The Most (And Least) Worthwhile Degrees

Tyler Durden's picture

For many young people, the decision of whether to extend their education careers and attend university is a tough one to make. With soaring costs, Statista's Martin Armstrong notes, not all that choose to do a bachelor's degree graduate with the feeling that it was all worthwhile.

Emolument surveyed 1,800 graduates to reveal that the most regretted major is psychology. Only 33 percent of bachelors of this particular science said their degree was worth it. On the other end of the scale, 87 percent of chemistry and natural sciences alumni said they felt their studies were worth it.

Infographic: The Most (and Least) Worthwhile Degrees | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

We are reminded of The Mises Institute's Josh Grossman comments, that easy access to student loans has created demand for useless degrees.

Last week, former Secretary of Education and US Senator Lamar Alexander wrote in the Wall Street Journal that a college degree is both affordable and an excellent investment. He repeated the usual talking point about how a college degree increases lifetime earnings by a million dollars, “on average.” That part about averages is perhaps the most important part, since all college degrees are certainly not created equal. In fact, once we start to look at the details, we find that a degree may not be the great deal many higher-education boosters seem to think it is.

In my home state of Minnesota, for example, the cost of obtaining a four-year degree at the University of Minnesota for a resident of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Manitoba, or Wisconsin is $100,720 (including room and board and miscellaneous fees). For private schools in Minnesota such as St. Olaf, however, the situation is even worse. A four-year degree at this institution will cost $210,920.

This cost compares to an average starting salary for 2014 college graduates of $48,707. However, like GDP numbers this number is misleading because it is an average of all individuals who obtained a four-year degree in any academic field. Regarding the average student loan debt of an individual who graduated in 2013, about 70 percent of these graduates left college with an average student loan debt of $28,400. This entails the average student starting to pay back these loans six months after graduation or upon leaving school without a degree. The reality of this situation is that assuming a student loan interest rate of 6.8 percent and a ten-year repayment period, the average student will be paying $326.83 every month for 120 months or a cumulative total re-payment of $39,219.28. Depending upon a student’s job, this amount can be a substantial monthly financial burden for the average graduate.

All Degrees Are Not of Equal Value

Unfortunately, there is no price incentive for students to choose degrees that are most likely to enable them to pay back loans quickly or easily. In other words, these federal student loans are subsidizing a lack of discrimination in students’ major choice. A person majoring in communications can access the same loans as a student majoring in engineering. Both of these students would also pay the same interest rate, which would not occur in a free market.

In an unhampered market, majors that have a higher probability of default should be required to pay a higher interest rate on money borrowed than majors with a lower probability of default. In summary, it is not just the federal government’s subsidization of student loans that is increasing the cost of college, but the fact that demand for low-paying and high-default majors is increasing, because loans for these majors are supplied at the same price as a major providing high salaries to its possessor with a low probability of default.

And which programs are the most likely to pay off for the student? The top five highest paying bachelor’s degrees include: petroleum engineering, actuarial mathematics, nuclear engineering, chemical engineering and electronics and communications engineering, while the top five lowest paying bachelor’s degrees are: animal science, social work, child development and psychology, theological and ministerial studies, and human development, family studies, and related services. Petroleum engineering has an average starting salary of $93,500 while animal science has an average starting salary of $32,700. This breaks down for a monthly salary for the petroleum engineer of $7,761.67 versus a person working in animal science with a monthly salary of $2,725. Based on the average monthly payment mentioned above, this would equate to a burden of 4.2 percent of monthly income (petroleum engineer) versus a burden of 12 percent of monthly income (animal science). This debt burden is exacerbated by the fact that it is now nearly impossible to have student loan debts wiped away even if one declares bankruptcy.

Ignoring Careers That Don’t Require a Degree

Meanwhile, there are few government loan programs geared toward funding an education in the trades. And yet, for many prospective college students, the trades might be a much more lucrative option. Using the example of plumbing, the average plumber earns $53,820 per year with the employer paying the apprentice a wage and training.

