Do you think college is worth it?
May 27, 2013 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm having second thoughts about going back to school, not only because i've seen a lot of people graduate and not be able to find a job so they can pay off their $30,000 loans but also because they might be over qualified for it or underqualified. If not that, then i'm kind of worried with the field i want to go into it would be really hard to find a job here(united states), and i'm starting to wonder if i would be better off buying text books/books and just teaching myself what i want to learn. What's your opinion on college? Do you feel like it's worth it anymore?
posted by earthquakeglue to Education (51 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
It depends what field you want to enter.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:47 AM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


By the way, $30,000 isn't that much. While no debt is much much much more preferable, $30,000 is still manageable, especially if you get a job in your field once you graduate. However, borrowing $30,000 to launch into a career at Starbucks is not a wise investment.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 AM on May 27, 2013


It's worth it for some people and not worth it for others. It's hard to say whether it's worth it for you based on the information you provided.

What do you want to do professionally? Some jobs require a college degree and others do not.
posted by dfriedman at 9:49 AM on May 27, 2013


College is absolutely worth it in specific fields such as engineering and sciences, or where the degree offers networking and prestige (e.g. MBA, Ivy League).

College is absolutely not worth it for just about everything else. English degree? Please.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


A lot of this is going to really depend on what field you're interested in. Some fields absolutely require a college education. Some do not. One of the interesting statistics to come out of this last recession is that a lot of people lost their jobs, but the ones who recovered most quickly were those who had college educations.

Most broadly, I think a college education is still "worth it," as long as you're savvy about your college choices and pragmatic about which program/major you go into. It seems there are a lot of stories in the press these days about people skipping college, but most HR folks still look for a college degree when they're doing hiring.

Conflict of Interest Warning: I teach college.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2013


Response by poster: @dfriedman, @Betelgeuse I want to do something with history. I was actually considering archaeologist but a lot of people have told me how hard it is to get a job in the us. Thus, i'm having second thoughts and wondering if its even for me.
posted by earthquakeglue at 9:56 AM on May 27, 2013


It's even harder to find a job without a degree. From experience, employers don't give a flying fuck how much you've studied something on your own time unless you have concrete accomplishments to back it up. Unless you have shitloads of experience in a specific area, and even then, competition is motherfucking fierce. If you're overqualified, you can leave your degree off your resume. If you're underqualified, you basically have no chance.

If you don't want a big debt and you want some semblance of security, go to a public university for a trade. Tradespeople are in demand, can't be outsourced and you can always go back to school later.
posted by windykites at 10:00 AM on May 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


I had a much easier time finding jobs after I graduated a from a non-prestigious state school with a philosophy degree. It doesn't seem to me that it should be or needs to be that way. But for many, many jobs, it is. $30k of debt for a 4-year education, which if done right can be intellectually, emotionally and socially fulfilling seems like a good proposition. There are plenty of career paths that don't require college, and if you're interested in them, maybe that's a better deal. But if you're aimless and young, college for $30k in debt seems like a pretty great idea.
posted by skewed at 10:02 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have two archaeology degrees and I would say that unless you are bringing in additional, unusual skillsets I would council against going back for an undergraduate archaeology degree in the US. This is especially true if you do not already have an abiding love for and passion about the field. I think it's a wonderful subject and it's actually really applicable for a lot of other fields/jobs, but the competition for purely archaeological jobs is very intense, and they increasingly require MAs and PhDs. Is there a specific reason you say archaeologist?
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:06 AM on May 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was actually considering archaeologist but a lot of people have told me how hard it is to get a job in the us.

