If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering how valuable your current degree will be for your career. Or maybe you’re a highschool senior, debating which degree to pursue.
As someone who has extensively researched the value of a degree before deciding to drop out of university, let me share my two cents on the matter. It may shift your perspective.
Before we go over the 10 most useless degrees in college, let’s go over some major gaps that apply towards pursuing a degree in the first place.
False sense of security
Growing up, we were promised the illusion of the golden ticket. We are told to earn a paper degree, and watch the opportunities roll in.
This may have been true 30–40 years ago, where only 26% of middle-class workers had a degree. Today, when almost everyone has a college degree (if not a Master’s), its value is increasingly becoming a commodity rather than an asset.
As a result, the golden ticket we were promised rarely leads to our desired job upon graduation, if at all. According to the U.S Department of Labor, 53.6% of college graduates under the age of 25 are either unemployed or underemployed.
Misalignment of goals
This may be harsh to hear for some people, but most college professors don’t have your best interest as their priority. There’s two reasons for that.
The first is the increasing number of professor to student ratio, where some lecture halls seat over 500+ students per professor. This makes it incredibly difficult to develop a genuine relationship. This also leads to receiving general and unspecific advice from professors.
The second reason is that most professors have their research and tenure as a higher priority than helping students get the best education for their career. Many professors are using the institution’s facilities and resources for their own research, and are teaching as part of their contract.
There’s rarely a good outcome if there’s a misalignment in any relationship.
The good news to all of this is: you’re in control. There’s better alternatives and more opportunities than before, from getting practical experience, to leveraging new social communities, even avoiding the degree as a whole — the list just goes on.
With each of the most useless degrees I mention below, I’ll share an alternative you could explore in lieu of your 4-year journey.
Don Draper may have been “the man” back in 1960; however, with the rise of technology, the advertising industry is shifting faster than ever. The core reason for this is that we’re no longer living in the billboard/banner ad age. Consumers have all the power today. We can choose what we pay attention to and what we tune out.
Many companies question the ROI of advertising as a whole, big agencies are struggling in a world of free media, and new social networks are popping up every year.
Alternative: Stay ahead of new media trends and learn everything you can about it, from new social networks, to marketing channels, etc. Become an expert and share the actual results you’ve received with potential employers or clients. Results will be the only thing that matters.
Music is different from advertising since its theory stands the test of time. However, that in itself is the problem: it’s only theory.
If your goal is to one day become a professional musician, learning about its history and the musical terms and instruments is not going to accelerate your success. As Malcolm Gladwell proclaims in his book, “The Outlier”, what made The Beatles become one of the greatest bands in history was the 10,000 hours of practice they had in their early stages.
Alternative: If you want to be a performer in any industry, from musician, to comedian, to keynote speaker: put in the hours. Form your own band. Find every opportunity to get on stage and become the performer you want to be, not an expert in musical theory.
3. Computer Science
Technology is almost always ahead of traditional education. This poses a big contradiction if you’re trying to stay ahead of the latest trends that will help you be in demand of great companies upon graduation.
Be clear with your end goal. Are you looking to learn how computers work, or are you looking to be recruited by the Google’s of the world?
Alternative: Assuming most of you reading this are looking to learn how to code, it’s easier than ever to do this on your own. Check out free platforms such as Codeacademy or Treehouse, and apply it directly by building your own website.
4. Creative Writing
If you’re looking to express your creative mindset, this degree isn’t it.
The first reason is that most professors frown upon modern fiction, and would rather teach you about how it was done in the 1800s. The second is, the only compensated positions that most “creative writers” end up at is writing Top 10 lists for the Internet. There’s better ways to spend 4 years learning how to express yourself.
Alternative: One is, start your own blog. This not only helps you get real practical experience on expressing and condensing your mind, but you can also receive immediate feedback from your audience. Here’s the cherry on top of the sundae, if you manage to build a large enough audience, you can potentially make enough money to be your own boss!
