15 Worst Careers If You Want to Pay Off Your College Debt

Protestors in London march against increasing debt from student loans
Protestors in London march against increasing debt from student loans | Rob Stothard/Getty Images

The average college student graduates in a significant financial hole. In order to pay for college, student loans have become a de facto necessity for most. While it’s never been easier to find money to pay for school, the levels of student debt have also never been higher. And there’s no real plan to deal with it.
Meanwhile, those burdened by the weight of student loans are becoming more and more conscious of the doors their degrees open. Or don’t open, in some cases. A college degree isn’t a guarantee of a job, unfortunately, though that’s how many students think of it. While the saying once used to go something like “always shoot for your dreams,” it is now arguably morphing into something that resembles “always shoot for something that has the biggest payoff.”
Or enough of a payoff that you can scrape and crawl your way out of debt.
The jobs of today, however, are not the jobs of tomorrow. So, you’ll need to do some planning to make sure you choose a career path that will be economically viable. In order to figure out which jobs you should avoid, we dug through data from two sources, Bankrate and PayScale, to compile a list of jobs that provide the worst return on investment on their associated college degrees.
The Bankrate data uses education cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics and occupational data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Costs for undergraduate education take into account tuition, fees, and room and board of a four-year in-state public school with no scholarships, while graduate degrees costs are based off NCES data regarding tuition and fees for the specific area of study. In the following list, the final nine jobs are from the Bankrate report. The preceding six are from PayScale’s report.
Here are 15 career paths that will make it very difficult to pay off your college debt.

15. Exercise science

A trainer works with a client in a gym
A trainer works with a client in a gym | iStock.com

A degree in exercise science can be versatile, but the earnings (especially at first) leave a lot to be desired. Studying exercise science can lead to a degree as a trainer in fields related to physiology, or to a career in physical therapy. But again, if you plan on repaying student loans from an expensive school, this may not be a viable path.

14. Health administration

An administrator visits a patient in a hospital room
An administrator visits a patient in a hospital room | Mike Simons/Getty Images

If the world needs anything, it’s more administrators. And if you’ve been around a hospital or doctor’s office recently, it might seem that there is a seemingly endless supply of health care administrators. It’s not a bad job, but PayScale’s data says that it doesn’t typically lead to a financial windfall for new graduates. Starting salaries are typically in the mid-$30,000s, with mid-career earnings of around $56,000.

13. Ministry and theological services

Christian evangelicals attend a church service
Christian evangelicals attend a church service | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

People don’t typically go into the ministry for the money. But Pat Robertson does make it look pretty lucrative. This is a service-oriented career, and one that attracts a very specific type of individual. The earnings are rough, though. PayScale’s report names several specific paths that are often bad choices for new graduates, all with earnings in the low to mid-$30,000 range.

12. Human services

A nurse takes notes as elderly patients sit at a table
A nurse taking notes at a facility that cares for elderly people with dementia | Carsten Koall/Getty Images

There isn’t a broader descriptor of a career path than “human services.” And it is broad. Just take a look at the descriptor from the National Organization for Human Services. What you need to know, however, is that these careers don’t typically pay well, making the ROI on a college degree tough to square.

11. Culinary arts

A man cracks an egg
Working at a restaurant won’t necessarily take care of your debt | iStock.com

Culinary arts involve exactly what you’re thinking — cooking. Degrees for these jobs can be expensive, although it is possible to work your way up through a kitchen over the years. But kitchens are notoriously difficult to work in, and the pay is usually lousy. Starting salaries for those with a degree in culinary arts average at a little more than $33,000, and mid-career salaries, according to PayScale, average out at $56,000.

10. Social work

A social worker speaks to an old woman
A social worker engages in a conversation with an elderly woman | Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images

The world needs social workers. But the job is very tough, the hours are often strange, and the pay is especially poor. PayScale’s data says that social workers start out at around $33,000, and are earning an average of $45,700 by the middle of their careers.
The final nine jobs, comprising the rest of this list, are from the Bankrate report mentioned previously.

