best college majors, worst college majors, how to get a job out of college

Worst and Best College Majors

College Majors that Lead to High Paying Jobs

My brother-in-law sent me this link of the Worst and Best College Majors according to Kiplingers. It’s based on data from and Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Kiplingers looked for majors whose graduates—both recent grads (within the past five years) and those well into their careers—face a brutal combination of low compensation and high unemployment.

I’ve been in the staffing industry for years and have hired lots of college graduates in a variety of entry level positions. So here’s my take on this survey:

  • A College Degree is the new High School Diploma. And it’s caveat …
  • A Master’s Degree is the new College Degree.
  • A degree in one these Top 10 Worst Degrees from a Top 10 Best College will mean a job for most graduates.
  • How well you do in college counts.
  • An Internship experience will pave the way for a real job. It’s worth it to work for free.
  • You are your own product. How you market yourself counts for a lot.
  • A poor Social Media footprint can cost you a job offer as can bad credit.

10 Worst College Majors for a Lucrative Career Right Out of College

Or how to take a college major with a statistically low level of compensation and a high degree of competition to get a great job. Yes, you can do it!

10. English

Great written communication skills are always an asset. Write for the school paper, publish your work and make sure your job correspondence is free of grammatical errors to showcase your skills. What jobs require written communications skills? Oh, there are lots of them:

  • Marketing communications
  • Public Relations
  • Human Resources (all that internal communications!)
  • Copywriting

Try to parlay your written communications skills into an area of specialty to turn this skill into a lucrative career. If this area of speciality is also your passion, you are all set and you will never feel like you work a day in your life!

9.  Sociology

Sociology is the study of human behavior so I am thinking marketing: mystery shopper, market research, user experience for website design, consumer market research (aka telephone surveys). If you’ve acquired statistics skills, these are also marketable.

8.  Drama and Theatre Arts

Sales! You are used to rejection and you know how to be “on.” You’d be a natural to convince someone!

7. Liberal Arts

An internship or several would be good. Liberal Arts is just too general.

6. Studio Arts

You have to be savvy at marketing yourself. Take classes on setting up your own website/blog/Etsy store. Learn to build a social media following in order to sell your own creations. You are a creative spirit so you can do this too! Creating a brand of YOU will also give you geographic flexibility.

5. Graphic Design

This is my professional background so my pet peeve is a student portfolio of just class projects. Please get some real world experience by doing freelance or volunteer graphic design projects to put into your portfolio. This will also give you need experience to master the software you are using to do the work. An internship should be particularly easy for these majors. Do a few in a variety of industries: design studios, ad agencies, in-house marketing departments. You can also do paid internships as your first job out of college or art school.

4. Philosophy and Religious Studies

I think you need to couple this with foreign language skills to make this a marketable career. Expertise in Islam with language fluency in Farsi, Arabic and French will open doors for you for example. Will anyone pay you to ponder the nature of the world? Perhaps not. Or maybe a greeting card company would.

3. Film and Photography

If you have skills with complex equipment and/or software that is being used commercially, you are marketable. For photography, that is Photoshop. Make sure you get practical technical skills to parlay into your first job. Your creative skills can be developed there as well.

2. Fine Arts

See #6.

1. Anthropology

See #9


Best College Majors for a Lucrative Career

I would never pick a college major for the highest paying job right out of college. Do you remember that landmark Stanford study of what kids could delay gratification and how that predicted future success? Who knew that refusing a marshmallow in hand for two in twenty minutes would be so telling!

Some of these professions pay well as new grads but cap out without further high education so just beware of that!

10. Medical Assisting Services

9. Management Information Services

8. Construction Services

7. Medical Technologies

6. Electrical Engineering

5. Chemical Engineering

4. Treatment Therapy Professions

3. Transportation Sciences and Technology

2. Nursing

1. Pharmacy and Pharmacology

best college majors, worst college majors, how to get a job out of college

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. I think your warning that some careers pay great right off the bat but then cap out is SO important. I also love the examples you give of how to make a non-practical major a little more lucrative. Great post!
    maryanne recently posted…Quirk Books: Home Economics, Bento Boxes, and Tiny FoodMy Profile

    • Thanks MaryAnne,
      I guess having 25 years in recruiting means you can never take your career advice hat off! Those articles are kinda, sorta correct but can also lead kids astray. Just wanted to make sure parents and kids are well informed. Never give up your dream in a particular major just because some list says you will never get a job or make a lot of money. That is simply not true. I think it’s more important to love what you do and the money will always follow.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Worst and Best College MajorsMy Profile

