Judging the value of a college degree

“What’s worse than a bachelor’s degree in English?”

“A master’s degree in English.” Budda boom.

How would you rate the value of your degree?

Recently, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance ranked “the worst majors for your career.” Kiplinger looked at the likelihood of graduates finding employment in their field and came up with a “Top 10 List of Losers” (my words, not theirs).

At least English was not the absolute worst. Here is Kiplinger’s countdown of the 10 worst majors:

10 – English
  9 – Sociology
  8 – Drama and Theater Arts
  7 – Liberal Arts
  6 – Studio Arts
  5 – Graphic Design
  4 – Philosophy and Religious Studies
  3 – Film and Photography
  2 – Fine Arts
  1 – Anthropology

I can joke because I have a bachelor’s degree in English; and 20 years after I graduated, I went back to school part-time and earned a master’s degree in English.

Wouldn’t it have made sense at that point in my career to go for an MBA?

I say no. The Kiplinger list, and the thinking behind it, ignores one key factor: people are more successful doing what they like to do. Had I pursued an MBA, I would have been bored to tears. I wouldn’t have done well, and I would have cursed my decision every time I wrote a tuition check.

Instead, I decided to register for a graduate English course at George Mason University. About the only class I could fit into my schedule was something called “Freud and Lacan.” I remember calling the professor to ask what his class was all about. He tried to brush me off by saying, “This isn’t a class for beginners. You probably should find something else.” Ha, I thought, as I got off the phone. This is the class for me, and I signed up.

I loved it, and the professor and I soon became friends. One night he told me there was some scholarship money available and asked if I was interested. When I told him I wasn’t even in the program, he said, “You need to become one of us.” And so I did. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that experience—and how blissfully unconnected it was from my job at the time. It was right brain vs. left brain. It was yin and yang. It was challenging in such a refreshing way.

My advice to students is to major in what you like but also be very proactive about your career. While I may have majored in English, I probably spent more time writing for the student paper than I did studying. I landed a job on a community newspaper after I graduated, not because my sheepskin said English but because I had clips I could show to prospective employers.

The sad part about the Kiplinger article is that it predicts a higher “likelihood of working in retail” for these 10 majors. Students, don’t let that happen to you; unless, that is, you really like retail.

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