Hello! Enjoy this post from my friend Martin. I know this situation applies to many out there (the possibility of what you or others may believe to be useless degrees), so hopefully this post can help someone out!
“Why did you waste your time on that degree?”
The most ignorant question in the world. You deserve a smack across the face if you’ve ever asked anyone this. There’s no such thing as a waste of time if you learned a few things and opened your eyes a little. Also, it’s none of your business what someone else studied, unless you of course paid for their full education.
Why would you ask someone this?
The person with the degree doesn’t possess the power to time travel and change things. It’s already too late. They have the degree proudly hanging on the wall. There’s no need to be a ruthless jerk who puts down their friends. The person on the other end will get highly defensive and the argument won’t be pretty.
Why would you ask such an ignorant question?
Sadly, European relatives ask this all of the time. So do friends on Facebook. Most people will ask about why you studied what you did. It’s fairly standard small talk.
Do you need to earn a highly targeted degree?
All stats out the window, the answer is no.
You don’t need to do anything. You can’t force yourself to study a topic that you despise for four years of your life. This never ends well. If you do complete your studies and find work in the field, you won’t be happy because you never wanted to do this in the first place.
Can you imagine working in a field that you despise until you’re 65? That’s at least 40 years. That would be one miserable existence.
While I highly suggest that you study a subject that can open up opportunities for you after college, I also realize that not everyone has life figured out in their teens.
When I had to decide what I wanted to study I was 17. Due to my late birthday, I had to figure everything out at this young. I remember choosing a community college because I had no clue of what else to choose. I started at a community college at 17 and somehow managed to survive. I was completely clueless about why I was even there.
You can’t be expected to have your life figured out in your teens. It’s okay if you don’t study the most specific topic.
How do you use a degree that’s not in demand?
Well, you don’t have to find a work in your specific field. There’s no rule that states you need to work as a Historian just because you studied history.
You don’t have to find work in the exact field that you studied. You have other options, such as:
- Totally changing gears. You can pick up a trade or find work in a totally new field. Some of my friends have become bloggers and front line management.
- Starting your own business. Do you have a business idea in mind?
- Graduate school. My friend went to graduate school since they had high grades and found work in management.
- Using your alumni relations connections. Your alumni department could open your eyes.
- Travel. Have you thought about teaching English abroad?
If your degree isn’t in demand, that’s okay because you can still be in demand. You don’t have to live and die based on your degree. You’re not your degree. You have more to offer this world than the piece of paper that you picked up on stage.
Should you feel guilty about having useless degrees?
There’s no rule that states you must work in the field that you studied. Most of my friends are in completely unrelated fields. I don’t really know anyone that went to directly find work in their specific field. The only friends that are using their degrees 100% are my friends who became teachers and nurses. Those fields are very specific and you can’t get in without the correct credentials.
Everything else can’t be taught.
Do you think there’s a four year program for bloggers like Michelle? Hell no.
Do you think there’s a program that teaches you how to solve problems? Not really.
Is there a college degree that encourages you to take risks? Nope.
College is a wonderful experience. This is your first taste of the following:
- Massive hangovers.
Very little of what you study in college will be used in your real life. I hate to admit this, but I don’t remember anything from the classroom lectures when I look back.
Why did I attend college?
I earned my degree in business so that I could tell people that I got my degree in business. Plus, I was the oldest boy in my family and the first to attend college. Making my parents proud was priceless. Oh, and I didn’t want to get kicked out of the house.
The world’s not going to end because your degree isn’t in the most profitable field. You’re not a failure because you studied something that interested you. It’s your life. You did what you wanted to. If you didn’t study anything specific then that’s okay because you’e not restricted to one field of work. You just need to decide on what you’re going to do next.
Are you using your college degree? Why or why not? Do you have useless college degrees?
The above is a post from Martin of Studenomics, where you can read about financial freedom and not have to worry about missing a party. Martin has just launched, Next Round’s On Me, where he helps you with your financial journey in your 20s.
