A combination of reading Captain Cappy, looking into DELE and DELF certificates and pondering the OU has left me thinking about degrees, their worth and their dumbing down. Therefore, I have composed an explanation as to which degrees, in my humble opinion and based on observation, have merit and which do not. This list is far from exhaustive and based on a combination of personal opinion (bias most likely included) and averages, not your individual case or someone else’s opinion.
Now, firstly I would like to say that this list excludes any degree from an elite university. Be it Oxbridge, Ivy League or simply very well known and respected for your particular subject, it is unlikely that your choice of career would be massively restricted by such a degree and almost impossible that a degree from one of these universities wouldn’t get you anywhere. You are studying at one of the few remaining places where higher education is still worthwhile and, as such, are not forced to join the dogpile of dumbing down that most courses in most universities are subject to. That out of the way, let us explore degrees.
There are two types of degrees in terms of motivation: vanity degrees and work degrees. If you plan on getting a degree exclusively because you enjoy the subject, that’s vanity. If you plan on getting a degree and have realistically considered employment prospects, that’s work. If you’re getting a degree to use for maybe a year before you become a housekeeper and parent and live off your husband (or wife), then that’s vanity. If you’re getting a degree to insure you in case something goes wrong with your relationship plan, that’s work. If you’re getting a degree just because you can and your friends are getting one, that’s vanity. If you’re getting a degree because you plan on putting hard work in and see the value of a degree in your life, then that’s work.
In short, if at any point you have considered employment prospects, economics, enjoyability and time investment required, you probably need this degree for work.
However many people who need a degree for work often fall for vanity degrees anyway. And, whilst this is a far more dangerous problem in the USA than the UK, British youth are still making a mistake when we pursue a vanity degree over a work one. Our first degree may be covered by a “no job, no repayments” loan, but this only happens once. We’re basically taking our one and only free pass to a Bachelor’s, where we don’t have to even pay the loan back if we don’t get good work, and wasting it on something useless. And then, if we end up working as wait-staff in a coffee shop, we wonder what we did wrong, why our friends have good work and are saving for children, homes, a round-the-world trip or more, whilst we’re not even making enough to pay our loan back. Where it isn’t as bad as what US students could face, it’s still a raw deal.
So how do we avoid vanity degrees? Let’s have a look at some common degree courses and categories and see what we can learn about their real world applications.
STEM: Yay! Well done you clever maths-y person! Apart from a few very niche or theoretical courses, chances are you’ve picked well. And even these have employment prospects, even if only 1/100 get them, so you’re far, far from getting a vanity degree. Put the hard work in, get a 1st or a 2.1 and reap the rewards.
Languages: Depends on the language and your level of fluency. Let’s assume you knuckle down, take that year abroad seriously, get a foreign pen-pal and learn one language. You now have the option of getting a teaching qualification and teaching it, of becoming a private tutor, of specializing in translation or interpreting. Basically, anywhere where you speaking two languages gives you an advantage, there’s work. You probably even have a better shot at international journalism than most journalism graduates. If you learn two or more languages, assuming fluency, your work pool does nothing but increase. But beware: anything short of full fluency massively limits your employment prospects and curbs your paycheck. A fluent French speaker may work internationally dealing with French business, as a journalist in Cote D’Ivoire or Algiers, as a lecturer at a major university, as a translator for a publishing house, as a legal interpreter. A high-level, but not fluent French speaker may be looking at translating emails and doing phonecalls for a cut price, translating things from other newspapers, working at a primary school, translating for individuals and teaching adult learners. Not rubbish work by any stretch of the imagination, but a step down.
Literature: This one is problematic. As someone who considered studying English Literature and French, it quickly dawned on me that it was useless. What I was learning was not real-world-applicable and, were it not for the French, I would have been looking at 0 employment prospects. Unless you plan on becoming a literature teacher, investing in an MA and a PhD to become a lecturer, trying your luck as a writer or an editor or using other skills to get into niche journalism, there isn’t work for you. Most companies and businesses have zero use for a Lit graduate. Your degree is worthless in any career that doesn’t directly use literature. And, to boot, there are thousands of you, possibly tens or hundreds of thousands of you. And you’re not just up against each other, no. You’re up against the people who spent decades working in those fields, against people who’ve specialized in that area, against people with your same degree who are coming from elite universities. Who do you think will get the job? In short, unless you’re combining it with a more solid degree, studying at a good university and doing a lot of work experience and extracurricular stuff on the side, you will end up in a dead-end.
