Think Before You Go Into High Student Debt: Degrees with the Worst ROI

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the economy was booming, it made sense to “study what you love,” or “figure out what you love doing”. Feelings were a big factor in choosing a course of study and a career. But we are not in the ‘80s and ‘90s anymore. Different rules apply. You must be strategic. You have to be smart. You need to be a rebel.

Salary.com did a survey a few years ago of the careers with the worst Return on Investment (ROI), To calculate ROI for a specific degree, they assumed a four year degree cost of $37,343 for a public liberal arts degree, and a figure of $121,930 for degrees earned at four-year private colleges. The total included room and board, tuition, and books and did not include scholarships nor grants. They then determined the median cash compensation over the course of 30 years of typical jobs requiring that degree, adding 4.3 percent per year to account for inflation. To determine ROI, they subtracted the cost of the degree from the gains over 30 years, and divided that figure by cost.

Here are the top eight degrees with the worst ROI. Look to see if you’re leaning in the direction of these degrees, or if you already have one of these degrees.

  1. Sociology (Social Worker, Corrections Officer, or Chemical Dependency Counselor)
  2. Fine Arts (Museum Research Worker, Graphic Designer, Painter, or Illustrator)
  3. Education (Daycare Teacher, Elementary School Teacher, or High School Teacher)
  4. Religious Studies, Theology (Chaplain in the Healthcare Sector, Associate Pastor, or Religious Educator)
  5. Hospitality/Tourism (Meeting or Event Planner, Hotel Resident Manager, or Catering Manager)
  6. Nutrition (Dietician, Food Services Manager, or Food Scientist)
  7. Psychology (Human Services Worker, Career Counselor, or Bereavement Coordinator)
  8. Communications (Copywriter, News Reporter, or Marketing Coordinator)

So, let’s say you’re thinking about going for such a degree. Or you’re a parent whose child is going in one of these directions. First, it’s important to simply be aware that the ROI isn’t great for these.

But, I love psychology/fine art/nutrition. How can you possibly expect me not to do what I love?

This is the quandary with the current higher education climate. We have to be smart, so that we can do what we love and make a decent living and pay off high student debt. 

So, what if you thought like a rebel? What if you went for one of the best ROI degrees? What if you spent a few years making a lot of money, you paid off your high student debt, made good investments, and then went into fine art? Imagine how ahead of the game you could be.

The point is that many of us follow only our feelings when we go for a degree. And in the current climate, feelings simply will not cut it. We need to use both our strategic brains and take into account how to nurture our deepest beliefs.

Whatever choice you make, the point is that now more than ever if you’re a student entering college you must be aware of the implications, and you need to fully understand the financial implications of the choice you’re making.

This decision could end up leaving you in high student debt, which could affect you for the remainder of your life.