Is There Such a Thing as a Worthless Degree?

college degreeYes and No. The best lesson that we could learn from this recession is not that we shouldn’t go to college, but that we should approach college as an investment (even if it is a risky investment). The best way to hedge yourself against loss is to get the most valuable degree for your money. I know it’s controversial, but let’s face it, you’re going to college in order to make money, and there are some degrees that just don’t get you there.

The problem goes to the source of what makes the entitlement generation so entitled.  Our parents told us that we were “special.” I’m not dissing mom and pops, but over many years of playing on little league baseball teams where there are no winners/losers, or only winners, and everyone gets a trophy just for participating, why would we expect anything different out of college? Some of us think that we can go to college, major in art history and have a $50,000/year job (trophy) waiting for us directly after graduation, just for participating. there are some degrees that may not help you get a job (which is the point of going to college, right?). Trust me, I know.

In all honesty, I am not trying to tear down any person’s choice of major. But, we have to face facts. There are majors that will pay off much better and faster than others (especially when the higher cost to obtain the degree is factored), while there are other degrees that won’t. Here’s the quick and dirty:

The Best


Engineering, engineering, engineering. If you have ANY interest in engineering, you would be wise to give serious thought to choosing an engineering degree. Engineering degrees take 7 of the top 10 spots!  Petroleum, aerospace, chemical, electrical, nuclear, biomedical and computer engineering degrees are not only very well paying, but an engineering degree in general is one of the top degrees in demand in the current job market.  There is no way I could ever be an engineer, though, so what else is there?

Math and Science.

Degrees like applied mathematics, physics, and economics have great starting salaries as well as mid-career salaries.  So far, the most valuable degrees sure seem to have a lot to do with numbers.  I am not a numbers guy.  If you are, again, look seriously into these degrees.  They have the potential to pay big dividends, and they are in demand.  There is one degree that is definitely worth not counting out (bad pun alert), and that is Accounting.  Though accounting majors generally don’t come out of school with starting salaries that are as high as the other math and science degrees, there is a lot of demand for it, and the demand will continue for a while, so the salaries may be changing.  Alright, enough with the numbers


I know that “Government” isn’t necessarily a degree choice. However, when finding a major, it may be worth considering whether it could be valuable in a government setting (that is, if you are interested in the “steady, government job”). Careers in government do not have the highest starting salaries (around  $40,000/year), but the mid-career salary is much more impressive, which hovers around $87,000/year.  It is really important when you are looking at a potential career choice to look at the mid-career salary statistics.  For example, a person with an information systems or accounting degree who goes to work for government would have a lower starting salary than if they went into the private sector, but a higher mid-career salary in government (when you really start making your money).


Business degrees that seem to do well are business management, business finance, marketing and advertising. If you are ever unsure of what career path to take, a business degree is never a bad idea. Also, it would be really smart to couple a business degree with another degree or minor that may be considered “less valuable” (of course, we are simply talking monetarily).

Here’s an example: Leah is a dancer. It is her love and passion. Her dream in life is to open a dance studio to instill the coming generation the beautiful art of dance. Naturally, Leah wants to enroll in college and become a Dance major. However, what Leah fails to realize is that in order to successfully run a profitable dance studio, she needs to understand profit and loss analysis, balance sheets, income statements, marketing, accounts payable and receivable, accounting, tax, payroll, management, etc. In other words, the dance studio is a business, as well as a passion. Leah should get a degree in business management with a minor in dance, or double major in business and dance. Doing so would help Leah become fully prepared to open her dance studio and keep it profitable for many years to come in order to really pursue her passion.

Some Liberal Arts Degrees.

Several of these degrees can lead to a mid-career salary of over $70,000.  Some of the liberal arts degrees that seem to be more valuable than others are film production, history and even fashion design.   

The Worst

 I really don’t want to get too specific with these, so here’s a list:

  • Religion
  • Latin
  • English Literature
  • Dance
  • Music Therapy 
  • American Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Art History

 Very simply, these degrees do not lead to paying jobs (unless you go to grad school, which is for another day).

Moral of the story:  Do your research.  Look at the current job market, what is in demand, and how you’re strengths can fit into a degree that will get you a job.  A good place to start is the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  College is a lot of time, effort and a big chunk of your hard-earned cash (on average, about $40,000), so if you’re going to do this thing, make sure you think about how to get what you pay for when it comes to your degree.


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