There’s been a lot of griping in recent years that students are graduating with boatloads of debt and they can’t land a job, so they’re questioning the value of their degree. Between jobless friends, TV pundits and angry bloggers, you’d think the whole college education system was a giant scam. The confluence of a recession, a changing workforce and skyrocketing college costs really have many people questioning their “investment”. It’s true that many people do quite well without a degree. In most of those cases though, people either have a trade like plumbing, electrician, welder (which are specialized degrees of sorts that required formal training, just not a B.S or B.A), they run their own small business or they represent a very rare case of an invention or being in the right place at the right time. For people who don’t fall into that bucket though, would they really have been better off having NOT gone to college? It depends.
Is Your Degree Useless?
I’m not going to name degrees and bash specific majors, but if you’re upset that you didn’t find a decent job related to your major, ask yourself the following questions:
- Was your degree in demand when you attended college?
- Did you attend a respected college?
- Did you take the easy way out? Easy Major/Tough Major?
There are some basic real-world concepts at play here. If corporations are looking for engineers, mathematicians and software engineers and you majored in (fill in the blank), should you reasonably have expected to land the same job your buddies did who pursued a degree in demand? Of course not. Well, why would you expect to find employment related to your major at all if there’s no real demand for that skill set in the real world? Young kids are impressionable, optimistic and aren’t used to failing. The adage of “following your dream” takes precedent over real-world pragmatism for many kids selecting a major. The role of parents, guidance counselors and empowered kids themselves, is to research how useful their degree will actually be in the real world.
Easy Majors Shouldn’t Translate Into Top Jobs
I went to school with a lot of kids that had “party majors”. I used to wonder to myself what they’d eventually do with these majors. Fortunately, most of them eventually ended up with decent jobs, but often times it was because they went right on to complete an (unrelated) advanced degree. My one friend who majored in History had no real job, so he went to law school and now he’s a District Attorney. My other friend majored in Anthropology (seriously, he had zero interest in the subject and just partied), but got an MBA and works for a hedge fund. I had a few other friends that ended up in various IT and programming roles completely unrelated to their majors – they just happened to be good with computers and programming and often times, you can make a career in that field without a formal B.S. in software engineering or otherwise. I can’t help but notice though, that the successful friends all had to go through additional years of schooling, out of their pocket, in order to finally land jobs they were pleased with.
Conversely, 100% of my friends that majored in Engineering, Physics and other sciences landed relatively high-paying jobs right out of school, and then, like me, employers paid for the MBA. Ironically, all my friends that goofed off in undergrad and went on to get MBAs and work on Wall Street make a lot more than us. But we did at least land relatively good jobs right out of school, which is more than can be said for many.
What’s unfortunate now, is that even kids with the tough degrees, the “in-demand degrees”, the ones who thought they did everything by the book – these kids are having trouble finding jobs because of the incredibly challenging economy. Older workers aren’t retiring because their 401(k)s were trashed and their home equity is gone. Companies aren’t hiring because they’ve become more efficient and are uncertain about the future economy and cost structures. The quandary is, this economic malaise is (should be) temporary, and we may be setting up a whole generation of kids with restricted options and no in-demand skill sets by trashing the college degree.
In summary, for a kid saddled with $50K in debt for a degree with very little real-world utility, sure, it was a mistake. For the same kid with a degree in demand? Even though it will be tough starting out with that kind of debt, the long-term earnings prospects and career flexibility should more than make up for the financial burden.
Was Your Degree Worth It Or Worthless?
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