You kind of have to go beyond "people have told me" and do some more research, and get to the stage of "employers have told me."
posted by KokuRyu at 10:10 AM on May 27, 2013


Speaking as someone without a 4 year degree, it would have been easier to get hired and I would have had a higher pay rate at my last job if I had come in with a 4 year degree, even if the degree was unrelated to the field (Life Insurance). After I'd been there a few years, I started asking coworkers what the hiring process had been like for me, and it turns out that even though I'd been working there as a temp employee, it was a bit of an uphill battle to get me hired at an entry-level position, because I didn't have a 4 year degree. So, assuming you're going to go to college to learn about something you're interested in anyway, I'd say yes, it's worth it. In my opinion, it's not worth going to college if you're not going to enjoy it and don't know what purpose it would be for- if you're doing it just because you think it's the next required step in life.

For either "something in history" or archeology you could get a job in the US teaching, which would allow you to learn more about the subjects you're interested in while making an income- but you'd need a degree for that.

I think your next askmetafilter question should be "How hard is it to get a job in the field of Archeology in the US, and what level of schooling is required?", maybe with some details about what sort of careers you think you'd be interested in. I bet you'd get some answers from some real-life Metafilter Archeologists.
posted by Secretariat at 10:12 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Archaeology is really interesting. I'd study the hell out of it. I wouldn't make a career out of it. Being a jazz singer sounds like fun, and I have a nice voice, but the odds of me getting a job singing professionally are nil.

Unless you feel comfortable gambling the cost of school on the incredibly slim odds that you'll be able to do archaeology professionally, pick something else.

Get a degree, for sure. Understand that it's not a guarantee of a good job, or any job for that matter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:13 AM on May 27, 2013


College is absolutely not worth it for just about everything else. English degree? Please.
posted by Cool Papa Bell


This is pretty ridiculous, and I can only imagine you're letting your view of the "real" worth of college interfere with the practical outcomes for the OP if she went to college. A resume from a schlub with a BA is going to get preference over a resume from a genius at most entry-level work. The vast majority of good jobs in government or corporate America would be 100% inaccessible. That's obviously a stupid system, but pretending a degree does not add value to a typical student is just contrarian.
posted by skewed at 10:14 AM on May 27, 2013 [29 favorites]


In addition to letting me study some things I loved, college exposed me to things I didn't really know I would have liked. Add to that the people I met who have become the backbone of a great network of real life experts in all manner of things and I couldn't have asked for a better experience.

Oh, and all that stuff about four year degrees of any sort being a first pass job requirement for so many career paths.
posted by advicepig at 10:17 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see this often and I frequently wonder if I'm the only person who's thought of it (I know I'm not) - but is it possible for you to get a job in the field, get financially secure THEN get the graduate degree?
That eliminates the whole "graduate and not be able to find a job" thing. If you find you cannot get a job without the grad degree, well then, you've got your answer - go back to school.
Personally, I'd say education is worth a great deal of debt - it can't be repossessed.
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:20 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


College is absolutely not worth it for just about everything else. English degree? Please.

I have an English degree and it is the basis of my career as a book editor. Further, I work at a museum where many (if not the majority) of my colleagues across dozens of different departments have liberal arts degrees. The English-degree-as-stand-in-for-liberal-arts-in-general is easily maligned because to some people it doesn't seem to obviously connect with any career paths besides teaching, but the process of acquiring a B.A. in English (or history, or comp lit, or archaeology, or philosophy, etc.) can indeed impart essential skills above and beyond the specific area of concentration (e.g., critical thinking, researching, writing) that some career paths absolutely require.
posted by scody at 10:24 AM on May 27, 2013 [16 favorites]


Oh yeah I should have made it clearer that having a degree can be a great thing, and having an archaeology degree doesn't at all preclude normal employment opportunities, it just means you have to spend a little more time explaining it to employers. Great analytical skills, language requirements, science classes, and GIS classes? All valuable in different areas. That said, if you love archaeology, be prepared to fight really hard for the chance to practice and teach it, and be prepared for a lot of manual work. There are volunteer options for archaeology, but realistically, it's not an easy field to learn on your own. Have you ever worked in a museum or taught? Why do you like history?
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:25 AM on May 27, 2013


Depends: are you looking to pursue post-secondary education as vocational training, or as higher education? From the tone of your question, I suspect that it's more the former - understandable, as many people, including employers, do on some level equate college with job training at this point.

