This just in…my degree is STILL worthless

Gotta love the news sometimes. Every year, around this time, all the major media outlets seem to get a sick pleasure out of reminding me how worthless my college degree is (BA in Psychology). Talk about rubbing salt in a wound. Here’s a snippet from a USAToday article

An analysis of the projected lifetime earnings of 171 college majors provides a clearer picture of what one bachelor’s degree means compared to another in the labor market. And the answer can be as much as $3.64 million.

That’s the difference between what petroleum engineering majors can expect to earn over a 40-year career ($4.8 million) and what counseling psychology majors could earn ($1.16 million).

Per the article, the median income of a petroleum engineering major is $120,000, while the median income for a psych major is $29,000. Now, I know I ain’t no math major, but that sure seems sucky.

Darwin at Darwin’s Money recently posted an article calling out communications majors. Krystal (a com major) who blogs over at Give Me Back My Five Bucks was offended, and posted a rebuttal.

As much as I wish I could refute the findings of the USAToday article (or Darwin’s post), I can’t. It would be like me saying that the average height of US men can’t be 5’10 because I’m 6’2. Krystal and I may be exceptions to the rule, but that does not mean the rule doesn’t exist. And this rule says english, history, & psych careers are typically less lucrative than accounting, biology, and engineering careers whether we like it or not.

I, however, refuse to let my degree limit my potential. I can’t change the past, but I sure can change my future. Humility, common sense, and an intense desire to succeed can take just about anyone, regardless of major, from Average Joe to Upper-Middle-Class-Joe. Our identities should not be wrapped up in our majors, but in our character. Be an exception, not the rule.

In sum, choosing psychology was probably a bad choice.

What was your major? If you did college again, would you do it differently?

46 thoughts on “This just in…my degree is STILL worthless”

    • I’m a comm major, and can’t for the life of me find anything better than secretarial jobs.

      I’m assuming your degree is more focused than mine, since mine is “Communication Studies” which sounded great because I got to do a little of everything, but in reality I didn’t get enough experience in anything for anyone to hire me.

      If I want to work in radio, I get passed over for the ones who focused on telecommunication. If I want to work at a newspaper, I get passed over for the ones who focused on journalism.

      It’s not that I’m not capable, it’s just that in this economy employers don’t seem to be looking for well-rounded, they want someone who can fill a specific purpose with little to no training.

      (sorry I wrote a book in response to your comment!)

  1. I had read both those post with no idea how to put my thoughts on the subject into words for a comment. You nailed it Ninja, I have the same outlook on the situation as you. They are exceptions but the majority rules and the majority ruling kinda sucks.

    I did an associate degree in computer studies but I am quite far from using it at the current moment. Also if I had a do over I would still be lost as to what it is I want to do.

  2. I was a Psychology major at an out of state school, but had started out in biology. After graduation I taught elementary school through a well-known national teaching program. When that didn’t work out, I jumped around to a bunch of jobs (paralegal, jewelry store, daycare, summer camp counselor) before heading back to graduate school for speech pathology (and mounds of student loans). If I could do it again, I would have majored in accounting/ business and gone to an in-state school.

  3. Management/Computer Information Systems. If I could do it again I’d try to drop the management and done full Computer Science. Although now I’ve been having these strange urges to try to become a Pharm.D even though I generally don’t like people. haha.

  4. In both your post and Darwin’s I was really surprised no one mentioned the ultimate “joke” degree, Fine Arts. I graduated from a very small art school with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. Yes, I’m four years out of school and still working hard to punch Sallie Mae in the face (should be done in the next two years) but I wouldn’t trade my degree for anything. I could have gone to a big state school with a design department but I never would have got the dream job I did coming out of school. I was hired by a small boutique studio that was looking for someone with 5-7 years of experience but my portfolio impressed them so much I got the gig.

  5. I have a BS in chemical engineering and am working on my MS in the same thing. While I am happy with the major that I chose, I wish I had not gone for the MS. It has been a giant pain-in-the-you-know-what, and I’m not even sure it’s something that I am going to use. I changed my mind about the career path that I wanted to follow half-way through grad school, so an advanced degree isn’t really useful to me anymore. Hopefully it will end up increasing my salary as I advance more in my current career (I currently work full time at an engineering firm while I am finishing grad school, and I plan on continuing to work here after that) so I guess the extra few years might be worth it in that sense. But I see people who I graduated with in undergrad who are making almost twice what I am now, because they have been in the work force for 3 more years than I have. OK – I am getting off topic here. My point is, yes, I am happy with the degree that I chose. But even math and engineering majors can sometimes turn out to be not as useful as you thought they would be. My job is mostly mechanicl engineering based work, so my chemical engineering degree hardly ever gets used at all.

