12 Most Useless Master’s Degrees if You Want a Good Job

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Getting a master’s degree could help you land a high-paying job — but some simply won’t.
Updated April 18, 2024
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Earning a master’s degree is something many people aspire to accomplish. Doing so could net you the skills and credentials you need to pursue a better, more lucrative job and lower your financial stress.  

According to the Census Bureau, from 2011 to 2021, the number of people 25 and over with a master’s degree rose to 24.1 million. That’s a 50.2% jump. More than 14% of Americans 25 and older have completed an advanced degree.

However, when you factor in the cost of getting a master’s degree, and the debt you can incur, more than a few of them are no good for finding high-paying employment. Here are 12.

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Architecture

Farknot Architect/Adobe architect working and discussing about an architecture model

Median annual pay: $82,840
Projected job growth: 5%

Architects are responsible for designing and planning homes, offices, and just about any other kind of structure one can think of. Wherever people eat, live, play or work, an architect had a hand in it.

The job entails figuring out the needs of the client, preparing specifications and drawings, managing contracts, and being at the worksite to ensure construction follows the plan.

Unfortunately, architectural job growth is lower than average and early career pay is low. It could be frustrating early on as you're trying to move beyond living paycheck to paycheck.

Elementary education

pololia/Adobe little student girl studying at school

Median annual pay: $61,620
Projected job growth: 1%

The world is always in need of good teachers. Unfortunately, the pay for kindergarten and elementary school teachers leaves much to be desired, especially when the time and energy commitments are factored in.

While a bachelor’s degree in elementary education is the typical entry-level requirement for most public and private schools, some states want teachers to earn a master’s degree after they’re certified and employed.

Fine arts

kustvideo/Adobe professional artist paints with oil

Median annual pay: $59,990
Projected job growth: 7%

People with a master’s in fine arts are creators. Anything from blown glass and paintings to sculptures can be sold or exhibited.

It isn’t strictly necessary to earn a degree to be a craft artist, but higher education gives artists a chance to develop their skills and their portfolio. Still, it remains a niche occupation.

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History

BullRun/Adobe student standing near bookshelves checking literature

Median annual pay: $64,540
Projected job growth: 3%

The ultimate goal of a historian is to preserve and study. They’re also often called upon to help with research from governments, businesses, individuals, and other organizations.

The job market for historians can be slim, however. In 2021, there were only about 3,300 jobs. That number isn’t expected to move much in the next 10 years.

Interior design

ronstik/Adobe designer working in office doing furniture and flooring material selection

Median annual pay: $61,590
Projected job growth: 4%

If you need your indoor space to be functional and pretty, you’ll hire an interior designer.

Like architects, interior designers need to meet client needs, building codes, and inspection regulations. They also need an artistic eye to select the right decor as well as draw and edit blueprints.

Unfortunately, the projected job growth for interior designers over the next 10 years has effectively stalled.

Journalism

New Africa/Adobe equipment for journalist on grey table

Median annual pay: $55,960
Projected job growth: -3%

The core purpose of journalists and reporters is to keep the public informed about what’s happening locally, nationally, and globally.

It’s so critical to America that a free press is part of the Constitution. The downsides are that the pay is bad and the projected job growth is grim.

Library science

diignat/Adobe woman with a stack of books in library

Median annual pay: $61,660
Projected job growth: 3%

Who doesn’t love librarians? The specifics of a librarian’s job can vary depending on where they’re working, but as one might surmise, they typically help people find information and conduct research.

Sometimes, they’re in charge of every aspect of the library. Depending on the size of the operation, they may focus on just one aspect, like the technical or administrative side of things.

Marriage and family therapy

Daniel Laflor/peopleimages.com/Adobe couple fighting and arguing in therapy session with therapist

Median annual pay: $56,570
Projected job growth: 15%

Marriage and family therapists do exactly what the job title suggests. They work to help couples and families handle their relationships. That includes discussing emotions and experiences and guiding their clients through difficult times.

Their aim is also to help clients enrich their lives with behavioral therapy and goals that can halt harmful feelings with positive ones.

Museum studies

EdNurg/Adobe woman in the museum uses the touchscreen monitor

Median annual pay: $53,420
Projected job growth: 10%

Archivists appraise, authenticate, catalog, and preserve historic pieces while curators and conservators oversee museum collections.

That means they’re the ones who acquire, store and exhibit items, as well as design those exhibits and tours. Cleaning and restoring ancient objects is in the cards too, as is directing and supervising museum staff.

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Music

Michael Nivelet/Adobe photograph of a person who studies musical score

Median annual pay: $62,940
Projected job growth: 1%

A master’s degree in music theory, music composition, or conducting puts you on track for a handful of jobs, including conductor, composer, or music director. You’ll need plenty of related work experience too.

As with other creative master’s degrees, the field is slim. There were 55,800 jobs in 2021 and that’s only expected to change by about 2,700 over the next decade.

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Rehabilitation counseling

Studio Romantic/Adobe mature people comforting an upset depressed man

Median annual pay: $39,90
Projected job growth: 2%

Rehabilitation counselors help those with disabilities — be they developmental, emotional, mental, or physical — become independent.

A rehabilitation counselor’s clients often need help overcoming the impact of disabilities on employment and being on their own at various stages of their lives.

Some assist students, veterans, and older Americans. An important job for sure, but don’t do it for the money.

Social work

Seventyfour/Adobe female social worker talking to difficult teenage girl

Median annual pay: $55,350
Projected job growth: 7%

Social workers help people, groups, and communities deal with the problems they face every day. Issues run the gamut from divorce and illness to crises like child abuse.

Clinical social workers are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. Social workers are an essential part of the American landscape.

Unfortunately, the job doesn’t pay well and can be stressful. Having a stressful job while having to make extra money on the side can be a frustrating combination.

Bottom line

mnirat/Adobe graduates throwing graduation hats up in the sky

It’s logical to assume that a master’s degree provides a certain guarantee that you’ll find better, higher-paying work than someone who holds a bachelor’s degree.

But not all master’s degrees are created equal. The more niche the focus of the degree, the harder it is to land the right job that pays well so you can stop living paycheck to paycheck.

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Author Details

Will Vitka Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.

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