But it also sounds like you're looking to get something more than just a piece of paper out of your four years. And if it's job training, I would argue that college does a very poor job of teaching the directly translatable skills that employers assume that it does - so you see why it's unfortunate that employers do equate college with vocational training, because it's a costly and flawed entry barrier.

On the other hand, however, if you're looking to approach college as higher education, you may get more out of it - I think the most useful asset that post-secondary education offers is not necessarily knowledge, but the means to interpret knowledge. Which is to say, it teaches you how to think like a computer scientist, how to think like a mathematician, how to think like a sociologist, like a historian and so forth. The ability to hone and shape your thinking to a certain paradigm is absolutely invaluable and certainly applicable to a number of fields regardless of what field you go for (which is why "English degrees aren't useful" is theoretically, if not practically, bunk) - but it isn't testable, so many students end up going through post-secondary education with a focus on the base of knowledge rather than the toolset of the knowledge. Just ask about this trend in computer science where employers complain that 90% of the graduates don't understand how to think like a computer scientist! So understandably, employers are also cautious about seeing higher education as any indication of the skillsets they're supposed to represent.

Consequentially and given you're looking to get something out of your time and monetary investment, I would say that post-secondary education is a good fit for you if you're willing to view it as a personal improvement decision rather than a resume point - and if you're more inclined to view it as the former, I would argue you would get more out of it because since the fundamental skills aren't testable, the onus is on you to have the discipline to develop them within the crucible of your degree.
posted by Conspire at 10:32 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, if nothing else a degree is used as a signalling mechanism by the vast majority of employers.

If you think that you need time to grow in other ways, there are other options that you can think about to get experience for a few years. Non-bachelor's degrees like trades are an option, but are a much more specific commitment that you should experience first hand before doing.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:35 AM on May 27, 2013


I'm a little confused by your question history. Are you currently a US college student considering dropping out or someone who has never been considering not going or a graduate considering grad school of some kind?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:41 AM on May 27, 2013


i'm starting to wonder if i would be better off buying text books/books and just teaching myself what i want to learn.

This is great for personal fulfillment, but it will not likely get you a job in a field where a college degree is expected or required. One thing college does get you is the credential, the degree, which is often a requirement for a job, no matter what you know. I am not arguing that this is the way it should be in all cases, but it is still the paradigm we have today.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 10:46 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was actually considering archaeologist but a lot of people have told me how hard it is to get a job in the us.

The problem with becoming an archaeologist isn't that there "aren't a lot of jobs in the US".

The problem with becoming an archaeologist is that you need a lot of very highly specialized education in order to devote your career to it. And for the most part, those careers are within academia, and as such have a lot of the problems that the wider academia landscape faces. I guess that boils down to "there aren't a lot of jobs", but really it's much bigger than that.

That said, if you wanted to get a gig in archaeology, you actually don't need a college degree. You need to go to field school. Usually that means paying someone for the privilege of working for a season. And the way to find out about field schools is to take archaeology classes at a university. So if it's something that maybe interests you, and you're young and able-bodied, I'd suggest enrolling in a university, taking an intro level archaeology course (probably as a non-major, though frankly I was an anthropology major and did fine). If you still really like it, save up for field school.

If you love field school, you could probably get work as a dig monkey going from dig to dig working long hours in rough conditions for very little pay. This is especially true in the US if you're willing to do CRM and surveying work outside of academia and more in the private sector.

Keep in mind that the work you would be qualified for at this point is manual labor.

Becoming an archaeologist like you see in the movies is pretty much off the table for you, ever, unless you're asking the "is college worth it?" question from the standpoint of a high school sophomore. That kind of professional archaeologist is a tenured university professor. Which, unless you are EXTREMELY gifted and passionate about archaeology, means that you would need to attend a highly prestigious university and from there be accepted into a top graduate program, from which you would need to write an earth-shattering doctoral dissertation which results in you getting tenure at one of a few top-flight universities.