  6. I got a general biology degree, but it took a while to find a decent job in my field. If I had to do it over again, I’d have gone straight to grad school, knowing that PhD’s are not in very high demand because there’s such an influx of them in the science markets. My company doesn’t seem very impressed with master’s degrees either.

  7. Wow, I should feel really worthless now that everyone is hating on liberal arts. I have a …wiat for it…a BA in ART STUDIO. Don’t judge! I started college as a Comp Sci major, and switch after I realized that I should go with what I like. You don’t have to work in a field you study in. SURPRISE!!!! I knew someone who studied neuro bio, but works in computers systems.

    And why is everyone so obsessed over the 6 figure salary? Does the money equate living comfortably? I know a lawyers and doctors that a) not doing that well in their finances, and it’s not because of their student loans and/or b) not doing/want to do what they got their degrees in. I have a BA in Art, and I am almost at the 6-figure level 10 years after school, and my finances are wonderful.

    I see college as finding out what you like to do or what you are good at. Learning more than what books give you, i.e. discipline, networking, independence, etc. It’s a starting point, not the deciding factor for the rest of your career/life.

  8. These stats bother me for a couple of reasons, and not just because my degree (journalism) frequently shows up on these lists. First, it assumes that the only reason to get an education is to increase your earning potential. If the end goal was to get the best return on investment, why not just skip university and take a weekend course in garbage disposal or subway driving, because you better believe both of those careers will get you well into six figures. What happened to education for education’s sake? For personal growth and satisfaction?

    Second, all degrees are worthless. Really. I wish I could bold that. Your degree is what you make of it, and that’s true whether you’ve got an engineering degree or a communications degree. If you’re a lazy slacker who can’t follow instructions, your engineering piece of paper isn’t going to get you very far. If you’re driven and committed, you can do anything with an art history degree. I have a journalism degree from a school that is generally considered to be the best in the country (Canada) and among the best in the world, but there are still a number of people from my graduating class that went on to administrative work and temp jobs because they put in no effort while they were in school, and no effort now that they’re done, and employers want nothing to do with them because of it. And that’ll continue to be true, probably for the rest of their careers.

  9. My friend has a BA in Aerospace Engineering (fourth on that list and second on this other one and hasn’t been able to get a job since graduating in May 2010. She spends her time tutoring high school math and science kids to pay the bills while living with her parents (what I mean is that she does not pay rent). There you go, even at the top of the “best majors” list some people are having trouble finding jobs.

    • Especially in this market! Aerospace is notoriously cyclical. I work in aerospace, and generally, it is better to get a mechanical or electrical engineering degree. Aerospace is an industry, but the sklls you need generally fall into one of the two categories I mentioned. Maybe that is just my company/niche, because aerospace eng. shows up on a lot of lists.

      • I should clarify: my friend was a double major in Aerospace and Mechanical. And as an employer looking at her resume now I might think she has forgotten the essential skills and knowledge during the year she had no “relevant” work experience. And she’s now applying for Admin Assist positions to get by and her prospects, with a recently graduated 2011 class, are going down daily. She is losing her potential to work in the field she loves and while I think that maybe she should network and look for other options, it’s still disheartening to realize that during her education she was told of happy prospects and after graduation the truth came out.

        Another friend of mine who graduated in 2007 (BS Electrical Engineering) was swamped with offers before graduating and had her pick of benefits and salaries. Very different from what happened to 2010 graduates of the same program.

        Many people who commented on this post wrote their graduation year of before 2009, when the job market went down. I graduated in 2010 and if I hadn’t lucked out with an internship (summer of junior year) and them finding money in the budget to hire me full time, I’d be temping right now because my degree (Bachelor of Urban Planning) is quite worthless. Even for internships they want masters’ students. And when I started the program the prospects looked quite good, I knew a number of just-graduated alumni who were ecstatic.

        But then, I guess that’s life: nothing ever turns out right.

  10. Electrical engineering. People were throwing jobs at me in late 2007 and early 2008 with starting salaries at or above $60k with signing bonuses. I could tell this one company didn’t even really like me through the interview process, but they still offered me a job because they needed electrical engineers so badly.

