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College: Varying degrees of worthlessness

A great deal of the value derived from a college degree has nothing to do with the concentration/focus/major.

By Karen Datko Nov 15, 2010 4:51PM

This guest post comes from Lauren at Richly Reasonable.


I recently wrapped up a weeklong invasion of my good friend E's house. 


First off, I'd like to say thank you to E for allowing me to stay at her pad instead of a hotel, thereby saving a little extra to put in the good ol' Roth IRA


(The truest friends care about your retirement funds. You can quote me on that. You could quote me on any of this, technically speaking.)

Let me tell you a bit about E. She is a well-spoken, well-written black belt. Maybe not a black belt, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't take her. 


E put herself through college at the University of Georgia using a combination of work, parents, scholarships and student loans. Her degree was in theater.


Now an Air Force-induced transient soul like me, E up until recently had been working in a church office. The job required good time management, work with technology, toleration of co-workers. You know, the usual job-type stuff (but no theater-type stuff).


Yup, college is expensive.


Yup, expensive endeavors are not to be taken lightly, especially by the non-loaded.

But E and I got to talking: There are many college degrees that some people would consider worthless. We submit that a great deal of the value derived from a college degree has nothing to do with the concentration/focus/major.


I'm going to go ahead and tell you to be reasonable here. We don't think you should rack up $100,000 in student loans for a job that will pay only $15,000 a year. We don't think you should take out $1 million in student loans just so you can be a perpetual student. The whole Van Wilder thing starts getting creepy past age 25.  


Worth it?

What E and I learned at college:

  • How to interact with human beings. Let's see, what was harder: Intermediate Accounting II or the fight I had with my roommate over whether or not I accidentally took her pan when we were moving out? Tie.

Roommates, co-workers -- same thing.

  • How to manage your time. Knowing that you need to sit down and write a 20-page paper is one thing; actually doing it is another. 

Due dates at school, deadlines at work -- same thing.

  • What "nostalgic" means. You may have already known the term. We learned lots of other non-accounting, non-theater related stuff too. This is what everyone is talking about when they refer to a "well-rounded" education. 
  • Networking. I once met Michelle Kwan. Not really, but I very nearly bumped bookbags with her. The point is, you meet people at college, and some of these connections will prove to be invaluable.

Would E choose a different major if she could do it all over again? Probably.


So what?


The point is that "worthless" college degrees have varying degrees of worthlessness.


Say you ended up unable to use your degree and unable to meet a deadline, unable to interact with your co-workers, unable to take care of yourself, and unable to hold a decent conversation with a client. I'd say you'd probably end up unable to hold a job.


Now that would be a worthless degree.


More from Richly Reasonable and MSN Money:

Nov 15, 2010 5:11PM
Some people say education is not worthless.  Racking up thousands of dollars in student loans and then getting married, having kids, and staying at home, with no intention of ever going back to work to use the degree you paid money for - that is worthless and pointless.  However, if you paid for college with cash and have no student loan debt, then all for ya.
Nov 16, 2010 8:44PM

feafea1: So by extension, courses with no plainly obvious relationship to one's major are worthless; psychology courses are worthless if you're not going to be a psychologist, English courses if you're not going to be a writer or English teacher, etc.  Correct?  One friend told me that many people did not get the connection between her major in advertising with a minor in psychology.  From a personal finance perspective it's downright scary to imagine all those people buying stuff, not knowing that they were slyly enticed to do it, or how.

Nov 16, 2010 7:47PM
funny how no one was complaining about how useless and worthless degrees were before the economy tanked.
Nov 16, 2010 1:44PM

Degree in theatre is worthless if you don't plan to pursue theatre (or don't think it through). However lets face it: the college degree is essential for many career paths.

You can still go to a law school,  or become a teacher with a degree in theatre(may still need to go for Masters of Ed, but it is only 2 years). And many companies will choose a BA with an irrelevant degree (like myself) over non-BA. 

I guess take-away point is get this piece of paper if it is important to you and your career, but don't spent an exhobirant money on it.  

Nov 16, 2010 12:18PM
Many of my friends have achieved various degrees, and after it was all over, often the ones who went to top quality trade schools have now faired even better. They have a trade they can take anywhere, and are actually working steady and have good pay plus often times benefits too. The degree or actual piece of paper is very expensive and often not worth the price tag if in the end you're unable to find a good job in an area of the country that you really want to live.
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