Philosophy is the go-to degree when discussing the most useless degrees. This isn’t to dismiss the importance of philosophy, as many influential thinkers such as Tim Ferriss use Stoic Philosophy as a framework for making better decisions. The problem is the way it’s being taught. Professors choose theoretical topics of philosophy that will stir debate and discussion, which rarely applies to our real day-to-day lives.
Alternative: There’s books available, such as “The Obstacle is the Way,” on practical philosophy that will help you make better decisions in life. If you want to learn about the history of Philosophy, there are hundreds of books available on that as well.
If you need a communication degree to prove you can communicate, then you haven’t fully experienced college.
College is where you discover the necessary communication skills to nurture relationships, develop the ability to communicate with new people, and learn about your communication strengths and weaknesses. You’ll learn far more about communication from opening yourself up to meeting new people in your college than spending 4 years about how to talk.
Alternative: Create your own podcast. Find a topic that you’re passionate about and start interviewing people. As ironic as it may sound, the best communicators of the world are not the best speakers. Instead, the people who can ask interesting questions and know how to listen make the best communicators. On top of that, podcasting will help you connect with influential people in your industry, which is a far better strategy of landing your dream job than a degree.
Do you want to become a great teacher, have an impact, and share your message with students? Well, you may be disappointed to hear that most teachers receive a nominal salary compared to their relative value. Why not get paid what you’re worth, while potentially impacting millions of students around the world versus a few hundred in your local city?
Alternative: Today, anyone can become a teacher. You can share a practical skill you’ve developed with others, or you can teach people how to shoot photography, how to learn a new language, and more by creating your own Youtube channel, creating your own online course, or signing up for a teaching platform. The opportunities are endless with the rise of online teaching.
As globalization increases at an exponential rate, learning a new language is not only a great asset to have on your resume, but it’s also quickly becoming a necessity. Despite its increasing importance, it doesn’t require an investment of $30,000 to learn the history and literature of the language from a non-native speaking professor. In fact, it’s unlikely you’ll ever use most of the theoretical knowledge you learn about languages in the real world.
Alternative: Much like computer science, you don’t need to learn a language inside and out just in order to speak it fluently. There are existing language learning platforms like Rype that are 0.1% of the investment for a college degree. This platform matches you with a native speaking language coach for one-on-one teaching, rather than learning in a lecture hall with 300 other students.
9. Criminal Justice
Most people entering this degree are looking to become a detective, police officer, or enter law. If that’s the case, earning a degree in Criminal Justice may not be the way to go. According to the BLS, police officers and detective are not necessarily required to have a degree beyond their highschool diploma. This is because most of the practical knowledge is earned upon joining the academy through sponsored on-the-job training.
Alternative: If your goal is to enter law, there are better degrees that will train you for getting into law school. In fact, law school expert Ann Levine states that Criminal Justice is not considered academically rigorous by major law schools. Instead, Levine recommends a degree like political science, that requires research, serious thought, and analysis.
Learning entrepreneurship through a textbook is like watching a video on how to ride a bicycle without riding it. This bit of advice comes from personal experience. Every successful entrepreneur will tell you that entrepreneurship cannot be taught, it must be experienced. The calculated risk-taking, mental struggles, and hustle aren’t learned from a textbook, they come from being in the battlefield.
Alternative: The easiest alternative is to start your own business. This could be a side business you start, or something as simple as selling items on Ebay. The last thing you want to do is study the works of successful entrepreneurs without living it your own.
“Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.” — Sue Grafton
Despite the points mentioned in this article, your college experience is something to be cherished. You’ll learn far more from the overall experience than inside the classroom.
The problem is not college itself, it’s our preconceived mindset of relying on some of the most useless degrees to make or break our careers. Most of us will end up working in professions that have nothing to do with our degrees.
Think about what your intention and end goals are by entering your degree of study. Where do you see yourself in 5 years upon graduation? How will this degree help you get there? Is it a degree that top employers are looking for? Or are there specific skill-sets that you want to develop to improve yourself?
Most importantly, you should use college as the time to explore yourself, take risks, and learn your strengths and weaknesses. It’s one of the first and only times you’ll have the freedom to make risky decisions with no real downsides. College can become the best experience of your life. Choosing the right degree is only one part of it.