10 College Majors You May Regret Choosing

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No one wants to graduate from college and then go on to work as a receptionist. And yet, that's what happens to some people. Find out which majors produce graduates who are underemployed.

Selecting a college major seems to be a difficult proposition for many students. Liz Freedman of Butler University reports that anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of newly enrolled college students are undeclared majors, and an estimated 3 out of 4 students will change majors at some point.

While we hate to put any more pressure on stressed-out students, we can’t help but point out that a recent report from compensation website PayScale.com finds some majors may be destined to be underperformers. They sound good — “Liberal arts degrees are so flexible!” — but the harsh reality is you may end up underemployed and unhappy.

Here are the 10 bachelor’s degrees PayScale says might be dogs. The job titles represent the occupations commonly held by those with that college major who said they are underemployed.

1. Criminal justice

Percent who say they are underemployed — 62.4 percent.
Starting median salary — $34,500.
Common job titles — paralegal/legal assistant, security guard, police officer

2. Business management and administration

Percent who say they are underemployed — 60 percent.
Starting median salary — $44,300.
Common job titles — office manager, customer service representative, retail store manager.

3. Health care administration

Percent who say they are underemployed — 57.6 percent.
Starting median salary — $43,800.
Common job titles — medical or dental office manager, medical office biller, medical coding specialist.

4. General studies

Percent who say they are underemployed — 54.5 percent.
Starting median salary — $32,100.
Common job titles — administrative assistant, customer service representative, cashier.

5. Sociology

Percent who say they are underemployed — 52.5 percent.
Starting median salary — $38,900.
Common job titles — receptionist, human resources assistant, teacher assistant.

6. English language and literature

Percent who say they are underemployed — 52.1 percent.
Starting median salary — $39,700.
Common job titles — paralegal/legal assistant, administrative assistant, office manager.

7. Graphic design

Percent who say they are underemployed — 51.5 percent.
Starting median salary — $37,300.
Common job titles — Web developer, user interface designer, marketing assistant.

8. Liberal arts

Percent who say they are underemployed — 50.3 percent.
Starting median salary — $34,200.
Common job titles — receptionist, retail store manager, bank teller.

9. Education

Percent who say they are underemployed — 50 percent.
Starting median salary — $40,500.
Common job titles — day care teacher, teacher assistant, tutor.

10. Psychology

Percent who say they are underemployed — 49.5 percent.
Starting median salary — $38,200.
Common job titles — receptionist, retail store manager, bank teller.

By and large, most of those reporting that they are underemployed say so because they believe they’re underpaid. However, PayScale says that for most majors, less than half of those who say they are underpaid actually have incomes more than 10 percent below market pay.

In fact, only 37.7 percent of liberal arts majors who said they were underpaid are actually underpaid. This may indicate that we have inflated the perceived value of degrees to the point where college students have unrealistic ideas about their earning potential after graduation. Or maybe they’ve simply chosen the wrong major.

5 ways to choose a winning college major

So you may be wondering how to pick a major that won’t have you working as a cashier at the mall while paying off your mountain of student loan debt. While there are no guarantees a degree will be a winner and result in a dream job, here are five ways to improve your options:

  • Talk to recent graduates. Don’t trust what the glossy brochure or slick website tells you. Of course they’ll say a general studies degree can be the foundation for many jobs. They want you to enroll. Rather than trust the school, find people who actually graduated with the major you’re considering and see what they say. You can either ask the school to refer you to recent grads or spread the word on your social media sites to find people who’ve been there, done that.
  • Consider whether a bachelor’s degree is enough. The PayScale list may be surprising because it includes some fields you might think would be high-paying. Business administration? Isn’t that supposed to be educational gold? Oh, wait, it’s the MBA – a master’s degree – you’re thinking about. The PayScale report only considers underemployment for those with bachelor’s degrees, and some of these fields may have good job opportunities that pay well, but only if you have an advanced degree.
  • Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you’re not sure whether a bachelor’s degree is enough, head to BLS.gov. This is the website for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency that slices and dices employment numbers for the government. While you can’t look up degrees, you can look up careers. If you want to be a psychologist, the BLS is great for telling you that a bachelor’s degree won’t get you far when you need a doctoral degree to be licensed.
  • Remember regional differences. The BLS will also give you the expected job growth of a career, currently spanning the period from 2012-2022. For example, criminal justice majors will discover that job opportunities for police officers and detectives will increase only 5 percent during that period, a rate slower than average. That said, BLS estimates are national numbers, and job opportunities in your area may be different. Again, talking to recent graduates is a good way to gauge what job market you can expect to encounter if you have the same degree.
  • Choose a STEM major. Finally, if you really want to hedge your bets, select a STEM major. That would be: science, technology, engineering or math. There seems to be some debate about whether there is a shortage of STEM workers, but, as PayScale notes, there isn’t one STEM major on its underemployed list.

Finding the right major is an imperfect process, but a little real-world research goes a long way. Take the time to learn more about job prospects in your region for your chosen field. Pick the wrong major, and you could find yourself taking dictation for the next 30 years.

But, hey, no pressure.

What was your major? Was it a winner or a dud? Tell us why in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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