9. Political science teachers

A college professor speaks to his class
A college professor speaks to his class | John Moore/Getty Images

If there’s one thing this list will make obvious, it’s that the ROI on a teaching degree isn’t what many would hope it would be. Case in point, political science teachers.
The level of specialization may seem extreme, but it makes more sense when considering how different areas of teaching require different levels of schooling. To perform this job, students needs to invest in at least six years of undergraduate and graduate education, which will cost them about $68,010.

8. Public relations specialist

A PR specialist gives advice to her client
A PR specialist gives advice to her client | iStock.com/Szepy

Next up, the public relations specialist. Though it sounds like an attractive job, many folks in PR will find themselves paying off their student loans for 14.67 years after their graduation. It does take a student less time to obtain this PR position compared to that of the political science teacher. However, the profession’s pay is also substantially lower at $54,170.

7. English teacher

An English tutor helps a student
An English tutor helps a student | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Worse than a political science teacher, a post-secondary English language or literature teacher ranks at number seven. It’ll take students six years to obtain the necessary education for this position, and it will cost them the same amount — $68,010. But unfortunately for these potential Shakespeare lovers, literature teachers end up making about $12,000 less than political science nerds, posting a median salary of $60,040.

6. Zoologist

Disney's Zootopia
Lt. Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde from Disney’s Zootopia | Disney

If you want to be a zoologist or wildlife biologist, we have bad news. These animal lovers will be in school for six years, and it’ll take them 20.58 years to ultimately pay off the $60,010 in debt they’ll acquire. Zoologists post a median salary of $60,040, lower than that of English literature teachers.

5. Librarian

A young man reads a book in the library
A young man reads a book in the library | iStock.com/anyaberkut

You may find workers of this next profession with their noses in their books. And who can blame them when it takes six years to obtain the necessary education to become a librarian, and almost thrice that amount of time to pay the education off? Librarians will eventually make a median income of $55,370, but their loans will continue to be repaid for as long as 22.37 years.

4. Teacher (general)

A teacher instructs a boy with a tablet
A teacher instructs a boy with a tablet | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Bankrate calls this a full-time teacher. Students who wish to pursue this path will make about $30,000 less than their counterparts who teach post-secondary education, such as political science or English lit teachers. To become a full-time teacher, students are required to be in school for four years, amassing an average of $52,596 in debt. This is substantially less than the cost of a degree for post-secondary teachers. However, as mentioned the full-time teachers only make $43,400.

3. Veterinarians

A man holds rats in his hand
Working with animals might be a lot of fun, but it won’t pay off those student loans in a timely fashion | Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

If you want to work with animals professionally, it’s probably becoming clear that you’re not going to make much money. And that you’ll be buried in debt for a long time. To become a veterinarian, students need to stay in school for eight years and rack up a lot of debt — as much as $114,268. Unfortunately, a veterinarian’s median income doesn’t do much to justify this cost, posting a figure of $84,460. It will also take veterinarians a whopping 27.92 years to pay off their debt.

2.News reporter

A broadcast reporter searches for his microphone
Do you dream of becoming a journalist? | Adam Berry/Getty Images

Students taking out loans and pursuing a career as a reporter should expect to be indebted to the government for more than 30 years (on average). That is almost eight times the amount of time they’ll spend getting the education required for the job. The main reason is that reporters don’t earn much. Bankrate reports earnings tally up to about $37,090 annually. Their degree, on average, costs them $54,596.

1. Marriage and family therapist

A counselor takes notes
A counselor takes notes as his patient talks | iStock.com | shironosov

Wanting to help families in crisis is noble. Unfortunately, students training for this noble profession, after spending 34.67 years wallowing in student debt, may need some therapy of their own. It takes students pursuing a career in therapy six years to obtain the necessary education, amounting to $68,010 in tuition costs. Once they graduate and obtain their degrees, they’ll make a median average income of $46,670.