Ali @ Anything You Want says
I studied architecture, which usually leads one to become, you know, an architect! But I’m not an architect. Despite that, I am really happy with where I ended up and absolutely believe that my degree was worth it. I know there are different schools of thought on this, but I believe college should be more about learning how to think critically and see the world clearly, not about learning job-specific skills. With that mindset, it is hard to see any degree as “useless.”
Well said. You don’t have to work in your exact field after college. It’s okay to switch gears. Learning is never a waste of time.
I don’t have a useless degree. Mine earns a high salary and has interesting opportunities. I have a lot of “cool factor” to my job, which was especially true when I worked at Mission Control at NASA.
My husband on the other hand? He has a highly targeted degree. It’s so specific that many employers don’t even really know what it is. He isn’t employable in the field that would understand his Master’s degree because he never actually developed a career path and built experience. And he couldn’t accept the entry level jobs because his student loans were too high… It’s been a mess, but things are slowly turning around for him and us.
After years of taking jobs that weren’t quite what he’d started out wanting to do, he’s developing a new sense of where he wants to go and how his skills can help. He just landed a new job and is ALMOST making six figures – a 40% raise for him. It took time a dedication, but it’s paying off.
That’s an interesting story. Too specific? Never thought of that. Thanks for sharing this.
I got a psychology undergad degree. Back in the early 2000’s when I was in college, Psych was the “hot” major. It’s fun, but it also made it hard for me to do anything after college with it.
I wound up getting a Master’s degree, which is essentially the only way you can do anything with a Psych degree anymore that isn’t working in HR. I’m a school counselor and I love what I do. It wasn’t my original thought when I went for my degree, but it’s an amazing profession to be in.
I had a “useless” major, but I enjoyed learning the niche and I loved college. I’ll never regret getting a degree I couldn’t use right out of college. Everything happened for a reason. I eventually got a career I love out of it and I almost met the man I’m marrying in undergrad.
No regrets here.
Excellent story. It’s funny how things work out. I’m sure that your friends and family bothered you about your choice at the time. Now you’re living the dream lifestyle. Keep it up and congrats!
Great post! My degree was very specific (journalism0 so I had a pretty good idea of what I’d be doing for a career but Communication on the other hand is very broad and have a multitude of career options with that degree (which was my minor) My advice to people who can’t find jobs after college that are relevant to their degree is to create your own job. I am so supportive of the idea to branch out and start your own little mini business but most people don’t see it that way and only want to be employees waiting around for someone to hire them.
Exactly. Create your own job. If your dream job isn’t out there, then create it.
Amy @ DebtGal says
I work in a college career center, (psychology major, grad degree in social work), and employers repeatedly tell us that majors rarely matter. (If you want to be an engineer, you have to major in engineering.) Skills and experience are much more important to them
Interesting. There are certain fields (nursing, engineering) where your major matters. But I like that notion about experience. This is where a work term is very handy.
Im finishing my MBA and focusing in small business. I joked with family after finishing my MBA or Maryland Bartending Academy certificate. My folks thought I was a big jokester for doing this (not sure about other Asian families but at least they took it with a good sense of humor). However, I have worked different jobs like military signal specialist, CNA, Sitter, Anethesia Tech, Rental Property Manager and Bartending as another backup depending on the economy. All these jobs was before I finished my bachelors in management which actually helped in my class discussions. I have two classes to finish and it is good I spent two years deployed in Iraq, the GIBill ch. 16 is a great benefit for veterans. It seems that as graduation is coming closer, opportunities for businesses are opening up. A rental property owner that worked for is planning to lower his property portfolio gave me three property offers way below thier property value which can be good to build equity. Another business owner is selling his business a bakery: equipment, supplies, customer base, and the recipes. Even one of the employees is willing to stay to see how the business retains the community’s landmark. Anyway there are others businesses selling since the owners are retiring such as the cigar shop, an Asian food carryout, and a tool shop. I might check the return for the wealth management on therental properties as an investment. One of the properties had someone died due to his medical condition requiring blood thinners for blood clots which affected his colon and was found dead on the toilet which might give me a discount for my offer on the property. Good thing I worked the owner before, but it was bad timing that this event occurred when i was working on his other property next door. Bonus, despite the age of the three rental properties, I helped to renovate them for the lead inspection which they are now 100% lead free after passing. Anyway, a business degree seems a bit general, but I don’t consider it a waste since it has given me more insight on owning a business, just not sure where to start when I discuss the openings for sale with my wife. I might try blogging after to reflect this experience. In the mean time I’ll work on side hustles to build capital until the right opportunity is agreeable with my wife and I.
