Degrees That Could Leave You High And Dry After Graduating

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You know what's really smart? Making sure your degree gives you a good return on the time and money you invest in it.

By Jennifer Berry

Are you thinking about going back to school for a degree? It's great to expand your mind, discover new things, and challenge your understanding of the world. But let's get real - if you're hoping for a good career at the end of your educational journey, not all degrees are created equal.

Some degrees, it seems, won't provide you with much in the way of career options. "Do not assume that earning a degree necessarily makes you more marketable," says Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers (a company that helps clients with job searches) and author of "Happy About My Job Search: How to Conduct an Effective Job Search for a More Successful Career."

With the wrong degree, you might find it difficult to get a job, either because employers aren't interested in the skills you're bringing to the table - or because you got a degree in a field where jobs are scarce to begin with, says Safani.

Want to make sure you don't waste your time barking up the wrong educational tree? Read on to learn about six degrees that might not be worth your investment - along with some alternatives to consider that could pay dividends down the road.

Degree #1: Anthropology

You're fascinated by people, culture, and society - so anthropology is the perfect degree for you, right? Sure - if you're ready to compete for one of very few available jobs when you graduate.

Why It's a Waste: "Opportunities for anthropologists are frequently limited to academic settings or laboratories, and these roles may require an advanced degree," Safani says.

And if you can't find a job in an academic setting, you might have trouble finding a job in the corporate world, period. "It may be harder for a corporation to make the connection between the critical skills learned through the degree program and their open positions," Safani warns.

In fact, according to the 2012 Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report titled "Hard Times: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal," recent grads who majored in anthropology and archaeology have a scary unemployment rate of 10.5 percent.*

What to Earn Instead: Criminal Justice

Criminal justice majors seem to fare much better, with recent grads facing an unemployment rate of only 7.6 percent, according to the Georgetown report.

"The criminal justice degree can add value in a number of settings, including government agencies, law offices, and fraud and security operations in many companies," says Safani.

Click to Find the Right Criminal Justice Program.

Some of the vocations in which criminal justice majors seek employment are probation officer and correctional treatment specialist. These careers typically require a bachelor's degree in one of a handful of possible majors, criminal justice being one of them, notes the U.S. Department of Labor. A job as a police officer doesn't require a bachelor's degree, but the Department of Labor notes that some college coursework is required by many agencies.

Degree #2: Architecture

Are you so inspired by the soaring structures downtown that you're thinking of majoring in architecture? If so, get comfortable - you'll probably be in school for longer than your friends. And when you do hit the job market, things might get uncomfortable quickly.

Why It's a Waste: According to the Georgetown report, "some occupation-specific majors, such as architecture, were hurt by the recession and fared worse than general skills majors."

Which explains why the jobs outlook isn't exactly sunny. Recent college graduates in architecture face a daunting unemployment rate of 13.9 percent, notes the Georgetown report.

But architecture majors themselves are not necessarily to blame here, as Safani points out that major economic shifts have had a big impact on the field: "The construction industry has been hit hard over the past few years so jobs for architects are shrinking as well."

What to Earn Instead: Accounting

If you're going to spend the time and money earning a bachelor's degree, accounting is one that could deliver a great return on investment.

"People with accounting backgrounds remain in high demand," Safani says. "Every organization needs accountants and they will be in demand regardless of shifts in the economy."

Indeed, the Georgetown study reports an unemployment rate for recent accounting majors of only 6.8 percent.

Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

Most employers require accountants to have their bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.  

Degree #3: Information Science

You like computers. You like people. It makes sense that you'd want to get your degree in information science, where you can study both at the same time, but you'll want to look before you leap into this major.  

Why It's a Waste: In an information science degree program, you might explore human-computer interaction, multimedia systems, and information architecture, according to the College Board, a nonprofit organization that promotes excellence in higher education. What's the problem with that?

"Employers favor hardcore technical skills over theoretical ones," Safani warns. And information science programs can skew more theoretical than practical. That might not be a problem - unless you're up for a job against someone with a degree in an area like computer science.

What to Earn Instead: Computer Science

The numbers don't lie. The unemployment rate for recent grads in computer science is at a fairly low 7.8 percent, according to the Georgetown study.

But how is it so different from information science? "The computer science degree may offer more opportunities to learn specific programming languages that are extremely marketable where the information science degree may focus heavily on the theory side of IT," explains Safani.

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

If you want to pursue a promising field, the U.S. Department of Labor expects jobs for software developers (who usually have a bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or something related) to grow by 30 percent from 2010 to 2020.

Degree #4: Film Video and Photographic Arts

Okay, who hasn't had the fantasy of going off to live the glamorous life of a Hollywood filmmaker or a fashion photographer? Fantasy is healthy, but before you decide to follow this fantasy all the way to a degree, you might want to run a quick reality check.

Why It's a Waste: According to the Georgetown report, unemployment for recent film video and photographic arts graduates is a whopping 12.9 percent. Still sound like a dream?

There are a few more complications too, as Safani points out. "Much of the work in film and video is done in Los Angeles or New York, and if you do not reside in one of these geographies, opportunities for this type of work could be somewhat limited," she says. Not only that, but the work is unsteady and may not offer the compensation and benefits you might get somewhere else, says Safani.

But this doesn't necessarily mean you have to say goodbye to your creative side in order to make a living...

What to Earn Instead: Graphic Design

The healthy creative field of graphic design offers both usable skills and job prospects. "With a graphic design background you can apply these skills to just about any industry and any geography," Safani says. "Every company needs people to design marketing collateral, brand messaging, websites, etc."

To get started as a graphic designer, you'll typically be required to have a bachelor's degree in graphic design, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Already have a bachelor's in another field? You can "pursue technical training in graphic design to meet most hiring qualifications," notes the Department of Labor.

Click to Find the Right Graphic Design Program.

Although the unemployment rate for majors in this field isn't significantly lower than film video and photographic arts (only 11.8 percent for commercial art and graphic design, per the Georgetown report), the U.S. Department of Labor projects that an impressive 37,300 new graphic design jobs will be added between 2010 and 2020.

Degree #5: Studio Art

Maybe the Hollywood spotlight is too garish for you - you're the quiet, introspective, cerebral artist dedicated to studio arts like painting, printmaking, or sculpture. But think twice before spending your precious time and money trying to become the world's next Warhol.

Why It's a Waste: While the Georgetown report doesn't supply an exact unemployment figure for recent graduates of studio art, it does note that "unemployment rates are generally higher in non-technical majors, such as the Arts (11.1 percent)."

Safani sees a lot of drawbacks for this major: "It can be challenging to make a living as an artist and it doesn't have immediate relevance to the corporate world." That sounds a bit like a lose-lose situation.

What to Earn Instead: Education

You know what they say: If you can't do, then teach. But earning a degree in education and then pursuing a career as an art teacher might be a way to have the best of both worlds.

"If you study education instead, you would have the credentials to teach art at many different levels to many different populations," suggests Safani. What's more, the unemployment rate for recent college grads who major in general education is a low 6 percent, notes the Georgetown study, which means following this path could give you multiple career options.

Click to Find the Right Education Program.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that some high school teachers focus their instruction on special subject areas, like art or music. That's good news for any would-be educators who are closet artists. If you'd like to teach high school, you'll be required to have a bachelor's degree, notes the Department of Labor. A state-issued certification or license will also be needed if you want to teach in a public high school.

Teaching might be a way for you to share your love of art with the next generation all while earning a living wage. Who says all artists are starving?

*The Georgetown study defines "recent college graduates" as bachelor's degree holders between the ages of 22 and 26.

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