  11. I got a BS in Civil Engineering. All through college my professors tried to convince me to get my MS, and I’m honestly glad (at this point) that I didn’t. When I was going through school I knew I would finish my degree, but I wasn’t sure if I woud like the job or not after graduation. Fortunately I was extremely blessed to find a job in a large town/small city less than an hour from where me and my husband (and our families back to great grandparents) were raised. I don’t make as much hourly as many of the people I graduated with who are in larger cities (DFW, Houston, etc), but our location and the benefits of my job make it all worth it. My employer is a small firm, but we receive 6% in our 401K, profit sharing, yearly bonuses (~3.5 weeks pay), insurance, and a very family friendly work environment. They have let me transition to part time over the last few months, and when I have our first child in September they are going to let me work from home at 20-25 hours a week. I wouldn’t change a thing!

  12. I have a BA and an MA in Sociology. And I agree with Melissa. Best piece of advice my mom ever gave me: Get a degree in what you’re interested in, not something that will make you money. The most fascinating people in the world are those whose degree has nothing to do with their career. My degrees gave me a lot of technical skills (research, data mining & development, statistical sciences), and to some extent, I use them in my career…but my career is in the field of public contracts management. Absolutely nothing to do with Sociology, really. Yet I am considered one of the best in my field. Go figure.

    I do, however, disagree on one point – my degrees aren’t worthless. I got my degrees because they were my PERSONAL goals. MY brass rings. And I’ve accomplished what I set out to do twenty-two years ago. Finally. And for that, I’ve marked off two items on my bucket list. They mean more than a piece of paper – to ME.

    On the flip side, I am not defined by what I do for a living. I am defined by what I live to do – I designed and patented a product that is functional and handmade. Creative. I’m that nerd who made something out of nothing to fill a void. Again, nothing to do with Sociology, but I enjoyed each and every one of my classes because it stimulated my brain.

    Bankers with a degree in finance – they eat, sleep and breathe finance – how boring. An engineer with a dual degree (MS & MA), I’ll bet that’s some fascinating intellectual discourse going on in that brain.

    • Ah, my apologies. I meant degrees, in terms of careers, don’t carry a lot of weight in and of themselves. Absolutely they should be of great value to you as a person (you stuck through six years of schooling — THAT is a feat!).

  13. Economics here, but I am more associated with my post-graduate degree.

    I love the line, “I refuse to let my degree limit my potential…” I came out of a 4th Tier Law school and was told I would be regulated to public work and making next to nothing.

  14. I have a BS in Dietetics in 2005. I was able to get a job without a problem and considering I was entry level, I got paid quite a bit. It was great! I only worked for about a year before going to grad school. I got a nice stipend for my Master of Science in Food Science Technology and Nutrition and now I’m getting paid to do my PhD in Nutrition. Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing! I love the way my career path has evolved.

    on a side note…I’m in grad school pursuing a career as a researcher/professor. I could have sustained myself with my first degree, and many dietitians do!

  15. Your major for your career path now is not what was needed but it got you to where you are!

    Humility? Still thinking about that one…

  16. I have a BS in Civil Engineering, which has treated me well but, i should be making more…
    i have tossed the idea of obtaining a MS in environmental engineering to work specifically in water and wastewater treatment, as that is where i see the greatest need in the next 25 years. But i have also throught of becoming a high school science teacher, an athletic trainer owning a gym (with a CSCS), fliping houses with my realtor friend, or getting an MBA and doing the business side of civil engineering/construction. If i could do things over again i would have studied more and tried mechanical engineering or dietetics – i love fitness and health.

  17. I have a bachelor’s degree in linguistics with a minor in editing. I studied linguistics because it was the thing that I hated least in school. I also flirted with studying anthropology, geology, and Russian. Linguistics won out.

    I graduated in December and have not tried looking for a job (I’m self employed), though they’re probably hard to find.

    I hated pretty much everything about my university education and consider it more or less worthless. One of the above commenters said, “The most fascinating people in the world are those whose degree has nothing to do with their career.” With how much we pay for a college education, this statement makes me want to vomit. I can be a very fascinating person without spending tens of thousands of dollars on a fancy piece of paper, thank you very much.

    IMO, college isn’t worth it unless you really want to be a lawyer or doctor or nurse or some other profession that requires a degree. It’s just something we’re “supposed” to do, so we go and do it. Bah. Humbug. But hey, I guess I can cross “Go to college” off my bucket list, right?

  18. I do feel badly about the way I approached the post initially, but ny rationale was that I hoped kids would think about their earning potetial for various degreed if taking on huge college debt loads to pursue.

