Since the founding of Harvard in September 1636, American universities have evolved significantly! And like the colleges that host them, degree programs have changed a lot, too. Many of the earliest higher learning institutions were established by religious denominations and were focused on religious education and training. Then agricultural studies became popular, though students began to pursue degrees to prepare for professional careers in law, medicine, and other fields.
Today, there are ~4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, offering a diverse range of certificates and degree types in virtually every subject imaginable. But with the cost of attendance at an all-time high, savvy students are taking a hard look at what they’re getting in exchange for the money. Certain majors which were long believed to be helpful in achieving upward economic mobility are now being scrutinized more than before.
Students should take a hard, objective look at their long-term career and income goals and the education and training necessary to reach them. You should never jump into a degree program assuming that major will magically pay off after graduation. But at the same time, you also don’t want to start on a degree path that could pigeonhole you, limit opportunities, or prepare you for a job that won’t even exist in the next few years.
If you’re wondering “What should I major in?” it might help to decide which majors you can scratch off ahead of time. With that in mind, here are a few of the degrees some students have criticized as being “useless” these days! That doesn’t mean they are useless in every situation—but it’s definitely something to think about as you explore the best options for your future.
10 Useless Degrees of 2023
1. Medical Billing and Coding
A full Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Billing and Coding teaches students topics related to healthcare administration in addition to standardized coding skills used to bill insurance companies. Classes may cover topics such as data analytics, compliance with legal statutes, policy issues, and personnel management (aka human resources).
The issue with this major is that many workers simply don’t need to go for a bachelor’s when a certificate is enough to get started! Another concern is that, in the near future, AI could be doing much of the coding work that people are currently doing. So, students might want to limit their investment in education and training in this field. Completing a bachelor’s takes four years if going full-time, which is time you could spend working and getting paid. In addition, a bachelor’s will likely cost tens of thousands of dollars more than a certificate.
Graduates can work as medical records specialists in a wide range of healthcare facilities, including hospitals, clinics, and private offices. The median income is $46,660, though this varies based on geographic location, years of experience, and other factors.
What is a better major than medical billing and coding?
Depending on your career goals, you may be better served by getting a certificate in Medical Billing and Coding versus a full degree. This will shave years and tuition costs off your educational route, so you can get to work sooner and start earning income. Another upside? You’ll get a chance to see if this is really a job you want to stick with or not, without investing in a full degree!
Photography courses cover a broad array of creative and practical topics, such as color and light techniques, how to compose a shot, shooting indoors versus outdoors, and various technical aspects of using camera equipment. It can be a highly rewarding field of study and allows students opportunities to create visual works of art!
But many students want to master the craft of photography by enrolling in full-fledged bachelor’s degree programs. One problem here is that a bachelor’s degree consists of 120-semester credits, of which ~50% are general education classes that have nothing to do with photography. Another large chunk of the degree requirements consists of electives, which also may or may not be photography-related.
Trained photographers can work in many positions and gigs, such as at portrait studios, in advertising, shooting weddings or other events, taking fashion photos, etc. But employers are often more interested in one’s portfolio of work and demonstrable skills than in whether or not an applicant has a degree in photography.
Salary.com lists the national average income for photographers as $57,422, though actual salaries vary considerably. The job outlook seems solid, but competition could run high since it is easy for amateur photographers to learn by watching videos and experimenting with fairly inexpensive digital cameras.
What is a better major than photography?
Photography ranks on our “useless degrees” list, because would-be professional photographers are often better off enrolling in a certificate program, a photography school, or online courses where they can focus specifically on photography-related classes. This will save time, money, and energy, allowing you to learn only the skills you need to start working, without wasting valuable resources on studying non-essential subject matter.
Psychology is the study of human behavior and mental processes. This includes exploring how the mind actually works and how impacts on the physical brain affect the mind’s functioning. Students can study different aspects of psychology, such as “social, cognitive, abnormal, personality, and developmental” theories.
The reason it’s made the list is that a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology alone won’t qualify you to be a psychologist. In fact, even a Master’s Degree in Psychology isn’t enough either. Virtually all psychologists must have a doctoral degree, or PsyD. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other career fields you can enter with this degree or that we think it’s a BAD degree – it just means if you want to be a licensed psychologist, you’ve got a very long educational road ahead way beyond a bachelor’s degree.
