degrees That Don’t Pay Off And What To Study Instead

Written by Tien Rooney
Published on October 2, 2022 · Updated on May 28, 2023

5 Bachelor’s Degrees That Don’t Pay Off And What To Study Instead

Written by Tien Rooney
Published on October 2, 2022 · Updated on May 28, 2023

Paying for a college degree can sound pretty scary, right? The cost of attending both public and private schools is on the rise. In fact, tuition costs at colleges and universities tend to double every nine years

The good news is that you can choose a degree that leads to a higher salary. If you pick a bachelor’s program that can help you secure a job with a high salary, you’ll be able to pay off any student loans you acquire. If you’re lucky and don’t have any student loans by the time you finish your bachelor’s degree, then you can put some extra cash in the bank.

If you want to make some financially minded decisions about your education, it’s a good idea to do some research upfront before you jump into a bachelor’s degree program. We’re here to help you with that. 

To get you started on your path toward a good-paying job, here’s a look at some popular bachelor’s programs and which ones make financial sense. While all of them can lead to fulfilling and lucrative careers, you’ll see that some degrees are much more likely to pay off down the road. 

Bachelor’s Degrees That Don’t Pay Off — And What Degree To Get Instead

Let’s take a look at some of the worst-paying bachelor’s degrees and which alternatives make better financial sense. Using data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this list was created based on earning potential and growth projections for common careers in these fields.

Degree #1: Bachelor’s in Sociology

If you’re interested in social behaviors, culture, and social issues, a sociology degree might be a good choice for you. What many new students don’t realize is that you need a master’s or doctoral degree to become an actual sociologist. 

With only a bachelor’s in sociology, you’ll be a candidate for many different types of roles that require some problem-solving, critical thinking skills, empathy, and a foundational understanding of human behavior. Unfortunately, many of these jobs won’t offer you a substantial return on your investment.

Career: Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

These professionals work in social service programs designed to rehabilitate those who are on parole or law offenders in custody. Not only does the BLS projects a lower-than-average 4% growth in available positions in this area by 2030, the return on your education investment is rather low. The median annual wage for probation officers is only $55,690.

What to study instead: Bachelor’s in Nursing

Many of the critical thinking and soft skills you’d need as a sociologist translate to careers in nursing. A BS in nursing is one of the best paying bachelor’s degrees and prepares you for patient-facing roles in hospitals and doctors’ offices. In addition to the degree, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become registered, but it’s worth the extra step.

Career: Registered Nurse

RNs work directly with patients in clinical settings. If you’re good with people in general, that’s a big part of this job. Your primary tasks also include observing patients, updating medical documents during their care, administering medications as prescribed by physicians, and assisting healthcare professionals with diagnostic testing. RNs make a good living with a median annual wage of $75,330. In this role, you can also expect an above-average growth rate of 9% by 2030.

Degree #2: Bachelor’s in Hospitality Management

Many of us have had jobs in the food and beverage industry working as a server or bartender. It’s honest work and usually a lot of fun. A bachelor’s degree in hospitality management can give you the staff management, marketing, and finance skills to operate these types of businesses and organizations at a high level. 

Although this can be pretty socially driven and fast-paced work, these managerial roles don’t always pay as much as you might think. While these jobs are essential to keep the service and entertainment industry moving, this is one of the worst bachelor’s degrees to get if you want a big return on your educational investment.

Career: Food Service Managers

In these roles, you’d be responsible for the daily operation of restaurants and other types of establishments that offer food and beverage services for guests. Professionals in these roles only make about $56,590 per year despite handling what is often a time-consuming and stressful role. However, the BLS does project a 15% growth in available positions by 2030. 

What to study instead: Bachelor’s in Business Administration

A Bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA) is a great way to take your interest in business and finance down a more lucrative career path. You’ll be able to develop your professional communication, managerial, and decision-making skills in these four-year business programs. 

Depending on the program, you may also be able to choose from concentrations like finance, entrepreneurship, health services administration, and human resource management. This flexibility makes the BBA one of the most versatile and best-paying bachelor’s degrees out there.

Career: Accountants and Financial Specialists

These professionals create and oversee financial records, offer business solutions for their employers, assess business opportunities and risk, and much more. Some accountants choose to pursue a CPA license to increase their job prospects. Accountants and financial specialists make a median annual wage of $73,560. While these roles aren’t necessarily in high demand, the BLS projects steady average growth in available positions of 7% by 2030.

Degree #3: Bachelor’s in Communications

If you have an interest in exploring how messages transmit among populations or want to know more about mass media and public broadcasts, a bachelor’s in communications might be a good choice. You’ll learn a bunch of skills in communications programs that help you analyze media messages, follow ethical communication principles, and apply quantitative and qualitative research methods. 

Unfortunately, despite the malleability of these programs and the transferable skills you acquire, bachelor’s degree holders in communications often do not find themselves in lucrative roles after graduation.

Career: Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts

Professionals in these roles research and investigate topics to develop content and ideas for new stories. You might contribute to outlets such as newspapers, magazines, TV news broadcasts, radio, and beyond. According to the BLS, you might find yourself in a shrinking job market if you pursue work in this area of the field. In fact, by 2030, the BLS projects a low growth rate of just 6% in available positions. Moreover, you probably won’t be getting outstanding paydays either as reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts make a median annual wage of $49,300.

