Special Report

Lowest Paying Jobs for College Grads


The benefits of having a bachelor’s degree are many and well documented. Chief among them is the opportunity for higher-paying jobs. While jobs that require training and education certainly tend to a pay more, a college degree by no means guarantees a high salary. In fact, the typical annual wage for occupations that require a college degree is as little as $20,000.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the median annual wage for jobs classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as typically requiring a bachelor’s degree. Even the lowest paying jobs among them tend to be relatively high paying. The median annual salaries of the 14 jobs on this list are all less than $50,000. In all but four of these occupations, the typical worker earns more than the national median wage of $36,200 a year.

It may puzzle some to learn that there are jobs that require the most education but pay some of the lowest wages. However, there will likely always be people who choose greater levels of education and careers for reasons other than money. Six of the 14 occupations on this list are jobs typically found at religious or educational institutions.

Click here to see the lowest paying jobs for college grads.

Student debt levels and tuition costs are rising in the United States. However, need-based financial aid and government forgiveness programs make going to college in order to pursue a low-paying profession a reasonable option for many Americans. After 10 years of public service, for example, college loans may be completely forgiven.

Employment in several of the lowest paying jobs for college graduates is expected to decline over the next decade, but others will likely growth considerably. By 2024, employment across all occupations is projected to grow by 6.5%. Five of the 14 jobs are expected grow faster than average, while the number people employed in four of these occupations is expected to decline.

To identify America’s lowest paying jobs for college graduates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2015 annual median pay data for 449 jobs tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the broad occupation level of aggregation — the third of four government labor classifications. Only jobs that typically require at least a bachelor’s degree were considered. 2014 employment figures, and projected change in employment from 2014 to 2024 came from the BLS.

These are the lowest paying jobs for college graduates.

Red Barn at dusk with cows, Farm
Source: Thinkstock

14. Farm and home management advisors
> Median annual wage: $49,190
> 2014 jobs: 10,800
> Projected job chg.: +10.9%

Agricultural inspectors are one of several farm-related occupations on this list. Farm and home management advisors work with individuals, families and institutions in agricultural businesses. People employed as agricultural advisors frequently conduct classes, perform research, or serve as consultants. These workers typically have a college degree but are paid less than $50,000 a year. While the typical salary is substantially greater than the median salary for all occupations of $36,200, it is one of the lowest compared with other occupations that require at least a bachelor’s degree. Such low-paying but relatively high-skilled jobs are common in the education and government sectors, which together are the largest employers of farm and home management advisors.

Bride With Wedding Planner In Marquee, Event Planner
Source: Thinkstock

13. Meeting, convention, and event planners
> Median annual wage: $46,840
> 2014 jobs: 100,000
> Projected job chg.: +9.9%

Employment in several of the lowest paying jobs for college graduates is expected to decline over the next decade. However, the job outlook for meeting, convention and event planners is very positive with the number of such jobs projected to grow by 9.9% over the decade ending in 2024, considerably faster than the average employment growth for all occupations. Yet, the profession is not especially well paid relative to the qualifications needed.

Presentation with lcd projector, Audio-visual and multimedia collections specialists
Source: Thinkstock

12. Audio-visual and multimedia collections specialists
> Median annual wage: $45,890
> 2014 jobs: 10,000
> Projected job chg.: +7.9%

The vast majority of audio-visual and multimedia collections specialists, who principally operate multimedia teaching aids, are employed in the education sector. All but a few hundred of these workers are employed at elementary, secondary, college, universities, or professional schools. Like many other education professions, audio-visual and multimedia collections specialists are frequently required to have a college degree — yet are not paid especially well. The typical person working this job earns $45,890 annually, one of the lowest salaries among jobs that require college level education.

Source: Thinkstock

11. Clergy
> Median annual wage: $44,250
> 2014 jobs: 244,200
> Projected job chg.: +5.6%

There are approximately 244,200 members of the clergy across the nation, more than in most low-paying jobs that require a college education. The occupation is also expected to grow by 5.6% over the next decade, slightly slower than the projected employment growth across all occupations.

Agricultural Inspector
Source: Thinkstock

10. Agricultural inspectors
> Median annual wage: $43,380
> 2014 jobs: 14,200
> Projected job chg.: -0.6%

Agricultural inspectors earn some of the lowest salaries compared with other occupations that normally require a college education. However, unlike many other relatively low-paying occupations, pursuing a career in agricultural inspection may pay off even for indebted, budget-conscious college graduates. The median salary of $43,380 a year is well above the median income across all occupations. Also, since state and federal governments are the largest employers of agricultural inspectors, workers in the profession may be eligible for loan forgiveness. After 10 years of public service, student loans may be completely forgiven.