Acknowledging the fact that this average salary is for master plumbers, it still equates to a $20,000 salary difference between it and someone with a four-year degree in animal science while having no student loans as a bonus. Outside of earning a four-year degree in science, technology, engineering, math or, accounting with an average starting salary of $53,300, nursing with an average starting salary of $53,624, or as a family practice doctor on the lower end of physician pay of $161,000, society might be better served if parents and educators would stop using the canard that a four-year degree is always worth the cost outside of a few majors mentioned above. Encouraging students to consider the trades and parents to give their children the money they would spend on a four-year college degree to put a down payment on a house might be a better use of finite economic resources. The alternative of forcing the proverbial square peg into a round hole will condemn another generation to student debt slavery forcing them to put off buying a home or getting married.

Loans Drive Overall Demand

The root of the problem is intervention by the federal government in providing student loans. Since 1965 when President Johnson signed the Higher Education Act tuition, room, and board has increased from $1,105 per year to $18,943 in 2014–2015. This is an increase of 1,714 percent in 50 years. In addition, the Higher Education Act of 1965 created loans which are made by private institutions yet guaranteed by the federal government and capped at 6.8 percent. In case of default on the loans, the federal government — that is, the taxpayers — pick up the tab in order for these lenders to recover 95 cents on every dollar lent. Loaning these funds at below market interest rates and with the federal government backing up these risky loans has led to massive malinvestment as the percentage of high-school graduates enrolled in some form of higher education has increased from 10 percent before World War II to 70 percent by the 1990s. Getting a four-year degree in nearly any academic field seemed to be the way in which to enter or remain in the middle class.

But just as with the housing bubble, keeping interest below market levels while increasing the money supply in terms of loans — while having the taxpayer on the hook for a majority of these same loans — leads to an avalanche of defaults and is a recipe for disaster.


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Takeaction2's picture
Takeaction2 (not verified) Mar 5, 2017 10:10 PM

I have advertised for months for a Remote Start Installer......It looks as though the High End Car Audio Trade is not being talked about or pushed in any school.  Starts at $70,000 to $90,000.   If somebody loves high end cars...and you have a son....tell them Remote Start Installers are needed nationwide.  

apu123's picture

I used to install all my own stuff back in the day, amps, CD players, alarms and make my own speaker enclosurs.  This was way back in the early 90s, it was fun wiring up quad 18inch woofers and annoying all the old people.

Kefeer's picture

Still annoying.  :)

apu123's picture

The youth of today are getting revenge in spades for my youthful indiscretions.

LowerSlowerDelaware_LSD's picture
LowerSlowerDelaware_LSD (not verified) apu123 Mar 5, 2017 10:35 PM

Why isn't Lesbian Studies on the list?

ACP's picture

Because the distance from zero% usefulness is not statistically significant.

Same with sociology.

lexxus's picture
lexxus (not verified) ACP Mar 5, 2017 11:19 PM

Blue collar jobs are surefire ways to make a living. The problem is everyone wants to wear a suit.

A Nanny Moose's picture

Fuck that shit. I wanna go back to the days when I could work in my PJs.

Ever since I starrted working for this damned hospital, I need to be onsite, and dressed up. They wanted ties, I told them to fuck off. Fucking effeminate communist retards. The reckoning is coming in Sick Care. Plan accordingly.

auricle's picture

It's much worse than the graph shows. Who wants to admit that they paid 10s of thousands of dollars on a worthless degree. The best guide is what salary are those degrees achieving 3-5 years after graduation. 

Ballin D's picture

No kidding. Literature on par with engineering and above law? Those literature students just like the smell of their own flatulence a bit too much

PT's picture

Economics was the one that confused me.  I didn't realize there was such a large market for Propaganda.  Or perhaps it is just the few jobs paying very high that skew the average.

JRobby's picture

You did not think propaganda was important because like I also thought, people were intelligent and saw right through it. I grew up and lost my optimism.

People are trained to do things by educational institutions, not trained how to think.

prime american's picture
prime american (not verified) JRobby Mar 6, 2017 7:21 AM

I'm making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do...

