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Worst-Paying College Degrees of 2011

Worst-Paying College Degrees of 2011

In numerous studies on career satisfaction, salary places surprisingly low on the list of things that make workers happy. Other concerns -- such as work-life balance and a feeling of making a difference -- are more important to many people.       

And when you take a look at the college degrees that bring in the lowest salaries, many of them qualify a person to work in a helping profession (social work, for example).

These workers are clearly not motivated solely by money.

However, it's also worth noting that people who have many of these degrees go for further education, thus increasing their earning power. Plus, more and more people are switching careers once or twice in their lives. The degree you get today doesn't necessarily determine what you'll be doing 15 or 20 years from now.

As they say, money can't buy happiness. But if you think you'll want to purchase some, you may want to avoid these courses of study -- the worst-paying degrees of 2011.*

1. Child and Family Studies

Often a step toward further studies (in education or family counseling, for instance), this degree is the lowest-paying on the list, in terms of both starting and mid-career salary. On the other hand, this degree also prepares a person for parenthood -- which many people consider to be the most rewarding job possible.

Starting median salary: $29,600; mid-career median salary: $40,500

2. Elementary Education

Teaching is a noble career. While teacher salaries are low, job opportunities for teachers are expected to grow by 14 percent this decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Starting median salary: $32,400; mid-career median salary: $44,000

3. Social Work

Social workers offer an indispensable safety net for people who've fallen on hard times. And the BLS reports a favorable outlook for opportunities in this field -- particularly for social workers who work in rural areas or with senior citizens.

Starting median salary: $32,200; mid-career median salary: $44,300

4. Culinary Arts

For food lovers who dream of becoming chefs or opening their own restaurants, happiness is about cooking up delicious dishes, not a big paycheck. Plus, in this field, meals are often included in a day's work.

Starting median salary: $29,900; mid-career median salary: $46,800

5. Special Education

Although the pay may be low, this is work anyone can be proud of. Traditional licensing in this field requires the completion of at least a bachelor's degree; some states require a master's degree. The BLS predicts excellent job prospects, in part due to reported shortages of qualified teachers.

Starting median salary: $34,300; mid-career median salary: $47,800

6. Recreation and Leisure Studies

It shouldn't come as a surprise that a degree in leisure will not put you on the fast track to a supersize salary. All joking aside, this field of study covers leisure, recreation and play-related phenomena, including human behavior, social issues and public policy. Grads who earn this degree often seek further education (becoming, for instance, recreational therapists).

Starting median salary: $34,500; mid-career median salary: $49,100

7. Religious Studies or Theology

People who earn this degree aren’t in it for the money. They often feel they're pursuing a higher calling and have a strong desire to do good in the world, no matter the cost.

Starting median salary: $32,300; mid-career median salary: $50,600

8. Athletic Training

Athletic trainers prevent, diagnose, treat and rehab injuries and sport-related illnesses. They also prevent and treat chronic musculoskeletal injuries from sports, physical and occupational activity and provide immediate care for acute injuries.

Starting median salary: $34,600; mid-career median salary: $50,200

9. Public Health

Public health offers many career paths. Whether you crunch numbers, conduct research or work with people, you know you’re working to improve others' lives. Higher-paying careers in public health generally require an advanced degree.

Starting median salary: $35,500; mid-career median salary: $51,700

10. Art

A degree in art prepares you for many careers in visual arts -- but, unfortunately, art is one of those fields where many of the most famous practitioners didn't find commercial success until it was too late for them to enjoy it.

Starting median salary: $35,300; mid-career median salary: $52,400

* Based on PayScale Salary Survey data for full-time employees in the US who possess a bachelor's degree and no higher degrees. All colleges and universities across the nation were included. Salary is the sum of compensation from base salary, bonuses, profit sharing, commissions and overtime (if applicable). This survey is part of PayScale's Best Colleges Report.

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