It's not so much that there "aren't a lot of jobs", it's that being a hotshot world-traveling archaeologist is basically like being a pro-football quarterback. If you're already 25 and thinking about what you might like to do someday, you don't stand a chance.

I wanted to be an archaeologist as a little kid in the "when I grow up" sense, majored in anthropology in college, and discovered simultaneously that the dig monkey thing wasn't for me and that I stood almost zero chance of being accepted to the kind of graduate program that would result in the part of archaeology I was interested in. So I became a boring administrative paper-pusher who loves visiting museums, reading history books, and watching NOVA on PBS if it happens to be about human evolution. I suppose it's possible that I could go back to the field someday, but it certainly wouldn't be as an archaeologist.
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are you still in Tennessee?

http://capone.mtsu.edu/kesmith/TNARCH/

http://www.digonsite.com/guide/tennessee.html

http://archaeology.as.utk.edu/

Apologies, on an iPad so it's hard to hyperlink them. Reach out to local students and digs and museum. Reach out to professors. Do an internship. There are a lot of local projects that sound very interesting, and cool ones across the rest of the South as well, especially in Florida.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:56 AM on May 27, 2013


Are you talking about an undergraduate degree? If you don't have one, I think it's a good thing to get. A degree -- in anything -- is often be the baseline for any job. Having the credential is very often something employs demand. Pick something you find interesting. If it's archaeology then great, but as other have noted -- don't count on being an archaeologist.
posted by Lescha at 11:03 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


A resume from a schlub with a BA is going to get preference over a resume from a genius at most entry-level work.

That's a false dilemma. Here, let me give you another spin. Which would you rather have for your non-entry-level job -- a schlub with a degree and zero experience , or someone with four years of true entry-level experience actually doing some -- any -- work in the field?

I have an English degree and it is the basis of my career as a book editor. Further, I work at a museum

You have an English degree and two part-time jobs. Meanwhile, the average salary for a person with a geology degree and zero experience is north of 80K per year.

The question was, is college worth the expense, not "does college have worth."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:07 AM on May 27, 2013


Sure, but if someone is interested in history and related fields and has their sights set on a job related to that, a college degree is basically mandatory for anything north of working in the gift shop or digging holes in the ground.

No degree = no job, period.

Degree = strong job prospects in general, good career prospects as long as you set your sights realistically.

The OP doesn't seem to be debating whether to major in history or geology. He's basically asking "Should I go to college? I want to be a professor when I grow up." To which the answer is, yes, college is absolutely mandatory for this field.
posted by Sara C. at 11:13 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course it's worth it... Provided you are smart about your choice, and think hard about your goals.

It's probably bad idea, say, to enroll at a super-expensive university, paying totally from student loans, when you have no idea what you want to do with your life or even what you'll major in. That is a recipe for piling up a terrifying mound of debt, without any real benefit.

If you goal is to impress employers (and that is a worthwhile goal!), then you should think strategically about going to college. I suggest you look into local community colleges, to start off with. Going to a university for all 4 years costs more than going to a community college for 2 and then transferring to a university. Community college costs significantly less. And, transferring from a community college may make it easier for you to get into a more prestigious/impressive university. After you transfer and graduate, you end up with the same diploma as anyone else, but with less debt.

If your goal is something else... Well, you need to be clear about what that goal is. And then do a fair amount of research about how best to reach that goal.
posted by meese at 11:14 AM on May 27, 2013


College is absolutely not worth it for just about everything else. English degree? Please.