Statistical Assistant
Source: Thinkstock

9. Statistical assistants
> Median annual wage: $42,700
> 2014 jobs: 16,600
> Projected job chg.: -10.9%

With a median annual wage of $42,700 and required skills usually only attained in college, statistical assistant jobs are among the lowest paying occupations for college graduates. Not only is the typical pay for the job disproportionately low, but also the outlook for this occupation is not especially positive. The BLS projects the number of statistical assistant jobs to decline by approximately 11% by 2024, in stark contrast to the projected employment growth of 6.5% across all occupations.

social science research assistant
Source: Thinkstock

8. Social science research assistants
> Median annual wage: $42,480
> 2014 jobs: 32,000
> Projected job chg.: +5.6%

Social science research assistants help social scientists conduct their research, either in the laboratory or in the field. Analyzing survey data and social trends requires skills usually obtained only over the course of a college degree. But while the median annual wage of $42,480 for social science research assistants is well above the median for all occupations, it is not especially high for the level of education and training required.

Biological Technician
Source: Thinkstock

7. Biological technicians
> Median annual wage: $41,650
> 2014 jobs: 79,300
> Projected job chg.: +5.2%

Science, technology, engineering, and math occupations — STEM — are widely considered the most valued fields for employers and employees. Biological technicians are also frequently employed in a laboratory and analyze organic substances like blood, food and drugs. However, these workers may be the exception among STEM employees within the group, as workers in this profession are paid relatively little when compared to other employed college graduates in the field.

Source: Thinkstock

6. Education, training, and library workers, all other
> Median annual wage: $40,380
> 2014 jobs: 124,000
> Projected job chg.: +7.4%

Like other education-related professions, education, training, and library workers are typically required to complete at least a bachelor’s degree. The typical wage of $40,380 is relatively low when compared to other jobs that require such high levels of education. On the other hand, the job is projected to grow relatively fast. The number of people employed in such positions is expected to grow by 7.4% over the next decade, faster than the projected growth of 6.5% for all occupations.

Directors, religious activities and education
Source: Thinkstock

5. Directors, religious activities and education
> Median annual wage: $38,780
> 2014 jobs: 131,900
> Projected job chg.: +4.3%

Directors of religious activities and education are among the five most poorly paid jobs that typically require a college education. It is likely fair to assume that many individuals who pursue a career at religious organizations are doing so for reasons other than monetary gain, as such institutions are frequently run as non-profits. The job is expected to grow over the next decade but at a slower rate than most occupations.

Proofreader and copy markers
Source: Thinkstock

4. Proofreaders and copy markers
> Median annual wage: $35,630
> 2014 jobs: 13,600
> Projected job chg.: -2.4%

There are relatively few proofreaders and copy markers, with just 13,600 people currently employed in the job. Over the next decade, this figure is expected to fall even lower, by 2.4%. Newspapers, periodicals, and other publishers are the largest employers of proofreaders and copy markers, and the projected job losses are likely closely related to the projected declines across the entire industry. Also, with close to 20% of workers self employed — an inherently risky form of employment — job security is certainly not a major benefit of pursuing a career in proofreading and copy marking.

Kindergarten Teacher
Source: Thinkstock

3. Teachers and instructors, all other
> Median annual wage: $28,960
> 2014 jobs: 982,500
> Projected job chg.: +6.8%

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of full-time, often licensed public and private school teachers, there are many other educational roles — substitute teachers, assistant special education instructors, etc. Like their counterparts, these instructors and educators are paid relatively little, despite needing a college education. Nationwide, there are nearly 1 million such workers, making the occupation the sixth most common occupation of the 100 jobs reviewed. With a typical salary of $28,960 a year, however, these particular teachers and instructors are among the lowest paid individuals, not just compared with other employed college graduates, but with all members of the workforce.

Source: Thinkstock

2. Religious workers, all other
> Median annual wage: $28,750
> 2014 jobs: 55,900
> Projected job chg.: +4.7%

Religious workers trail only legislators as the lowest paid workers in a job that requires a college degree. The median wage of $28,750 a year for the occupation is lower than even the median wage for all jobs — even those that only require a high school diploma. While monetary gain is likely not the principal motive of individuals working at religious organizations, many such workers also typically work part time and have additional sources of income.

Source: Thinkstock

1. Legislators
> Median annual wage: $20,500
> 2014 jobs: 58,300
> Projected job chg.: -0.7%

Legislators include all elected officials who develop and enact laws at local, tribal, state, and federal levels. Typically, legislators have at least a bachelor’s degree and gain experience on the job. The median salary of a legislator is $20,500 a year. The federal government frequently forgives student debt for workers after 10 years of public service, so pursuing a career as a legislator is by no means out of reach for indebted students seeking to avoid financial distress. It is not uncommon for legislators to have additional sources of income, and many of the individuals earning such low wages are likely working part time. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, legislative work in most states is equal to about half to two-thirds of the average for a full-time job.

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