Some undergraduate psychology majors go on to become substance abuse counselors, career counselors, child care workers, market researchers, and psychiatric technicians. Since there are so many jobs one can do with this degree, it’s hard to pin down an average salary—but ZipRecruiter cites $54,920 per year as a salary for workers with a Bachelor’s in Psychology.
What is a better major than psychology?
Psychology is the fifth most popular major according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But it’s a broad field that can apply indirectly to many job types. Before deciding on a major, figure out which career you want to pursue, then aim for a degree that’s more specific. For example, if you want to understand human behavior to prepare for a marketing job, study marketing and get a minor in psychology.
Sociology deals with methods for understanding various types of social and cultural behaviors, in addition to how individuals are affected by the social/cultural groups they live in. It's a fascinating field of study that helps graduates understand human interactions better. However, it takes a master’s or PhD to qualify to work as a sociologist.
At the bachelor’s level, grads can still find work in social services, public policy, and education. The median annual wage for a fully-qualified sociologist is $92,910. However, there are only ~3,000 employed sociologists, with just 100 additional job openings projected through 2031. In other words, this is a very small field with limited opportunities!
Geographic locations are also limited. The bulk of sociologists work in California (which skews the average wage figure, since other states may pay substantially less). Most other positions listed are located in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey.
What is a better major than sociology
Unless you’re planning to earn a graduate degree and really have a burning desire to become a sociologist, you might want to consider your career objectives and see if there’s a major that is better suited to the job you want. For example, if you’re interested in social work, consider majoring in that specifically. Do an online search for the job title you’re most interested in, then read a few job postings to see which degrees employers expect applicants to have!
What to expect from a History degree is pretty straightforward—you’ll be studying historical events, including their causes and effects, and the main people involved in these events. Students can use minors, areas of focus, and electives to tailor their history major studies based on particular time periods or geographic regions they’re most interested in, such as Ancient History or Latin American History. The most common history degree is a bachelor of arts, but students can also apply for a bachelor of science.
The tricky thing with earning a History degree is that there are not a ton of career fields that directly apply to this major. There are professional historians, but not that many. There are also history teaching jobs. But if neither of these is what you’re after, you may want to reconsider this major. Yes, there are jobs that a history major may help qualify you for—but typically these jobs are also open to grads from other liberal arts majors, as well.
For those who actually want to work as a professional historian, you’ll need at least a master’s degree. The median annual wage for historians is $63,940, but the job growth outlook is pretty bleak. Currently, there are ~3,300 working historians, with only 100 more jobs projected to open up through 2031. Roughly 30% of all those jobs are either in New York, D.C., or Virginia.
What is a better major than history?
History is an incredibly important field, but because actual historian jobs are relatively limited, you might be better off deciding exactly what you want to do with your degree. For example, if you want to be an anthropologist or archeologist, maybe it’s better to major in Anthropology or Archeology!
English is the most spoken language in the world…but unless you plan on teaching or writing, you may not really need to get a full degree in the subject. College is quite expensive, but books are free to check out at the library. For many students, it doesn’t make sense to pay tens of thousands of dollars to take classes focused on reading novels, stories, and poetry.
That doesn’t mean studying English isn’t important! Hello…fellow writer speaking here! However, with a little discipline, a good deal of what you’d learn as an English major could be learned on your own—and at no cost.
Those who plan on teaching English at the K-12 level usually will need to earn a bachelor’s along with a state teaching certification. A teacher training certification is often, but not always, done as part of the student’s degree program. The average English teacher salary is $51,853, per Salary.com.
If you’re thinking about teaching English at the college level, you’ll need at least a master’s to teach at a 2-year college—and usually a PhD to teach at a university and to earn tenure. Ironically, college educators don’t need to undergo teacher training the way K-12 teachers do!
What is a better major than English?
If you’re considering a non-teaching job, such as being a writer, consider signing up for a creative writing or communications degree instead of majoring in English. Many writers, especially fiction writers, don’t have a degree, though certain positions do require one. Either way, you’ll likely get more mileage from a communications degree.
7. General Studies
Sure, it’s possible to major in General Studies, which is essentially taking core subjects and electives without focusing on a specific topic. But is that a wise decision?
