At present, it’s not the most opportune time for those inclined towards right-brained pursuits. The Federal Reserve has revealed the worst-paying college majors.

According to a recent analysis by the New York Federal Reserve (February 2024), graduates with majors in liberal arts, performing arts, and theology or religion are encountering the lowest salaries five years post-college. Each of these majors yields a median annual income of $38,000—a figure that stands as the lowest among the 75 majors examined by the Fed. (Full disclosure: I graduated as an English major five years ago.)

Additionally, other majors with low earning potentials include hospitality, anthropology, early childhood education, history, and fine arts, with graduates typically earning around $40,000 annually five years post-graduation.

These figures may appear dishearteningly low, particularly given the soaring costs of higher education, not to mention the current challenges associated with the cost of living. As of 2022, the median household income in the U.S. stands at $74,580, according to Census data from that year.

These statistics starkly reflect an unfortunate reality that many may be hesitant to acknowledge: The arts are undervalued, and professions in liberal arts and history are often underfunded, despite the significant cultural and intellectual enrichment they provide, dating back to the advent of written language.

While there are certainly lucrative career paths within these fields (for instance, journalism for English majors, though the print-media industry is facing challenges), opportunities for ambitious young professionals are frequently limited, leading to a crisis in these sectors.

Moreover, fields like early childhood education and daycare incur significant expenses while offering below-market wages. Teachers often dip into their own pockets to cover basic classroom needs, and a persistent shortage of teachers—exacerbated by the pandemic—has resulted in uneven workloads and overcrowded classrooms. Daycare workers often lack essential protections, and daycare itself has become unaffordable for many families.

Conversely, the accounting sector faces a shortage of students entering the field. Despite this, there is a high demand for accountants, prompting firms to offer substantial bonuses and starting salaries to attract applicants in a dwindling pool.

On the other end of the spectrum, STEM majors continue to lead in terms of earning potential. According to the Fed analysis, graduates with majors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, particularly engineering, command the highest salaries. Chemical engineers, for instance, can expect median salaries of $79,000 just out of college, rising to $133,000 within 15 years— the highest among all majors. Other top-earning majors include computer engineering, computer science, aerospace engineering, and electrical engineering.

Unfortunately, these findings also underscore a gender disparity, with nearly 80% of STEM graduates being male, according to a recent Bankrate report. This trend contributes to men dominating high-paying fields while traditionally female-dominated roles, such as teaching and caregiving, remain undervalued.

Adding to the challenge, if you prefer remote work—as many do—high-paying opportunities may be scarce. A 2023 report from career site Ladders revealed a decline in remote roles within top-paying industries since 2022, with only 12% of the highest-paying jobs listed as remote.

In summary, for those seeking the highest-paying jobs, pursuing an advanced degree and being open to in-person work may offer the best prospects, with less competition in these fields, as noted by John Mullinix, Ladders’s director of marketing, in the report.