    I appreciate your balanced, pragmatic approach (and not blatantly misquoting me like so many pisses off bloggers did last week) 🙂

  19. I was blessed to land a job that did not require a degree yet paid fairly well. I expanded the depth and breadth of the job and as a result, the job description was changed so that I received a healthy raise. After about five years of busting my you-know-what, I received a promotion. This time the job did require a degree and I was given the job with the condition that I finished. I was pretty close anyway, so I did. Even though the degree is a BS in Human Resources Management, my job isn’t in HR. Sometimes, it just pays to have a degree – it doesn’t always matter what it’s in.

  20. My degree is in Communications and I too took great offense to Darwin’s article (and posted a rebuttal). Not because of the completely valid point that it’s not nearly as lucrative as many other degrees (it isn’t), but because he painted it as a field of study that is not important (it is), chosen by lazy, unmotivated people (debatable) and likened it to basket weaving (WTF?).

    In short, Darwin could use a communications class or five himself, because clearly he could use some help, ya know…communicating.

    While degrees in the soft sciences may not be as lucrative as those in the hard sciences, they are typically far more versatile. A petroleum engineer may have greater earning potential, but s/he is also only qualified to do one kind of job in one particular industry and will have to be exceptionally creative if they want to transfer into something different. Not so of people who hold degrees in communications, psychology, English and the like. We may not have as much money, but we have a hell of a lot more options.

    In the rebuttal I posted on my blog, I specifically laid out the career paths of SIX people (myself included) who earned the same degree – Organizational Communication – and the fact of the matter is that we all took wildly different paths and some of us are actually earning REALLY GOOD money.

  21. I wouldn’t stress too much over what subject is connected to your degree. I’ve worked private business, government and non-profit and my employers only cared that I finished the degree and had the diploma in hand. I am a journalism major currently creating educational materials for public consumption. My training helps me figure out what looks good and how to compress larges amounts of information into bite-sized pieces. Can’t go wrong there. Psychology should allow you into any career dealing with people because you have an understanding of how people think and behave. That’s a blessing in any field with person-to-person contact.

  22. Currently a freshman majoring in accountancy/finance. So far so good!

    I don’t necessary hate on the low paying majors, but I wish those that pursued them had a more realistic view of what they can expect to earn and how difficult it is to get a job. If you want to major in Art History, fine, but maybe don’t go $200,000 in debt for it?

  23. To be honest, I got discouraged when I graduated the first time with a Spanish degree and started listening to the naysayers. So I went back to school for a more profitable degree (accounting at first) and learned that I hate accounting. So even though I eventually switched to finance I actually like it and it’s more profitable.

  24. Choosing a major is important and should be given a lot of thought. Unfortunately, when asked most people explain their choice with I like studying English or psychology. Did you think about what you would do with it? The president of a company I worked for years ago majored in English and he went into marketing. He was successful! My son has a friend who majored in rhetoric and philosophy. What do you do with that? He entered teaching. Students should give more thought in their majors and careers.

  25. After graduating with a two-year diploma in music business and production, I quickly realized that my education was likely going to do me little good in the face of SO MANY people aiming to become recording engineers and rock god music producers these days. My passion is most defnitely the creation of music and will always will be, but I wasn’t willing to tough out the crazy rat race, put in 70 hours a week, and yet gross maybe $35,000 annually. Nope. No way. So I did a complete 180 about 4 months after graduating (i.e. I took the summer off) and started into a 4-year bachelor of commerce degree with a concentration in accounting, thinking I could still work in the music biz – just as one of those dirty, dirty money-grubbing accountants instead of a creative type (I’m anything but dirty and money-grubbing, but unfortunately that’s the perception of accountants in today’s music industry). Had I stuck it out in Toronto fighting tooth and nail for a recording engineer or post-production position, my options would have been waaay more limited than they are today with a commerce degree. This way I can (and do) produce music myself or with friends and still make enough money to eat and put a roof over my head.

  26. boo for engineering degrees. Sure they pay well for starting jobs, but in the long term it’s easy to get pidgeonholed into a very technical role, and the skills you learn are not readily transferable into different industries. For example, I had a few friends in petroleum engineering that got shafted pretty hard when the oil industry took a hit. These guys struggled to find another job for almost a year.

    Plus, the typical courseload for an engineering major is heavier, so you have left time for fun in school. Wish someone told me this when I was in high school

  27. I did pysch!! haha. But my program was research-focused, so I went into research after college and am doing very well in it with only my BA, using what I learned in college every single day, in some way or another (not that my work experience wasn’t much more formative, since it is directly related to a job, whereas college is very theoretical). I strongly feel that people need to be more career-oriented than they’re encouraged to be in college. A lot of people get away with choosing majors without having any idea of what you’re going to do afterwards, and then they later realize oh wait, that’s not what I actually wanted to do. Not helpful!