A general studies degree isn’t entirely useless. If they were, that would basically mean that core requirements are useless, too! However, since there’s no area of focus, having this degree doesn’t specifically qualify you for any particular career field. It just makes you more of a “jack of all trades, and master of none.”
General Studies can help to teach students “interpersonal skills, critical thinking, writing skills, and communication skills.” But the same can be said for pretty much any college major. If you truly have no idea what you want to major in as an undergraduate, a general studies degree can pave the way for a graduate degree later. But, there’s a strong possibility you’ll need to take prerequisites to qualify for such a grad program.
Since there is no particular job a General Studies degree prepares you for, we can’t offer a realistic estimated salary.
What is a better major than general studies?
Without trying to sound sarcastic—any major is probably better than a general studies major.. Most sources that promote the virtues of a general studies degree are colleges trying to sell students a product (i.e., a degree) they know isn’t worth the cost.
Philosophy is considered a humanities major, along with history, religion, language arts, visual and performing arts, and others. Students of philosophy dive into the deepest, most fundamental aspects of what it means to be human, the meaning of truth and values, and how we as individuals engage with each other in societies.
A Bachelor’s in Philosophy can train students to develop critical thinking and analytical skills, as well as their powers of persuasive argument. It will not, however, lead a graduate to a job as a “philosopher.”
Some philosophy major graduates work as policy analysts, marketing managers, reporters, management consultants, and in other careers where the aforementioned skills come in handy. But because the spectrum of potential jobs is so vast, it’s impossible to pin down an estimated salary for grads with this major.
What is a better major than philosophy?
An undergraduate degree in philosophy can act as a stepping stone to several careers, but it’s just as easy—and perhaps more viable—to get a degree that’s targeted to one’s desired career.
That said, if you’re thinking about pursuing a graduate degree afterward, sometimes philosophy is suitable as a means to prepare you. For example, the University of South Florida totes that the study of philosophy paves the way for admission into law schools. Then again, so does a degree in Legal Studies!
9. Foreign Languages
Learning a foreign language opens the doors to new cultures and new perspectives. A foreign language major helps students read, write, speak, and aurally comprehend another language, while also raising awareness about the social and cultural issues related to a certain country or people. However, there are countless speakers of second languages who learned outside of any academic classroom!
Affordable language training programs and apps can just as readily aid learners who want to hone their proficiency—without taking expensive bachelor’s degree classes! Plus, with a laptop or mobile device, it’s extremely easy (and usually very affordable) to hire and work with a language tutor from your desired country. To learn more about the culture, why not attend actual cultural events or travel to that country for a while, versus paying a college to tell you about it?
Foreign language majors often work as translators/interpreters, sometimes within the international business sector. But employers don’t necessarily always care how the person became fluent, as long as they are. The median annual wage for translators and interpreters is $49,110, though that can vary quite a bit. Many workers in these fields are part-time freelance contractors who don’t get any benefits.
What is a better major than foreign languages?
If you only want to major in a Foreign Language to learn that language, consider using software, getting a tutor, and traveling or attending events where you can gain full-immersion exposure to that language (versus paying for a full degree). In terms of a better major, a degree in International Relations or International Business might be better suited for your unique career goals!
People love to travel, and the tourism industry will always have job openings. Some years are better than others, but overall the industry is growing and is projected to bring in $854 billion in 2023 alone. Majoring in tourism management helps students learn all about hospitality, food and beverages, event planning, attractions, marketing, and all the other “behind the scenes” considerations.
Many students earn an associate or bachelor’s degree before applying for jobs in this career field. Indeed, there are many job types that a tourism management graduate might be qualified for, such as hotel manager, food service manager, convention manager, attractions manager, or restaurant manager. Very roughly speaking, the average tourism industry job salary is $46,014, though wages depend on the actual job, number of years of experience, and other factors.
What is a better major than tourism management?
Majoring in Business Administration can help you qualify not only for many tourism-related roles, but jobs in other sectors, too. In many cases, employers hiring for managerial-level positions are looking for candidates with a strong mix of real-world practical experience and academic credentials.
I Don't Use My Degree, Here's What I Should Have Majored in Instead
Students often lament their choice of majors after it's too late and they’ve already graduated. We received some feedback on social media, and here are a few of them.