Nice. What’s the company? The beauty of life is that you can do whatever you want. You can enter a whole new field or branch off on your own.
I am a member of a gym like that. Add in pro wrestling and BJJ though.
My undergraduate degree was in biology, which will get you a job absolutely nowhere, but it made sense because my second degree is as an optometrist. It is very specific and not something someone would probably seek if they didn’t plan to practice. I do think college is as much about life skills as it is education, but if you have to go miles into debt to get a degree that doesn’t equate to a better paying job, it’s not worth it.
Paul Latta says
When I was enlisted in the Air Force we had a joke: “What do you call a guy with a BA in Basket weaving?” A: “Lieutenant.”
Many employers don’t care so much what your degree is in. They’re looking to see if you have the determination to complete what you start.
I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. Although I am not currently working in a field to utilize my degree, I would never call it worthless. Attending university refined my literary skills and taught me how to research. I would never go back in time to change my field of study.
Carrie @ Season It Already says
I studied sociology and urban economic geography and ended up first in payroll and benefits, later in wine education and now running an office for a construction company. I’ve got a wide range of options. 😉
Niomi@Financially Confident says
Wine education?! Sounds awesome! 😉
You had me at wine!
I totally disagree with this article, and as a European I’ll patronize your life choices if I want to 🙂
People who go to school, and are old enough to “choose a degree” are also old enough to understand the consequences of their choices. We are not talking of 4 year olds here, but teenagers/young adults, who intentionally choose to study something that does not sell well on the market, should be aware of the consequences of these choices.
Study something related to your passion, but make sure you have a plan. If your passion is not something that could bring you money, accept that you’ll need to have other skills to make money.
The main problem is that my friends who chose a crappy major in college then complain for *years* about how it’s tough to find a job, yaddi yadda. And I mean years. We’ve been out of college for more than 12 years now, and I can see those people who chose a stupid major still complain about their current position.
I’m not saying you should study finance if you don’t like it. But too many people blame their problems on others, when they made conscious choices as teenagers. If people with a stupid degree didn’t complain so much, others probably wouldn’t comment so much about their choices.
I agree with you. My brother choose illustration art and only did free lance work. my sister pursued biology. Both complain about how much they owed and it’s hard times living with my parents. It is unfortunate that my parents are helping pay thier loans. If my siblings had made better financial decisions, they might have paid their debts earlier. While they were in school, every two weeks that had care package from my parents. The two years I was in Iraq, I never got a letter. since I was signal, i knew the free military numbers to use instead of international phone cards. As much as I called, the family would send my calls to voice mail or told me they had no time to talk to me. I even had a mortar landed five feet from my bed, tried calling them and still claimed they were busy. After deployment, I was the only one of the siblings to help the family business. My brother and sister said to me, “just because you served means nothing”. We were at bad terms during those years and as the youngest they felt to have superiority over me. Both had college degrees and I worked different jobs to keep my independence starting my work at 16 working for rental property owners (military at 17 under delayed entry in high school month before 9/11). My siblings finished college, but went back to living with my folks. My brother even married and stayed at my parents placed til he reach 40 with college bills, sister is catching up on age as well. It felt like what they said to me kinda hit them on the butt. There is more to this but as you mentioned, people have a choice for thier education. I choose to build my life experience first and while they contemplate about their degrees. I was already building skills to balance with job choices. Living below my means helps me with wealth management, it’s good that my war veteran status as a signal guy for the army helped pay my both my BSM and MBA (2 classes left that needs to be paid) and excess saved for whenever I’m ready to start a small business with my wife. Info want to try blogging after establishing my previous business plan.
