The 10 worst-paying college majors, five years after graduation


College graduates who studied liberal arts or education aren't likely to make a lot of money in their careers, but a degree in theology results in the lowest payout of all majors right after college, new data reveals.

Graduates who major in theology and religion earn median salaries of $36,000 five years after college, according to a New York Federal Reserve analysis. As an hourly wage for full-time work, that comes out to just over $17 per hour.

That's followed by family and consumer science, social service, psychology, performing arts and leisure and hospitality majors, who all make less than $40,000 five years after graduation.

Here's a look at how much graduates with the lowest-paying majors earn early in their careers:

Median pay for each of the majors on the list is at least $6,500 less than the median salary for all majors, which is $46,500. 

While teachers tend to have good job security, summers off and pensions, they're mostly paid by state governments, which haven't kept wages in line with inflation over the years. Likewise, theology majors often work in educational roles that don't typically pay well.

In contrast, the highest-paying majors are all in STEM fields, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. STEM jobs are in high demand since they are expected to grow twice as fast as non-STEM jobs through 2031. The 10 best-paid majors five years after college are mostly subsets of engineering. Chemical engineers took the No. 1 spot with a median salary of $75,000.

Later on in their careers, the pay disparity nearly doubles, as graduates with the lowest-paying majors earn median salaries less than $60,000 while graduates with the highest-paying majors make over six figures.

Here's a look at the rankings for mid-career graduates:

Graduates who majored in early childhood education earn the least midway through their careers with a median salary of $43,000. That's only $3,000 more than what they make right after college. Six other types of education majors populate the top 10 rankings for lowest mid-career salary as well.

Those who majored in theology and religion make a bit more over time, with median mid-career earnings of $52,000.

Data for this study was compiled from U.S. Census reports from 2021, the most recent available. Specifically, the data is based on college graduates who work full-time, have a bachelor's degree only and are ages 22 to 27. Data for mid-career graduates is based on those aged 35 to 45 who have earned a bachelor's degree or higher.

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