  2. Great perspective Mia. In theory we all know to follow your heart, but still need reminders once a while – it is so easy to go with what others say … 🙂
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  3. Jeanette Nyberg

    Well this is interesting. First of all, because nothing in the ‘good’ list sounds even remotely interesting to me. Actually, there are so many reasons why this is interesting. I think if I had it to do over again I would major in business/marketing sort of action and minor in art. But not at the time! It was art all the way!
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    • Hi Jeanette,
      I think artists, like authors, need to know how to market and sell their own work. It should be part of their professional training: how to make a website, Marketing 101, the basics of accounting, etc. It’s just the way the world works these days. But, as bloggers, you are now learning the business/marketing of art so it can also be self-taught. It’s ironic how it all comes around full-circle, huh?
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Ninjago on YouTube Lego Channel!My Profile

  4. Lists like this one from Kiplinger’s frustrate me. While I understand that college is expensive and therefore can’t be entered into lightly or without a post-degree game plan, the list implies that the whole reason to go is to earn a lot of money when you get out. It could be your reason. It could be one of your reasons. But it needn’t be. And, honestly, no one majors in philosophy thinking they’re going to get rich off of it.

    Second, a college job (either on campus or off) is just as likely to generate future career possibilities as what you major in. If you know your major was chosen for personal satisfaction, rather than professional, make sure you leverage this option.

    Third, take all such lists with a grain of salt. The First Lady has a sociology degree. The 2012 Cy Young Winner was an English major.
    sprite recently posted…weekendingMy Profile

    • Hi Sprite,
      You are absolutely right! I also want to emphasize how valuable college internships are and that getting real world experience is a very helpful step in getting a job after college, but following your heart is also important.

      My example, my dad friend Josh, had an offer Wall Street analyst job out of college. This is the highest paying job on the planet and his friend who helped get him it thought he was crazy to turn it down. Instead, he took a $12/hour job at Inc. Magazine because he thought publishing was more interesting. His wife tells me that he did two other jobs on the side to make ends meet since $12/hour even 25 years ago wasn’t much. I know he tutored and he did something else as well but I forget.

      He went on to get a Master’s in Education and then worked in publishing at Time Magazine. Now he is a publisher at Harvard Business School Publishing. The upshot is that he loves what he does, he’s very good at it, and from this comes professional and financial success.

      Had he taken the analyst position on Wall Street who knows what would have happened? If it was Lehman, he’s be out of job, most likely. But he had the forethought to take the very low paying job that interested him and use it as a stepping stone rather than take the Golden Handcuff job.
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  5. Asianmommy

    Interesting–I agree that these results can lead you astray, not considering those who go on to get a graduate degree.
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  6. Lisa

    I hate lists that put people in boxes. As we know this world isn’t so black and white. When I was in college and graduate school- people choose majors based on their interests. If they had an interest they excelled -even in English.

    If you start doing things because someone says that it will be lucrative, you are going to be in trouble. I was one of those people and let me tell you , it doesn’t work.

    You have to do what makes you happy because life is too short.

    • Hi Lisa,
      Thank you for sharing your experience and advice. It’s so valuable and I completely agree with you. Chasing money doesn’t seem to work with careers in general. I also truly believe that you have to be passionate about what you do since it’s a very long haul. And if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life, or so the saying goes. But I think that if you enjoy what you do, you tend to think about it and do it all day long, 24/7 because it truly doesn’t feel like work, and that amount of time leads to expertise, which leads to career advancement, which leads to $.
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  7. Ann

    Great post! I would think you would have great insight into this with your staffing background! Completely agree about internships. Real word experience is SO important!
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    • Hi Ann,
      And especially for portfolios like graphic designers, hiring managers want to see real world work, not just student projects. Plus the work will give the students time to develop expertise in the software program. I’d also recommend doing free work for non-profit or friends to get more experience on projects that can help build the portfolio.
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  8. Michael

    Dear Pragmatic Mom,
    I I am afraid you are too politically correct to tell the entire truth and
    to mention the majors which are most reliable resume-killers.

    For example, the so-called women’s studies (gender studies, feminist
    studies – the name may vary). No sane boss will hire a kid who chose to
    substitute a bona fide education with the art of juggling tendentious
    political slogans.

