6 Low-Paying Jobs That Will Squander Your Degree

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6 Low-Paying Jobs That Will Squander Your Degree

If you're after career growth and opportunity, you may want to reconsider these dead-end jobs that may underutilize your diploma.

By Danielle Blundell

Going back to school can be fun, but you better believe that you'll spend some nights burning the midnight oil studying. The fact is earning a degree takes a lot of work - not to mention time and money. So why would you want to waste your degree on a low-paying, dead-end job?

Sure, some of these jobs are labors of love that might tap into one of your passions. But if you're concerned with applying your education in a field where you can make a decent living, then you might want to steer clear of them.

To help, we've identified some alternatives that could make better use of your education by offering more room for growth and better salary potential. Keep reading to learn more.

Low-Pay Job #1:
Recreation Worker

Median Annual Salary:
$22,390*
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$38,890*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$16,990*

Picture yourself leading fun activities for a living? If it seems too good to be true, know that it very well might be. For one: there's the higher education typically required. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, you'll need a bachelor's to pursue full-time work. Then there's the meager wages. Recreation workers have a median salary of just over $22K, reports the Department of Labor.

Why it's low-pay: The problem here with regards to pay may be that the work can be enjoyable, which drives the popularity of the career up and the pay down, says Jim Giammateo, author of the "No Mistakes Careers" self-help book series. "A recreation worker helps people to improve their lives, or make their lives more enjoyable. It's a job that people like doing. As a result, they are willing to work for less to do something they enjoy."

High-Pay Job #1:
Dental Hygienist

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Median Annual Salary:
$71,110*
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$96,690*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$47,880*

What if we told you that you could make a healthy living by helping other people keep their teeth healthy? In fact, dental hygienists have a median salary of more than $70K for helping patients keep up their oral hygiene, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

If that salary is putting a smile on your face, then you may want to consider pursuing this career. According to the Department of Labor, dental hygienists typically only need an associate's and license to start practicing. And there's room for growth here, because as dentists expand their own offices, they'll hire more hygienists to take on and service more patients.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Dental Hygiene Program.

Why it could pay well: According to Giammatteo, pay is high for dental hygienists because they're the go-to people for dentists. "They're not only responsible for a patient's dental health, but they function as the dentist's front line of defense, often handling complaints and resolving them by themselves," he says, which drives salaries up. "Because of this, a good hygienist is in high demand."

Low-Pay Job #2: Radio/TV Announcer

Median Annual Salary:
$29,020
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$75,850
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$17,450

If you're a talker, you may think presenting news and information to listeners could be a great way to earn your dough. And it could - you just might not make very much of it. While the job often requires a bachelor's degree in journalism or a related field, per the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual salary is a paltry $29,020.

Why it's low-pay: This job is fun and engaging, but that appeal drives salaries down, says Jeff Altman, career expert, author, and host of "Job Search Radio," a podcast dedicated to helping job hunters find employment.

Altman says that people pursuing this career face another problem: "Enormous supply, particularly of people who want to do the work and a finite number of jobs," Altman says. Giammatteo adds that the only place to really make money in announcer jobs is in large markets, and there aren't many of those to begin with, beyond the largest cities in the U.S.

High-Pay Job #2: Technical Writer

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Median Annual Salary:
$67,900
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$105,760
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$40,270

It may surprise you, but it's possible to make a good living as a writer - a technical writer, that is. This job has a median salary of $67,900 and involves writing manuals, journal articles, and other supporting documents to communicate technical information, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

If that sounds like your cup of tea, then you may want to put one of the following degrees into good use. Employers generally prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree in journalism, English, or communications, and many jobs also require knowledge in a specialized field, such as engineering, computer science, or medicine, reports the Department of Labor.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Communications Program.

Why it could pay well: The world is becoming increasingly technology-driven, which means that technical writers play an important role in many companies, says Giammatteo. "Non-technical people are being required to learn new things every day," he says. "Some people adapt easily, while others struggle. Companies know that the easier they make it for people to learn their systems, the better a customer they'll have, [which] is where the technical writer comes in."