What to study instead: Marketing

Being a marketing student today means learning about digital media, social media, consumer behavior, and ways that information is disseminated by organizations and interpreted by the general public. You’ll study similar topics in a marketing program as you would in communications, but you’ll also develop a knack for how communication and marketing function in business. 

In this way, a marketing bachelor’s degree is more versatile and allows you to develop highly valued business-oriented skills. When it comes to finding good-paying jobs after school, this is also one of the best-paying bachelor’s degrees out there.

Career: Market Research Analysts and Business Operations Specialists

If you think you’d like to delve into understanding the effectiveness of marketing programs, collect and analyze data, and report on your findings, being a market research analyst might be a great fit. Today’s analysts rely on a combination of computer software and keen knowledge of statistics and market trends to help organizations succeed to the best of their abilities. 

You can also make a good living in this area of marketing and advertising. Market research analysts make a median annual wage of $65,810. Those in marketing with a specialty in business operations typically make about $71,450 per year. The highest 10% of earners in the market research field make more than $127,410 annually. Some more good news about these careers is that the job outlook is exceptionally bright as you can expect about a 22% growth in available positions by 2030. 

Degree #4: Bachelor’s in Theology or Religious Studies

If you have an interest in exploring how people think about and practice religion in their daily lives, a bachelor’s degree in theology or religious students could be an excellent fit. You don’t need to be interested in pursuing a career in the church or religious organization to benefit from this type of academic program, although those are options for you. 

Many theology and religious studies grads move on to roles in education, counseling, social work, and qualitative research. Financially speaking, however, this might not be the best degree choice if you’re looking for a healthy return on your educational investment.

Career: Social and Human Service Assistants

By studying religious belief and the history of theology, religious studies degree-holders often work well with broad demographics, including children, families, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Working as a social and human service assistant may be a great fit. 

Social and human service assistants often work under the guidance of psychologists, social workers, and other social service professionals who help clients meet the demands of daily life. From helping them with daily activities like eating and bathing to assisting them with paperwork or online forms so they can be eligible for public services, these assistants can significantly improve the quality of life for someone in need. 

While these workers have tremendous value in society, they are significantly underpaid. Social service assistants make a median annual wage of $35,960. These professionals are in demand, however, and projections show a 17% growth in available positions by 2030.

What to study instead: Political Science

It might seem like an unlikely connection, but the same critical thinking skills you need to succeed in religious studies and theology also apply to studies in political science. Since religion is often a part of how people make sense of the world, it is closely tied to voting, governance, and politics at the national, state, and local levels. 

You’ll also study current events, fundraising and campaigns, economics, public administration, government policies, and public services. These bachelor’s programs can also lead to good-paying careers or position you for additional schooling in a master’s or doctoral program after graduation.

Career: Budget Analysts

Fundraising and managing budgets all play important roles in nonprofit and governmental organizations. Professionals with a background in political science can pursue successful careers as budget analysts. They must have strong analytical, presentation, and communication skills. 

Additionally, budget analysts need to understand how businesses operate within the confines of local, state, and federal laws and other regulations. Budget analysts make a median annual wage of $78,970. While the growth of available positions in this field is slightly below average at 5%, the top 10% of earners make more than $121,360 per year.

Degree #5: Bachelor’s in Fine Arts

Bachelor’s in Fine Arts (BFA) degree programs allow you to explore creative outlets like photography, graphic design, sculpture, and painting. Grads with this degree often work as teachers, self-employed artists, museum workers, art curators, and more. 

While these programs play a valuable role in cultivating the next generation of artists and creatives, this degree does not usually prepare you for a high-paying job in the U.S. Financially speaking, these programs for many students are among the worst bachelor’s degrees.

Career: Craft and Fine Artists

These artists use their skills in a specific artistic medium to create tangible objects like glassware, portraits, sculptures, pottery, and beyond. While these professionals are a cultural asset to society, they often do not make more than an annual median wage of $49,120. The BLS also projects about 14% growth in this area of the field by 2030. 

What to study instead: Computer Graphics Technology

If you’re considering a BFA, have a look at computer graphics technology bachelor’s programs. Many of these programs challenge you to bring together creative, technical, and professional skills through project-based learning and hands-on assignments. 

You’ll be able to use your creativity in similar ways as the BFA demands, but you will be developing new computer and technological skills that can put you on a path to high-paying jobs. For students who want to incorporate the latest visual technologies in what they create, this is one of the best bachelor’s degrees.

Career: Special Effects Artists and Animators

You can take your new digitally focused creative tools into an exciting and lucrative career in special effects and animation. These professionals work on streaming shows and major films, working on computer-generated images (CGI) and designing backgrounds and scenery. You could also work in video game design, online gaming, and smartphone app development. 

Workers in this field can expect a 16% growth in available positions by 2030. The median annual wage for special effects artists and animators is $77,700. The top 10% of earners in this field make more than $142,750 annually.

Choosing the Best Bachelor’s Degree For You

As you look into bachelor’s degrees that best meet your personal and academic needs, keep in mind that nearly all undergraduate degrees can lead to a wide variety of careers in the end. Many professionals who study to work in a particular field find themselves employed in another area, especially after they’ve gotten some good work experience under their belt. With that in mind, this guide should help you locate some of the best paying bachelor’s degrees and get you on the right track.