"Adults with bachelor's degrees in the late 1970s earned 55 percent more than adults who had not advanced beyond high school. That gap grew to 75 percent by 1990 -- and is now at 85 percent." link

"In 2010, the median of earnings for young adults with a bachelor's degree was $45,000, while the median was $21,000 for those without a high school diploma or its equivalent, $29,900 for those with a high school diploma or its equivalent, and $37,000 for those with an associate's degree. In other words, young adults with a bachelor's degree earned more than twice as much as those without a high school diploma or its equivalent in 2010 (i.e., 114 percent more), 50 percent more than young adult High school completers, and 22 percent more than young adults with an associate's degree. In 2010, the median of earnings for young adults with a master's degree or higher was $54,700, some 21 percent more than the median for young adults with a bachelor's degree. " link

Link to Census.gov with all sorts of interesting graphs of education levels over the years, earnings, etc.

I have a BA in history. I'm not a historian of any sort - I thought I wanted to be an academic, but I changed my mind. But all the things I learned as a history major are things I still use. I think that employers are doing themselves a vast disservice when they require a BA for positions that really don't need someone with a college degree to do them, but this is the world we live in. It's been a long time in this country since a regular not-Bill-Gates no-college-degree-having person could pretty easily get a decent-paying job (and remember: Gates dropped out of Harvard). Give yourself every edge you can, because employers are certainly doing the same for themselves.
posted by rtha at 11:16 AM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, the average salary for a person with a geology degree and zero experience is north of 80K per year.

You've conflated 'person with a geology degree' with 'person employed as a geologist' while demanding that they be distinct for people with English degrees.

The question was, is college worth the expense, not "does college have worth."

It's fairly well-established that people with degrees earn significantly more over their lifetimes than those without degrees, even taking debt into account.
posted by hoyland at 11:16 AM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have a friend who does not have a four-year degree. According to him, it is almost impossible to get any kind of entry-level white-collar position without a Bachelors Degree because a 4-year degree is listed in the requirements of just about any white-collar job. So, while a four-year degree isn't a *guarantee* of a job, and it's certainly not a guarantee of the job you *want* -- the job market in general is much narrower without one.

Additionally, it's always really odd for me to hear people characterize humanities degrees as worthless, because my entire cohort of friends have humanities degrees, and we're all fully employed and doing well. Some of us have gone on to get JDs or MBAs, some of us are doing perfectly well without them, but I guarantee that STEM degrees are not the only path to employability.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 11:20 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was actually considering archaeologist but a lot of people have told me how hard it is to get a job in the us. Thus, i'm having second thoughts and wondering if its even for me.

This is a valid attitude to hold. One framing of this is that you're letting yourself be talked out of something you may love, because it's hard. A different framing is that maybe you're analyzing your future in terms of three key questions: "What gives me joy? Am I good at it? And does anybody need me to do it?"

(Ignore the religious stuff if it's not for you. I'm linking to that handout because it's a good summary of those three questions, which I find incredibly useful, and not because of the religious content.)

What's your opinion on college? Do you feel like it's worth it anymore?

My opinion on college is that you pay for two things: an education, and a credential. These two are related but separate. Pay for college with your money and time if either or both of those benefits are valuable to you.

Personally, I wanted to be a lawyer. I obtained an undergraduate credential and a juris doctor, because those are the hoops you must jump through if you want to practice law in the United States. Now, I could have saved time and a lot of money if I had chosen to go to different schools. I turned down scholarship offers, and I got an undergraduate degree from a prestigious school that has absolutely nothing to do with law. I made those decisions because I cared about the education I was getting; I could have made different decisions and still obtained the credentials necessary to become a lawyer.

My path worked out great for me. For somebody else, maybe college is only worth its vaue as a credential. Maybe for you, it's not worth anything at all. Those are all valid, but that's how I'd suggest assessing the value for yourself: as an education, and as a credential.
posted by cribcage at 11:22 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look at this data table on unemployment and earnings by educational attainment.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:24 AM on May 27, 2013


James Altucher has some very interesting and controversial views on this subject. Perhaps some of them will spark your own thinking process.
posted by queue_strategy at 11:53 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I studied art in college, got offered a job on the strength of my skills, and dropped out. No one has bothered asking me about my education at any other interview or job I've had since. But, I had a portfolio in an industry that values portfolios.