Antifaschistische's picture

there you have it, just take those percentages and use that as the percentage of tuition that you are capable of borrowing from any student loan program.

Sanity Bear's picture

It's a good rough measure of the percentage of bullshit in each field.

crossroaddemon's picture

I encourage the study of lesbians. Preferably two of them at once, in your bed. Highly recommended. 

A Nanny Moose's picture

Pear shaped gender studies? No thanks.

crossroaddemon's picture

Ok who is the no-fun loser who just downvoted threesomes?!

JRobby's picture

Like a motorcycle with straight pipes and a sound system loud enough to be heard over the straight  pipes?

Did Mom & Dad ignore?

Takeaction2's picture
Takeaction2 (not verified) apu123 Mar 5, 2017 10:33 PM is incredible that there is a new batch of 16 year olds every year that want that big bass.   32 Years of Car is amazing how the technology has advanced from this..."Handsome Underdash installation.."  LOL This was before my time...but funny.

Swamidon's picture

Knew a guy who went to a factory school in Italy and became certified in one high performance car adjustment that regular mechanics couldn't do.  He found a niche and traveled the world but never worked more than 2-3 afternoons a week, made big bucks and never got his hands dirty again.

Graph's picture

"Urban Myth" model.





bluskyes's picture

Needed for tractor trailers too

gespiri's picture

An old man in a bus was staring at a young punk whose hair was dye in orange, purple, and pink.  The young punk asked, "What are you staring at, old man?"  The old man said, "I fucked a parrot when when I was younger....I thought you were my kid!" - Jackie Martling.

ThisIsMadness's picture

It is the same for Auto Body Technician. It is very easy to make $60-$70k right out of tech school.

Duc888's picture


Where's Butthurtology?  I don't see that anywhere.  That chart is not complete.  We've hatched a lot of useless larvae in the last 20 years in Butthurtology.

Ex-Oligarch's picture

75% of literature majors are lying.
So are most of the modern languages majors.

chiquita's picture

When I saw Literature on par with Engineering and ahead of Healthcare, I decided this whole thing has to be bogus.  Unless, as the other comment indicates Literature majors are already wealthy (a la trust fund babies), I can't see where there's a market for that degree.  You could teach Literature, but there aren't a whole lot of those positions available and it would require a higher level degree to do that.  To become a best selling author, you wouldn't necessarily major in Lit, you'd probably get a degree in English with a lot of writing courses in your curriculum and literature is included in the major.  That doesn't guarantee success--not all best selling authors necessarily have degrees in English, Journalism or anything related.  Just hope no high schoolers who like Literature base their college major decisions on this study.  

M O B's picture

"Literature" probably encompasses creative writing, English, Comp Lit, and who knows how many others here. Those are headings, not actual degrees as you can tell by looking at some of the other examples. There is no such degree as "Natural Sciences" or "Life Sciences." Those are colleges within the university that can contain dozens of majors, not individual degrees.

Anyway, the survey is not about salaries or some other more "objective" measurement. It's about their self-reported assessment. 

JRobby's picture

To become a best selling author you have to know how to write.

bh2's picture

No, you just need a good editor. :)

canisdirus's picture

That Engineering is a sure bet is a huge fallacy. The reason so many don't think it was worth it is because a large percentage are going into fields that are flooded with people on work visas and they can't get their feet in the door anywhere, meaning a large percentage are underemployed or unemployed.

Due to all the competition, pay scales are pretty sad, too. The one at the top is up there because they have very little foreign competition coming in to take their jobs. Most third world diploma mills don't touch these for some reason.

M O B's picture

Ex-Oligarch, so you think people are lying about their own satisfaction levels? Because? This is soft data, not hard. I'm sorry other people's opinion about their own satisfaction levels does not fit your narrow preconceived worldview. 

Anyway, this whole idea that the "degree" is inherently meaningful is BS. The post-college world is not about which degree you have (but you largely do need one), but about hard work, brains, and the ability to learn and think (and luck). None of those are a major in college, but one can learn them in any major under the right circumstances.


jakesdad's picture

are you serious?  you want to put cappuccino makers in the hands of people WITHOUT masters degrees in literary deconstruction of gender fluidity?!?  isn't that EXACTLY how the McDonalds incident happened?