    The same about the so-called Afro-American history (Afro-American
    studies, as they call it at other colleges). I personally believe
    that we have just one American history. Many people will disagree with me.
    I respect their opinion, but the outcome is the same: a degree in this
    major is as reliable a resume-killer as a degree in women’s studies.

    Everyone understands that these majors are too often chosen by the kids
    who prefer easy points to hard work.

    Over the years of my work in the academia, I saw exceptions from this
    rule, but those were not numerous.

    I would yell at my son if he tried to choose anything of this kind.

    An important disclaimer. I am an educated liberal guy from Bethesda, voting
    for Obama, hating NRA, etc. Not a chauvinist pig, as you might have

    • Hi Michael,
      Interesting point. I had a good friend who went to Stanford. I think she majored in English. She then got a Master’s Degree in African American Studies from Cornell. After that, I helped her find work as a contract worker in the Entertainment Industry where she started at Disney and quickly rose through the ranks. She eventually because a known script doctor and landed on the Hollywood Reporter 40 under 40. She wrote for a well known medical TV drama and has a movie in production.

      I honestly think that a college major is less important than in decades past BECAUSE you have to get a graduate degree to be comptitive in today’s global market.

      Major in anything you want to but learn some skills that will always translate into a job. Foreign language fluency would be on the top of my list. Speak at least one more language and preferable two! Do internships to get real world experience while in college! Take time to travel abroad as well!

      And when you get your first “real” job, work hard. Take on more work than assigned. Ask for more work. Be responsible. Be a leader. Work well with others. These are the interpersonal skills that will cause you to be noticed; not your college gpa or degree!

      I don’t think you are a chauvist pig at all and many employers when hiring new grads are trying to match skills with their job opening. Yes, many liberal arts majors just don’t match up compared to a college graduate with accounting, finance, communications, or marketing skills. Someone with a major like Women’s Studies will have to work harder to convince employers what they can deliver.

      But I do believe that everyone should follow their heart and their interests. When you combine different things that don’t necessarily go together, you end up with a very interesting resume I feel!

      And, my background is in staffing. I’ve interviewed over 1000 applicants in face to face interviews and hired for a wide range of positions from interns to executives.
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  9. Michael

    Thank you indeed for taking time to answer my comment.

    Being scientist, I have respect for statistics, and I always try to peel off exceptional cases, to single out the trend.

    When I read your description of the Stanford-and-Cornell lady, my first reaction was to discard the example as very exceptional. Evidently, someone capable of writing a well known medical TV drama and of having a movie in production must be a person of rare merit.

    But then I looked at your story from a different viewpoint, and found it less unique. Usually, the Stanford-and-Cornell combination opens doors for a person who has it on CV. Simply by submitting such a resume, one must get a good chance of being interviewed. Nevertheless, you had to help your protégé to get her first job – and in a pretty special area. My guess is that in her CV the brilliant pedigree was, at least partially, spoiled by her choice of the major. Therefore, **compared to her Ivy-League peers** she probably was at a disadvantage. So she had to speak to a head-hunter.

    I definitely agree with you that everyone should follow their heart and their interests. But then we also have to put ourselves into the shoes of the employer, one who needs the best working force. If the employer looks up the applicant’s major and calculates from it that the applicant has a proclivity to political demagoguery and likes to get easy points – then the employer has a reason to seek a better applicant.

    We scientists have quite a pair of blinkers of our own, and I know that my line of reasoning has a weak point. Not every profession requires analytical skills. Sometimes the ability to operate with words and slogans is of a higher value.

    Still, I believe that **statistically** a bona fide education is safer.

    Thank you very much for your wonderful blog,
    and have a happy and productive new year.

    Just like you, I love Newton MA and sometimes I go there for a walk when visiting Boston

    • Hi Michael,
      I think Hollywood is not especially impressed with Ivy League credentials. It’s really about connections in that world from what I’ve seen. If her background included parents in the film or TV business, it would have opened doors quickly but relationships matter. If you don’t have any to begin with, you just have to take the long road and build them; taking entry level jobs to meet the people in order to impress them.

      But I do believe that anyone can succeed no matter where they went to college or what they majored it. It does take social skills and a seriously impressive work ethic but that seems to be the most important factors of career success.

      Thanks so much for taking time to visit both of my blogs!!!
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