Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Careers to Avoid: Lowest-Paying Professional Jobs

There’s a reason your parents were able to work their way through college and graduate without debt. Since 1978, the cost of a college degree has risen by over 1,120%, and student loan debt is approaching $2 trillion. Because of this, one might wonder if college is really worth it.

If you have a degree in computer science, Silicon Valley will pay up to six figures per year. Surgeons rake in an average of $411,334. Compare those two professions with the average American salary, and it's clear that the right higher education pays off big time. However, there are low-paying, stressful professions requiring substantial education, and in many cases are endangered by advancements in technology.

Key Takeaways

  • Student debt continues to spike, with many recent and not-so-recent college graduates struggling to advance in careers as they pay off debt.
  • For graduates working in higher-paying professions like finance and technology, paying off student debt is a reasonable goal.
  • But for people in low-paying fields, paying off student debt can seem insurmountable, particularly as interest and fees increase over time.
  • Of jobs that typically require a four-year college degree, people who educate or work in social services are the lowest-paid; the list includes ministers, journalists, paramedics, and teachers.
  • College education and a professional position do not guarantee financial freedom.


Aside from writing and presenting the weekly sermon, ministers are considered the final word on morality, and they’re called on constantly to provide counseling on spiritual health, marriage, and religious issues, and to give comfort in times of disaster. All that comes with stress and the expectation of an advanced degree in theology.

To get into the business, you need a bachelor’s or better, and prior experience as well as exceptional interviewing skills. The median salary is $48,364, though mega-church pastors rake in considerably more.


The Internet is killing the printing press. The Great Recession didn’t help. Some magazines and newspapers are surviving online, and the lucky few journalists with jobs make around $38,401 a year. The unlucky ones are being pushed out by bloggers willing to report for the byline and so have found it difficult to secure full-time employment with fair pay. Some are freelancers, who receive few if any benefits. Combine the deadlines with job insecurity, and many say the job is stressful. Add to that the knowledge that still, the gateway is a bachelor’s in journalism or communications, with a master's preferred.

$1.762 trillion

The amount of outstanding total student debt, as of May 2022.


This one is truly hard to understand, considering the importance of a paramedic's work. The median pay is $46,303, and that is with the exceptionally long and brutal hours required for the position. Due to the nature of the work, it is exceptionally intense and many paramedics burn out after just a few years on the job. Although the job doesn't require medical school, advanced certifications in all manner of first-line treatment are expected and are expensive to obtain.


When you look at the average salary for a teacher, it seems high enough. Teachers make an average of $61,751 a year and while that may seem adequate, it fails to take into account some important points. Teachers are usually offered fairly low benefits and have very early starts, especially those teaching in public schools. It is not unusual for a teacher to start their day at six in the morning and not put their work away until the late hours of the night.

The average salary seems high but that is the yearly salary and does not account for the overtime teachers regularly put in, often amounting to 60 hours a week or more, which drastically reduces their pay when applied on an hourly basis. Most teaching positions require at least a bachelor's, and it is quite difficult to obtain higher-level positions without a Ph.D.

What Are Some Other Low-Paying Jobs?

Some other jobs that don't pay well but require advanced certifications are accountant, graphic designer, architect, and police officer. Seniority will often determine salary in these roles, but all four require certification and education well beyond other jobs with similar pay.

What Are Some of the Highest Paid Jobs in the U.S.?

Unsurprisingly, the highest-paying jobs in the U.S. are in healthcare. Surgeons, anesthesiologists, oral surgeons, orthodontists, and internal medicine physicians all topped the charts with solid six-figure salaries. Remember though, that those paychecks come with significant student debt for most and should be carefully considered before pursuing.

What Is the Return on Investment of a College Degree?

The Education Data Initiative did an interesting study and found that for the average bachelor's degree, the lifetime median return on investment (ROI) for the degree is 287%. However, it should be noted that for the first ten years following graduation, the ROI is actually negative, at -41%. The lifetime ROI for a master's is slightly over 433%, and a doctorate is 416%. Although you generally won't see a return on your investment for a bachelor's degree for around 15 years, it has one of the best ROIs when compared to the time required as well as allowing you into the workforce earlier.

The Bottom Line

Some jobs have it all: tension, frustration, and poor pay while requiring years of additional education. Why take on debt to prepare yourself for fields with such prospects? Simply put, it’s not all about the money. Priests, journalists, paramedics, and teachers usually pursue these career paths for reasons other than the salary.

Article Sources
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  1. Education Data. "Student Loan Debt Statistics."

  2. "Surgeon Salary."

  3. "Priest Salary."

  4. "Journalist Salary."

  5. Education Data. "Student Loan Debt Statistics."

  6. "Paramedic Salary."

  7. "Teacher Salary."

  8. Education Data. "College Degree ROI."

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