True. I will not argue with you because I can’t. However, you’re also assuming that the person never finds work and remains in debt. I’ve seen many friends switch gears, find work that they love, and then pay off their loans. But yes, no plan can lead to disaster.
Jason Butler says
I’m not using my Marketing degree in my full-time job, but I have been able to use some of the things I learned in those classes with my website and side hustles. I don’t think my degree is useless at all.
Niomi@Financially Confident says
I graduated right in the middle of the Recession, so I took the first job I could. It wasn’t REALLY related to my degree, but hey, it paid! I had a few other jobs after that but didn’t get a job in my “field” until about 4 years after I finished school. So while it isn’t a useless degree, it still took some time to find real work. To those out there struggling with a “useless degree”: keep learning, develop a variety of skills, and keep at it!
We have friends who’s daughter majored in African studies. When she graduated, she couldn’t find a job so she went back and got a Master’s degree in African studies. She compounded the expense but not the hiring factor as she still couldn’t get a job. She complained about having a Master’s and only being qualified to work at McDonalds. Hey! What did she expect? I thought at least she’d join the peace corps or something but nothing was available for that type of degree. Finally, she went back to school and became an RN and had a job instantly. In the meantime, our son got his degree in aerospace engineering (Master’s) and had a job waiting for him to graduate. He finished his curriculum on Dec. 21 and on Jan. 2 he started work. It is one thing to follow your passion and another to be self supporting at it. Parents have a responsibility to help guide their kids in choosing a major that hopefully can satisfy both needs.
Great post! Sometimes I feel like my Psychology degree is pretty useless as I’ve been in the human services field for the past five years & can’t imagine doing this until I retire. I started out in a psychiatric hospital & now I work with state/federal benefit programs. Social work really isn’t my cup of tea anymore & I can’t imagine what else to do with my life. I question whether my degree/experience makes me qualified for something that is completely different so I really haven’t tried to look for something else. And thanks to those awesome student loans, I definitely can’t take a pay cut!
I have an undergraduate degree in ecology and a law degree. I don’t use either of them anymore.
The way I see it, the non-specific degrees can be a blessing in disguise. Few people know exactly what they want to be or do when they’re 18 (or 22 or 35 …) and getting a super specific degree is a great way to pigeonhole yourself into doing one thing for the rest of your life. Your interests may change down the road and the beauty of something that is a little more broad is that it leaves you with some options. Yes, it may be harder to get a well-paying job right away but at least you won’t be stuck doing the same job that you hated for 40 years because your super specific degree isn’t good for anything else. I’m not saying that an engineering or medical or law or whatever degree is bad (not by a longshot!!), just that there are some upsides to the so-called “useless degrees” too.
I feel like most of the happiest, most interesting people I know are doing things that are dramatically different than what they went to school for!
I just posted this on my Facebook for all of my friends to read. We are all musicians and performers. Getting a degree that specialized is highly critiqued and misunderstood by friends and family, but it also makes you feel unsuccessful if you don’t go on to “make it big”. However, that lifestyle might not be for everyone and that’s ok. Being a music major takes an insane amount of dedication and determination. Just that alone sets you up to do anything you want in life! Thanks for the encouraging blog!
I’m currently majoring in International Studies and I didn’t realize I hated it until I had 3 classes left. I just thought, oh it’ll get better. I’ll like the next class. Before I started college, I was set on my major and my minor in Mandarin. I knew what I wanted to do and had my future four years planned. I was the first in my family to attend college so I had no idea what to expect. I just had high expectations. Two years later; I regretted everything. I was depressed, unmotivated, and exhausted with anything and everything. This was and is unusual for my personality. I guess another contributing factor would have been my school didn’t have a very good program for my major and all the other majors looked twice as dissatisfying; I also didn’t have choice which school I could attend. I’m currently minoring in theatre, working as an office assistant, and trying/joining new clubs/organizations, classes, internships, and jobs. I’m learning more about myself and gaining skills in various fields such as wedding planning. Even though my major didn’t turn out the way I anticipated or the path I set myself for that matter; I plan on teaching English abroad. I enjoy working with kids, traveling, and not being stuck in one place with the same people day in and day out. Teaching English abroad is one of the few occupations that I actually get excited thinking about. The most important thing that I want when I graduate is to be happy with what I’m doing and who I am and I would have not figured that out if I didn’t have that miserable experience. During my three years in college: I matured a lot, learned how to be emotionally and financially independent, realized what I wanted in life, and realized who I was. I learned to see the world from a different perspective; one that wasn’t close-minded and unopened to new ideas and experiences. I also learned how NOT to quit; which was something constantly reinforced in my household. I believe even though college may not always provide a prosperous or highly targeted degree for everyone; it offers something for everyone.