My husband studied programming, got offered a job before graduating as well (by one of his teachers!) and dropped out too. He still has loans, $40k-worth. He is really awesome at what he does and is now being approached by pretty impressive companies. But, he had his own "portfolio" in an industry that values it.

We both feel that education-wise, college was a giant waste of time for us. But we absolutely cannot ignore the networking opportunities that came with it. My suggestion for you would be to really soul-search, and figure out what you want to do - and it's okay if this takes you a long time - and then figure out what degree at what university would help you get that awesome job.

It's going to be expensive, but it won't kill you. Especially if you push yourself even harder when you're not in class, and shine in front of the people who can get you out of there before your graduation date.

Of course there are fields were networking events and getting your name out with solo projects can get you pretty far, but in order for that to work you really need a game plan. Archaeology doesn't seem like it'd be one of those, either.

Narrow down your search some more, and don't be scared of considering jobs or fields outside of the US!
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 12:21 PM on May 27, 2013


I know a woman with a master's degree in English Lit and she has a sweet six-figure job with a Fortune 500 company. So much for English degrees being worthless! I will say that she got in on the ground floor before the recession, though.

I think that a bachelor's degree is absolutely necessary for almost all white-collar jobs now. So you should get your bachelor's, no matter what. IME the subject of the degree is not important for most generic white-collar desk-jockey jobs. There are those where a degree in a specific subject (like accounting) is necessary, but if you are looking for a generic entry-level job, a History, Arts or English degree will do. So you might as well get your BA in something you enjoy studying.

What is not worth it is taking out massive student loans just for a BA. A few thousand dollars in loans isn't going to break you, but something like $50,000 will hurt, especially in an expensive city or particuarly low-paid field. So taking as much general education courses at a community college and transferring to a state school is ideal if you just want the B.A. credential to get you past HR.

A graduate degree is different. Only go for the graduate degree if it's something you really want to pursue and it's a necessary credential for your career path (for example, a MSW for a social worker, a JD for a lawyer, a medical degree for a doctor) or will give your salary a big boost. For some lucky people, your company will pay for a MBA or extra certification, or at least offer tuition reimbursement - if that's offered, jump on it!

tl;dr: Get the BA as cheaply as you can, think twice about advanced degrees.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:30 PM on May 27, 2013


Tequila Mockingbird: "We both feel that education-wise, college was a giant waste of time for us. But we absolutely cannot ignore the networking opportunities that came with it."

And the skills that were needed for those jobs, didn't you acquire those in college?

OP, another thing you could do is to scan the job listings (in your area or your dream city) to get a feel for what is expected for the kind of jobs you find interesting.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:34 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the skills that were needed for those jobs, didn't you acquire those in college?

No.

However, we were pretty good to begin with and knew what we wanted to do. (This is especially clear for my husband, whose instructor told him directly "You don't need to keep doing this, please come in for an interview at [COMPANY].")
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 12:46 PM on May 27, 2013


But how would your husband have met this person if he hadn't gone to college?

FWIW I agree with you that having a degree isn't always mandatory, if you happen to be really focused and interested in a field where hands-on skills are more important than credentials. (History isn't one of them, unfortunately.)

But I think that starting off in a higher-ed setting is more likely to result in a good career outcome than hitting the library will be. If only because you're unlikely to find a mentor who will tell you to screw the diploma and come take X job instead, in a library.
posted by Sara C. at 12:49 PM on May 27, 2013


But how would your husband have met this person if he hadn't gone to college?

I answered that - college comes with great networking opportunities which are not to be ignored and MUST be a factor in your overall consideration.

OP, seems like you might need to do more research about what your prospective dream-job would require. If in the end it looks too difficult and you feel okay with searching for something else, do another batch of research.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 12:52 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I don't have a degree and work a professional job in a very difficult to enter field. It's possible.