Classics, History: Sort of like Literature, but with a larger exception. Good classicists, speakers of dead languages and specialized historians are in demand and someone with enough expertise to write books and lecture could easily make a good living off their degree. Likewise, someone specialist enough could get work at museums, galleries and antique auctions. Anywhere your specific expertise is required, being the most expert you can be can land you a job, sometimes one with a very plump paycheck. However, whilst the openings are more available and better paid than those for Literature, should you fail to enter a niche, make a name for yourself or study very, very hard, you still run the risk of being jobless. A bank, a company office or a magazine may have little need for someone with a 2.2 BA in Classics from some small university well-known for its Chemistry and Medicine degrees.
Archeology, Paleontology, Egyptology, etc: When you get the work, it will be marvelous. However the number of jobs available is small and the likelihood of ending up as a writer, researcher or intern for a long time seems likely. Perhaps map out your career plan and gauge what your actual chances of success are. Remember that you will need a higher quality degree, more years of education and more years of experience to find employment and that this employment may not be necessarily in your first choice of job.
Social Sciences: Accounting, Finance and Economics and Statistics are very likely to hold their own. People who are good with numbers and money are in high demand in most businesses, so a high qualification in any of those subjects could get you work. Business, Education, International Relations, Politics and Sociology, when combined with another degree or appropriate experience can help you get a job, but you are likely to need something extra on the side. You will also be up against large numbers of others with your degree or a more specific degree who may also have more qualifications or more years of experience than you. Pretty much everything else, unless you go to a university that is known for its excellence in that department, will need to be undertaken as a minor or a second degree, because they will be worthless on their own. And yes, that includes Law, especially so in the States.
Psychology: A bit like history and classics, if you hit your niche and get a good grade, you will do amazingly well. However, you will always run the risk of not being one of the best. And when you’re not one of the best out there, getting good work could be a challenge. A lot of Psychology work won’t list wages because they don’t pay well. Most students will end up in clerical work. Simply put, unless you’re excellent and plan on specializing, you’re working from the bottom up, from a low wage and sometimes not even getting work in your field of choice until years after university.
Nursing, Dentistry, Medicine, Veterinary Science: Almost always a good decision in terms of employment. People never run out of illness to treat, in animals or humans. However, whilst it makes perfect financial sense, don’t go in it just for the money. Always bear in mind that your work will involve blood, guts, nauseating smells, dumb patients, dumb parents/owners and (depending on the field) death. You will need to care very much for your job and your patients. You will need to be willing to stay up late, go without food and put your hands in questionable substances for these people’s safety. If you feel like you couldn’t do so much for another human, especially not one you don’t know or may even dislike, then this won’t be the degree for you. People are the top priority in the careers that follow and a lack of love, respect and dedication could result in a wasted degree. Talk to people who already have your aspirational job. Watch videos, volunteer. Anything you can do to get an idea. Then make up your mind.
Any degree with “general” in the name: Unless you plan on getting a specialist MA immediately after, don’t go for it. Get something specialized with a career in mind. You’re better off not getting a degree for a few years whilst you think it over than getting a “general” degree.
Any degree that used to be on-the-job learning: This includes hairdressing, make-up, plumbing, etc. Investigate this degree seriously. Some practical jobs now require a degree of some sort. Some you can still just walk into and learn on the job. The latter is preferable where it’s still an option.
Any degree created in the last 20 years: Forget it. Especially so if it falls into a loose “humanities”, “ethics”, “gender studies” or “ethnic studies” category. These degrees were created to make money off you. They look easy, attract people and wind up being a lot of work for a degree that nobody will employ you with. Especially not if they can pay the same and get a Marxist Film Theory expert from a more elite university instead.
So there you have it. My humble observations on various degree categories.
But what to do if your degree is on my list? Well, first off, check it against your university of choice and their employment results. I am not infallible and there will be exceptions. If the prospects don’t look too good, consider one of the following:
A: If possible, see if you could get into an elite university or one well-known for your degree choice. A Literature degree from Ottawa is probably less valuable than one from Harvard.
B: If not, look at the above list for an idea as to better degrees you could pursue.
C: Consider a trade or a certificated job rather than a graduate job. Plumbers, truckers and tutors can earn a lot more than most people with degrees.
D: If you’re really unsure, wait it out. Rushing into something won’t fix anything. Get a temporary job, look at what you like doing, travel a little, get some more or better school qualifications and generally mull it over.
E: Rethink your priorities. If you really want a vanity degree, then at least do one you will have enjoyed and still not regret when you’re retraining or working minimum wage.
Anyhow, that’s all from me. TTFN and Happy Hunting.