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Degrees and Expectations

image As recent college graduates hit the job market, and time goes by for some of them without any prospects, I often hear the expressions of “shock and awe” that they spent four or more years earning a degree and now they can’t seem to find a job! For many, they are surprised that they are not being considered for jobs when they thought that coveted sheepskin was the ticket to success and prosperity. What happened?

Certainly there are many varying opinions on this topic, however, as I observe the job market in today’s economy, as well as in boom times, the issue is often clear to me.

For some, it’s simply a function of the current economy. For some, it’s a matter of approaching their job search more diligently, professionally, and wisely. However, for others, it’s a matter of having spent their time and money on a degree that makes them virtually unmarketable!


As someone’s career progresses, the fact that they have a degree, any degree, often continues to be important to open doors to new opportunities. However, after a while, what discipline the degree was in becomes less and less relevant compared to the actual work experience obtained (with obvious exceptions in certain fields like medicine).

As a new grad, however, the job seekers’ major has everything to do with their likelihood of being considered for a job. Without a significant relevant work history, the degree is the only indicator of whether someone is qualified and prepared to do a specific job.

I often encounter young men or women who graduated with a degree in African Studies, Russian Literature, Political Science, or another academic endeavor that may have been of interest to them, however, generate little or no interest outside of academia. If they are interested in pursuing a career in academia, in government, or in politics there may be potential, yet few opportunities. However, very often graduates from those, or similar, majors are trying to pursue opportunities in business and are surprised when they are not gaining traction in their search.

I am a strong proponent of education. If someone chooses to gain an education in a subject that may not be marketable for the sake of that education in and of itself, or for their own enjoyment and betterment, I’m supportive of it if they are able to afford it without tax subsidies. If they are pursuing such a degree without the expectation of it qualifying them for a wide variety of careers, they are pursuing their degree with a realistic perspective.

Many students enter college with a clear goal of the type of career they would like to pursue and so pursue a relevant degree. Perhaps it’s in medicine, engineering, computer science, accounting, finance, marketing, teaching, an online law degree, or many others. In many cases, however, when students enter college, they have no idea what their goals or career interests are. So they pursue a degree program that may be of interest to them academically, however, without giving thought to what the resulting marketability of that degree may be.

When in doubt of the type of specific career one hopes to ultimately pursue, it is much more fruitful to pursue a degree that may be more applicable in the mainstream job market. Perhaps a degree in Business Administration, Math, or Communications, and even one from these online MBA rankings. Each of those programs are more generalized, however, much more accepted as useful in a business environment. Because these degrees are more generalized, they give degree holders plenty of room for advancement and job opportunities. An MBA degree provides graduates with a higher earning potential than many other degrees, making it an excellent choice for those who do not have a clear career path in mind.

Once someone has a few years of work experience in a particular field, the degree they once gained is less relevant. However, in order to get that first, or second job after graduation the specific major is critically important. With college costs continuing to rise so much faster than inflation, it does not seem wise to spend many tens of thousands of dollars or more on a piece of paper that may be of interest, however, cannot help you gain an income when you need one.

If you are making a post-secondary education decision, make sure your degree is capable of helping you achieve your expectations, or that your expectations are appropriate for your degree!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

If only high school seniors would read this post before selecting a major. Something can be said, of course, for the power of a great liberal arts education. But too often that does mean something easy. If it is easy, chances are it will not be helpful long term.
GL HOFFMAN
www.whatwoulddadsay.com
www.linkup.com the best place to find a new job

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree! I suggest getting a BBA, and get a minor or double major if you have an interest like music or creative writing or history. I speak as a liberal arts grad that took OVER a decade to actually get a "career" going!

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