However, you have to hustle if you're going to go without. Like you have to hustle more than "Some people told me archaeology is hard to get a job in? Maybe I'd like something with history?" indicates you can hustle. I had a laserlike focus on my field (I'd known what I wanted to do since I was a kid) and was able to uproot my entire life for entry level gigs and grind away at it making minimum wage in a very expensive city just to get to the point where I'd be considered for more than hourly jobs.

And here's the thing: Even though I have a lot of experience in my field and even though I have launched major projects and held management-level roles and important levels of responsibility, I still have HR departments tell me they can't talk to me because I don't have a degree. I've had several people flat out tell me they don't care what the degree is in, they just need to check the "has degree" box on my paperwork. Even though I'm well into mid/senior-level career where I probably wouldn't list that on my resume. I was actually just in consideration for a job not too long ago where a 24 year old kid in his first non-hourly job was making $5,000/year more than they were willing to offer me as a mid/senior-level candidate because he had a Bachelor's. Even though HR would readily admit his degree had nothing to do with the field and there WAS no degree program for what I would be doing.

That's what you're looking at if you go without. A college diploma, if you're not going for something offering skills training like nursing or something, is basically shorthand for HR departments in white collar jobs to go THIS PERSON IS NOT A COMPLETE IDIOT AND IS WORTHY OF CONSIDERATION. However, you have to be smart about it. Go someplace where you can get a bunch of scholarships. If you can't do it that way, community colleges will usually have a program they've worked out with state schools where you can get your Common Curriculum stuff out of the way, then transfer to Big State U and finish there, which will save you substantial amounts of money.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:53 PM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a basic fallacy in a significant proportion of the posts here, and that is the idea that the goal of an undergraduate degree is to train someone for a particular job or profession.

That is not the aim of a most undergraduate degree programs and never has been. The goal is to provide the student with a basic education in a particular field or fields that can serve as the foundation of further education and/or training.

This is important for employers because there is a very scant amount of evidence of a young person's suitability and ability for a job. An undergraduate degree provides evidence that a student can, in a self-directed manner, complete a challenging long-term intellectual project, and along the way pick up some of the research and analytical skills that are useful in a variety of jobs or professions.

People expecting it to be more than that may be correct - perhaps the whole aim of higher education should be much more vocational and practical in nature. But that's not what it is now, nor has it ever been, at least when we're looking at the undergraduate level.

In other words, very few liberal arts or science undergrad programs are meant to be job training, even a little bit.

So is it useful? Sure it is - because it is the gateway to a whole range of other training or educational opportunities that ARE designed as training for particular jobs.
posted by mikel at 1:01 PM on May 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


I want to agree with the others that it's a good idea to narrow down the kind of work you want to be doing and examining the level of education required for that work and where you can get that education both effectively and inexpensively.

A major is often, though not always, just a way to indulge an area of intellectual interest while obtaining a rounded education and checking off a box for white collar job applications. So, it is often worth the expense. But you need to analyze yourself and your plans more to know if it's worth it for you. I don't think any of us can answer that.
posted by asciident at 1:45 PM on May 27, 2013


And the skills that were needed for those jobs, didn't you acquire those in college?

Some do, some don't. What strikes me about Tequila Mockingbird's anecdote is that neither she nor her husband graduated. And generally speaking, that is the "skill" learned in college and evidenced by graduated. It's a primary reason why so many jobs require a college degree—any college, any major. Because having that on your resume makes the statement, "I set a long-term goal and completed it." That fact separates people (candidates).

Obviously, college isn't the only way to make that statement; and people can debate the worth of various colleges and various degrees with respect to that statement. (This is why online degrees are worth considerably less as credentials.) But as a general fact, it holds up and it's why attending college sometimes matters considerably less than graduating, to speak to the OP's question.
posted by cribcage at 2:14 PM on May 27, 2013


Well it's impossible to get a job with an archaeology degree except that the art squad over here employs at least one such person as a special constable, and museums also employ archaeologists. You have to really kick ass and have a good degree, of course.