  28. I was a history major (sorry Ninja, I know you HATE history) with a sociology minor. I also have a master’s in teaching.

    I was able to find a job quickly (before I graduated), and my master’s has made a huge difference in my earnings.

    I think the thing that people need to keep in mind is that, sure, CERTAIN majors make it easier to find a job, but at what cost? I would have excelled as an accounting major, but I would be miserable right now. You need to be the best (fill in major here) that you can be, and you WILL find work. I just don’t think it’s worth sacrificing long-term happiness for the short-term thrill of finding a job quickly.

    I also think that people need to be realistic about the possibility of pursuing their studies beyond the undergraduate level. Your chances of finding a job and earning good money skyrocket if you’re an actual psychologist rather than a psychology major, or a historian rather than a history major. I know you don’t have a very high opinion of graduate-level education, Ninja, but I think it’s the truth!

  29. I agree with TeacHer that it’s important to consider further education post-undergrad. I graduated in 2009 with the knowledge that my political studies degree, even in combination with my excellent resume, would not be enough to distinguish me from thousands of other graduates. Because I wasn’t ready for a Master’s yet, I decided to do a one year post-graduate college certificate program, which gave me specialized skills and hands-on experience in a new field (teaching ESL). I had a job within two weeks of finishing my studies.
    I’m not the only one, either: most of my friends who continued their studies are now, two years later, entering the workforce with no problem in decent entry-level positions. Additionally, we’ve learned a little more about the world outside the undergraduate bubble, and gained some insight into our own interests beyond writing papers. So, while my undergrad degree alone was fairly standard, it was a necessary prerequisite for my eventual career path after just a little extra time in study.

  30. I got my BSc in Mechanical Engineering in 2008. One of the things they rarely point out in these salary surveys is that you often have to give up a fair bit to be making that kind of money. The petroleum guys may make a tonne of money, but more often than not their work life balance is a joke. There is very little downtime or personal time in the petroleum industry, and it’s a VERY high stress environment.

    I’m going to have to disagree with the commenter who said that Engineers don’t learn skills that transfer through different industries. I selected my degree so I could do exactly that. So far I’ve worked in geotechnical, petroleum, construction, and civil design, and I’ve been interviewed for manufacturing and financial positions. Unless you get stuck in a purely number crunching role (which in Canada is rare, because they won’t let you get your P.Eng doing only that), you’ll eventually get exposed to the management side of things because you have to manage your crews, drafts people, technicians, and other groups. There is a reason why we make as much as we do (eventually). A lot of us serve as the interface between the technical world and the business world. It’s no more right taking pot shots at the highly paid professions than it is taking shots at the low paying ones.

  31. BA in Psychology for me too. Got it while already working in a service industry job that I just used my degree to move up in management with. I probably wouldn’t go back and change anything, the few business electives that I did force myself to take were nowhere near as interesting as the Psych classes. Plus people find out I’ve got a Psych degree and for some reason think I’m always screwing with them.

  32. Hey, thanks for highlighting my post and unlike so many other bloggers, you didn’t take out your anger on my blatantly misquoting me or entirely fabricating statements I didn’t make. In retrospect, I didn’t approach the topic appropriately and I’ve been meaning to post a followup. An idea for a post that started off as a warning to prospective college students to take a hard look at the earning potential of various degrees vs the debt they’d incur somehow turned into a a rant on Communications majors. Poor approach and not aligned with my typical style – but it is generating some discussion; I just wish I turned it into a more neutral or positive message. So, sorry if you’re upset over the post. But the message is important – there are a lot of wide-eyed highschool grads charging into degrees that aren’t going to pay very well if they can even find something in the field when they get out with 5 figures in debt.

  33. The reason petroleum engineers make so much is simple. You got to pay most people a hell of a lot of money to live on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean for 1/2 the year. Not a fair comparison if you ask me.

  34. My Associate’s degree was in Microcomputer Applications which is a fancy name for a help desk monkey. Didn’t find anything in the IT field so I got a secretarial job at a non profit. I enjoyed the experience but in order to advance, I needed a bachelor’s. I liked the admin aspect of a non profit so I choose a Applied Arts & Science’s major with a emphasis in Business. Took the business classes I wanted and worked part time at another non profit. Jumped ship to my current non profit for full time employment and have been here ever since September 2006. I am currently taking accounting classes online so I can get into non profit or public sector accounting.

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