"It requires a special talent to translate technology into terms the everyday person can understand," Giammatteo continues. "Just try writing an explanation for how to tie a shoelace. Then imagine how difficult that is for learning to run a complex electronic device."

Low-Pay Job #3:
Film Editor

Median Annual Salary:
$54,490
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$128,500
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$25,960

You've loved movies for as long as you can remember, and perhaps you dream of making your own someday. If that's the case, you'd usually need to earn a bachelor's degree, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Unfortunately, studying film and finding a job in the film industry are two different things. While film editors have a decent salary, the Department of Labor says that this job is expected to only grow by a mere 1 percent from 2012 to 2022. So be prepared to face stiff competition in spite of your talent and educational background.

Why it's low-pay: "Film editor jobs fall into the 'I want to do that' trap," says Giammatteo. "Making videos is a hobby for many people, and therefore, attractive as a career. Who doesn't want to work at a job doing what they love?"

Unfortunately, that appeal, in conjunction with the unlikely outcome of making it big, keeps salaries low, he explains.

High-Pay Job #3: Market Research Analyst

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Median Annual Salary:
$60,800
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$114,250
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$33,490

If you're interested in the data behind shopping and business, you may want to use your natural curiosity to pursue a job as a market research analyst. Turns out these marketing professionals have a median salary of $60,800 in this role, which involves crunching data to help businesses and companies understand where, when, and how to market their goods and services, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

So instead of squandering your education, you may want to use your schooling to prep for this field. According to the Department of Labor, you'll need a bachelor's degree in market research or a related field for most positions. Many analysts have degrees in areas such as statistics, math, and computer science, while others have backgrounds in business administration, communications, or the social sciences.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program.

Why it could pay well: According to Giammatteo, the internet has created an increased demand for market research analysts, and that demand has pushed the salaries of market research analysts up.

"The internet has created a new world in more ways than one, but one of the biggest changes is in how people shop," he says. "Market research analysts help companies understand their customers' needs, which allows companies to develop strategies on how to market their products. The good ones are in very high demand."

The bottom line is businesses need these type of people to understand what sells and what people want from the products and services they pay for, says Giammatteo, so they can make themselves more desirable to customers.

Low-Pay Job #4:
Social Worker

Median Annual Salary:
$42,120
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$72,350
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$27,420

If helping others is in your DNA, a career in social work may sound like it'd be a good fit for you. But just be sure that you're okay with earning your degree to make below-average pay. Because social workers have a median annual salary of just $42,120, and most entry-level positions commonly require a bachelor's in social work, notes the U.S. Department of Labor. For certain positions, you might even need a master's, adds the Department of Labor, and while that could improve your pay, the numbers show you're never going to make major bank in this field.

Why it's low-pay: Social work is just one of those fields where even though the work can be emotionally tough and draining, the pay has never really reflected that, says Giammatteo.

"It seems as if social workers have thankless jobs - low pay, combined with a constant barrage of problems," says Giammatteo, from the stressful nature of their work to the lack of resources. "The appeal for the people who are drawn to this field has to be the ability to make a difference in someone's life. And that reward is often worth the sacrifices they make."

High-Pay Job #4: Human Resources Manager

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Median Annual Salary:
$100,800
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$177,460
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$58,780

You're a people-person with the ability to talk to anyone, so maybe you should consider a career as a human resources manager. You'd spend your days mediating disputes, staffing jobs, and advising managers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Plus, human resources managers have a median salary of about $100,800.

Not bad for a job that usually only requires a bachelor's degree. According to the Department of Labor, you typically need a bachelor's in human resources or business administration. However, several years of work experience will be needed to pursue higher-level jobs, so be ready to work for a bit less before your big pay day comes. Either way, your diploma might be well spent on this career.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Human Resources Program.

Why it could pay well: According to Giammatteo, human resources managers have become increasingly important to workforce productivity, and thus salaries have risen accordingly to reflect their importance to businesses.