CardiacTrader's picture

Interesting. But sometimes it is worthwhile to get a substantative degree despite the fact one may not make as much money. 

coast1's picture

I want a degree in LSD...I kid you not, I did it in my twenties in low doses and it was great...Others wanted to do the whole tab and watch walls melt but it wasnt for me......Pure LSD is a must for everyone. In small doses.  I just saw a documentary, the bankers used it to test etc, and they decided it needed to be banned because it wakes you up to reality....After my connection got caught, luckily he only got probation, I could not find true LSD anymore so I quit...Funny thing? the LSD told me, "you dont need me anymore", you found as much as you need to know and the rest is up to you...its the same with other natural substances that help us expand our minds...Alcohol is legal, but any herb that makes you rise above the matrix is illegal thru the FDA system....go figure..

chiquita's picture

I want a degree in LSD.


I believe that's the first one on the list--Chemistry (-:  Actually, without knowing how old you are, this is what LSD was used for from the 1940s to the late 1960s.  One of the more famous users in a therapeutic way was actor Cary Grant, who was prescribed it by a Dr. Hartman.  Grant was outspoken in praising the transformative effects of LSD, which he believed helped him get in touch with himself and take responsibility for his behavior/actions.  He apparently had a family history of crazy mother, father abandoned the family and he ran away from home at a young age to go to work to escape it all so he was not exactly stable.  Claimed LSD helped him--kind of like what you're saying.  Better living through Chemistry... 

83_vf_1100_c's picture

Cary Grant dropped acid? Might help explain why he found Gomer Pyle's ass attractive. Or, do I have my actors confused?

coast1's picture

For all of the downvotes I say this....I have 37 acres paid off, and I started off very poor....did it all myself...I grow my own off grid...I have an off grid situation out of the city.....but I also have a studio in the city...I raised two kids and they are doing well..I have money and lotsa silver, 25 year storage food, a good heart and even have music I play in town and an very well liked.  I can hit a pop can at 100 yards etc... I also know about the matrix.  Say what you will, but my spiritual belief system and beleif in natural herbs has done me well..  never got involved in the stock market, I dont gamble, but gave my life to the universe and wisdom and am doing fine...I started off, dirt poor and never given anything, and I know at 59 I will probably never see my social security ...I like pink floyd and chris rea, while other like popular those that downvoted me, tell me you have done better.

mtanimal's picture

I up-voted you and what you have described is a better life than what 99% can claim.


I annihilated the so-called 'matrix' March 10th 2008 around 11:00am Bear Stearns time New York shitty, and that's why it has failed the Oiligopoly since 08. Don't fret about the God damned dead matrix anymore, and I'm upvoting you for starting off poor as dirt and getting 37 acres. I, for one hope your home grown is good stuff, and the tunes keep playin'.

observer2017's picture

you might want to write a manual or a book..make even more money. 

CurrencyCrash's picture

Why would anyone downvote such a success story?
Kudos to you brother.

gaoptimize's picture

Please plan on living to the longevity escape velocity circa 2035.

mtanimal's picture

In retrospect, you make a fine point.

graftvshost's picture

Go for a minor in psilocybin. An easy 2yr degree compared to acid's relatively intense 4yr track.


My brother told me I could smoke Hash & Weed, but he told me not to do LSD, or any pharmaceuticals, or he would get after me. I followed his advice and never touched anything more than hash, weed, and mushrooms. Friends I had that tried LSD got fucked up after doing it too often. One friend suicided, and the rest quit soon afterwards.


No LSD degree for me thanks.



JRobby's picture

Most people have no idea what you just said.

This is why the construct perpetuates. Once you see the construct, you are free to embrace it, reject it, move in and out if it at will.

That was my experience anyway. The stream of time is multi dimensional. You must strive to inhabit several of them simultaneously. 

Ben A Drill's picture

I think the school of hard knocks is what most students are missing.