College Majors That Produce The Lowest Earnings After Graduation

College Majors That Produce The Lowest Earnings After Graduation

Students who major in liberal arts, performing arts, and theology earn the lowest annual median salary ($38,000) five years after graduating college, according to a new study by the New York Federal Reserve.

The study looked at median annual income for 75 different majors right after college and mi-career. Other low-paying majors included leisure and hospitality, history, fine arts and psychology, all of which made $40,000 or less per year.


Liberal arts majors earned the least five years after graduation. Engineers, on the other hand, earned the highest median income out of college, with computer engineers ranked first at $80,000 per year. By the time they’ve reached the ages of 35 to 45, engineers pay grows to $133,000—the highest of all majors.

“With liberal arts degrees, graduates tend to get paid less overall, for various reasons,” Mike Winters, a money reporter at CNBC, says. “For one, their skills may not be directly related to generating revenue, even if their vocation is a benefit to society. Or, it can be a case of too few well-paying jobs compared with the number of graduates each year, as is the case for fine arts degrees. As such, the lack of demand can drive down wages.”

College majors that pay the least right after college

(Median salary within five years of graduation)

  1. Liberal Arts $38,000
  2. Performing Arts $38,000
  3. Theology + Religion $38,000
  4. Leisure + Hospitality $39,700
  5. General Social Sciences $40,000
  6. History $40,000
  7. Miscellaneous Biological Science $40,000
  8. Fine Arts $40,000
  9. Treatment Therapy $40,000
  10. Nutrition Sciences $40,000

College majors that pay the least for mid-career workers

(Median salary for graduates who are 35-45 years old)

  1. Early Childhood Education $48,000
  2. General Education $52,000
  3. Elementary Education $52,000
  4. Secondary Education $55,000
  5. Miscellaneous Education $56,000
  6. Social Services $56,000
  7. Theology + Religion $56,000
  8. Special Education $57,000
  9. Family + Consumer Sciences $59,000
  10. Performing Arts $64,000

How do business majors fare? As a whole, business-related majores either earned as much or more than the average pay starting out (with Communications being the exception). That trend continues into mid-career, again with the exception of Communication and the addition of Business Analytics.

Sources: CNBC, New York Federal Reserve

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