Tom H says
I was very surprised by most of what I read in this article. Yes, I do know some who were lucky to salvage unmarketable degrees, and it certainly sounds right to me that experience, determination, commitment, and intellect ought to trump degrees in job seeking, but that is not what I have found in searching for work. I graduated with an Ivy League joint math/comp sci degree. I was offered a finance position before finishing my undergraduate degree, and after three months knew I hated the work. I began frantically seeking out other opportunities, but found my GPA, test scores, faculty letters of recommendation, and strong critical reasoning skills–not to mention my professionally tailored resumes and cover letters (costly, and ultimately to no avail)–didn’t earn me coveted interviews. Heck, hiring managers/HR rarely even returned my inquiries/applications. Soon I discovered that most positions required such specific skills as supposedly measured by costly certificates that it was clear my recent degree appeared worthless, despite the strong and broad reasoning skills it had conferred.
Many studies in peer reviewed journals and as outlined in numerous reputable publications bear out the difficulty recent graduates have at acquiring work that allows them both to survive and to pay off school-related debt. The problem, to be frank, persists among more mature graduates who happen not to have found either field-related or sufficiently compensating work soon after graduating. And STEM graduates like myself have been having similar problems. Sure, some people are lucky to create or find a niche for themselves despite degrees that don’t seem related to the work they find. But I doubt that reflects the majority’s experience. After a year in minimum-wage-hell, I returned to school and finished a CS degree in May, and immediately grabbed a post-doc in CS at my university. And I was very lucky. Friends graduating in sciences from top programs throughout the USA are all competing with a substantial influx of foreign students and visa holders for tech/science posts there aren’t enough of to accommodate mushrooming STEM graduates. I wish I had the reference, but in the last few days I read an article about a young physics PhD graduate (England) who, after searching valiantly for even tangential work, could find employment only in a call center. He committed suicide.
The underemployment/unemployment situation among college and university graduates is real, serious, and growing. Many cannot afford to take chances recreating themselves when they are indebted tens-of-thousands of dollars or more for even state college programs. A major part of a solution involves making education–which we keep hearing is vital to our country’s future–very affordable. Then on graduating people could more freely explore work-related options. Another part of a solution is both the creation of degree-worthy jobs (those that pay enough to justify the opportunity costs of college/university) and the coordination between schools and labor boards so students have better information about the viability of their scholastic choices (percent of graduating students in a discipline at the school who are employed within a year of graduating, and in what field; anticipated professional needs locally and nationally by discipline/field over the long term…).
We also should make vocation training programs vastly more popular/available and affordable. At a local community college here in Boston a 1-year welding program that boasts a high post-certificate employment rate costs, tuition alone, over $18,000. How is a college graduate struggling to pay student loans AND his/her share of rent… supposed to afford $18,000 for a certificate (not even a degree)? Deferred student loans don’t just go away, and such students still have to work to survive while in school. The school’s counsel? You got it–student loans.
Sorry for the long comment. But the US educational system–and from what I’m reading in reliable articles, the problem pervades the globe–is failing. Higher ed is far, far too costly, and there aren’t enough jobs that truly require or justify what for many is a financial investment in college degrees–even in STEM. Sure, some will argue that the value of an education transcends its association with earning a living. Such thinking many would argue is a survival luxury. Today, when the best universities on the planet offer many of their courses online for free, and there are free alternatives to the perennial featured list of perks to be found on college campuses, it’s hard to justify exploding student debt with the so-called benefits of the traditional college experience.