"Companies now realize that their most valuable asset is their people," says Giammatteo. "And the human resources manager is in charge of not only recruiting those people, but ensuring the company keeps them challenged and happy."

Low-Pay Job #5:
Coach and Scout

Median Annual Salary:
$29,150
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$66,839
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$17,340

Can you see yourself putting together and leading an all-star winning team to glory? It'll take more than bravado and imagination to pursue a career as a coach and scout, as the U. S Department of Labor says you'll typically need a bachelor's and deep knowledge of a particular sport. But you may be shocked to find that coaches and scouts have a median annual salary of only $29,150, according to the Department of Labor. Talk about a sad stat.

Why it's low-pay: The salary in this job is low, because the most attainable positions at the local level are part-time and thus don't pay what a full-time position would, says Altman. But those factors don't necessarily deter everyone.

"These jobs are almost exclusively filled by people who love what they do, and most of them are willing to do it for less," Giammatteo explains. So if your love of the game outweighs your desire for higher pay, then "play ball."

High-Pay Job #5: Software Developer (Applications)

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Median Annual Salary:
$92,660
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$143,540
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$55,770

Has there ever been a better time to be a computer nerd? Programming video games and writing software has become a lucrative field. So if you're interested in tech, consider pursuing a job as an applications software developer, in which you'd design computer applications, from databases to word processors, for consumers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Another reason to consider this job is its major earning power - applications developers have a median salary of $92,660, reports the Department of Labor. With a salary like that, the time and effort you spend on your education could be well worth it. Developers typically have a bachelor's in computer science along with strong computer programming skills, says the Department.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

Why it could pay well: According to Altman, right now, there are few candidates that have the right combo of tech savvy, problem-solving skills, and creative thinking needed for this career. Software development has a "low supply to enormous demand in a market that is extremely segmented," he says, and employers are willing to pay for those very niche skills and that specialized knowledge.

Low-Pay Job #6:
Craft and Fine Artist

Median Annual Salary:
$42,610
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$91,200
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$18,450

You've always been creative and loved making things. But chances are, you're probably not going to become the next Picasso or Andy Warhol after art school. A lot of artists earn bachelor's degrees in their respective fields, as the U.S. Department of Labor notes, but even with a college diploma in hand, this is a pretty low-paying gig for most.  Craft and fine artists have a median salary of just $42,610 - so it might be best to leave the crafting and art making as a hobby.

Why it's low-pay: The low pay in the arts can be attributed to poor self-marketing, says Debra Benton, recruiting expert and author of The CEO Difference. Giammatteo adds that it's also because there's simply so much competition, and the chances of making it big are slim.

While artists have a passion for what they do, "[they] seem to have a love-hate relationship with their jobs," says Giammatteo. He explains that artists pursue their careers, because they have a strong desire to do so, whether or not it pays.

High-Pay Job #6:
Art Director

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Median Annual Salary:
$83,000
Top 10 Percent of Earners:
>$169,450
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners:
<$44,500

Art and design is everywhere - on the streets, in your home, and on the internet - so being a starving artist isn't your only option. Your best bet in a creative field might be a career as an art director. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, these are the go-to folks for designing visual materials for everything from magazines to television productions.

So don't let your art degree go to waste. Instead, you could pursue this career, which requires at least a bachelor's in an art or design-related field along with previous work experience. The time spent earning your degree could pay off, since the Department of Labor reports that art directors have a median salary of $83,000.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Graphic Design Program.

Why it could pay well: According to Giammatteo, the art director's role at a company has expanded in recent years, and working in the emerging areas of digital and social media has upped salaries. Branding is everything to businesses today, so companies are willing to shell out more dough for these professionals, he explains.

"With so many companies looking to 're-brand' themselves and make a digital impact, the job of art director has taken on new roles," he says. "They can no longer be concerned only with print; they must now understand the Internet, the new frontiers of digital publishing, and the impact social media can have on a company's brand."

*All salary information from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Employment and Wages data, May 2013.

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