Yeah it might be hard to get a job digging up unicorn fossils in person, but there's more to archaeology than that, so...
posted by tel3path at 3:31 PM on May 27, 2013


Yeah, despite my poo-pooing your chances of becoming, as tel3path puts it, a "professional unicorn fossil digger", I generally think that if you really love history, and you want to go into some kind of career where you would get to deal with history every day, or contribute to the field of history (even in an administrative context), or teach people history, or preserve historical knowledge, or the like, you should definitely look into The Dread Liberal Arts BA.

If you like history and archaeology and are thinking about going back to school to do something in that field, it might be helpful to volunteer at a local museum. You'd meet people in a lot of different positions and learn a little about what goes into running an institution like that. You might get a better sense of what jobs are out there that you'd enjoy.

If this is something that seriously interests you, be prepared for people who don't know anything about it to question your interest and life choices every single day. I majored in anthropology, work in the entertainment industry, and I had to endure a LOT of "but what will you DO with that degree?" and "there are no jobs in that" for years and years. Like seriously I think it took 4-5 years of being gainfully employed in full time non-hourly jobs before my mom stopped suggesting I go to nursing school.
posted by Sara C. at 3:47 PM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The worst thing you can do is show up to class every day, pass your classes, and then right after graduation day, exclaim, "Ok, everyone! I have a degree! Can I have a job, now?" Rather, college needs to be approached as a process where your education goes hand-in-hand with internships and job seeking. If you do that, you will be successful.

"College is good for the networking" doesn't quite capture the full value. I am a better writer for my college degree, I studied my field at a very intense high level, I became a more disciplined worker. I was also around a lot of people who were leveraging their education towards pursuing jobs that would turn into their career. It takes a certain level of ambition and vision to do that.
posted by deanc at 4:21 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


$30,000 in debt pays itself off in less than ten years if it enables you to make $5,000 more a year, as long as interest is deductible. When a college degree (in our fallen, credentialist, etc. world) averages $20,000 or more a year in wage premium for 40+ years, the math is obvious.
posted by MattD at 5:43 PM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who never attended college because she was offered a great salary right out of high school. She did very well and ended up making something around or above 150K (I don't remember the specific number, might have been 200K) after getting through the entry levels of her field. Then she was laid off in the recession when in her mid-40s with no degree. She's been unemployed and underemployed and has not made more than 20K since and despite her years in her industry is primarily landing unstable entry-level sales jobs when she lands anything at all. Her lack of college degree didn't hurt her when times were good, but it's been really hindering her later-in-life reentry.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:25 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


It depends on what you want to do, as others have said. There are other options to getting a degree that won't leave you in debt though it might take you longer to get one. Get a job and work your way through night classes you've paid for, and work your way up basically get your education without debt. It's not as complicated as everyone makes out. My husband did it. Most people I know have come out of college without debt. You may have to go to community college and work shitty jobs and study at the same time but it is doable.

You don't need to go into debt to get educated, and heck it's your money and time, study something you love, if you aren't getting in debt to get the degree you don't need to make sure the degree will pay for itself when you get finish. Debt free education gives you freedom, even if it means you have to put off going to college for a year to work and save up, or hustle for every scholarship etc you can, or work shitty jobs for a few years.

As a side note, I have never been to college, and have simply hustled my way up the employment tree into a job I love that I suppose I should have at least a 2 but probably now a days a 4 year degree to get, but managed to get with only have a couple of night classes to learn some software and a lot of learning on the job.
posted by wwax at 9:55 AM on May 28, 2013


Get a job and work your way through night classes you've paid for, and work your way up basically get your education without debt. It's not as complicated as everyone makes out.

This actually can be quite difficult to do, depending what the person is studying, where they are located and what kinds of educational options there are nearby, and how much disposable income the person has to throw at this to avoid the big scary d word.

I feel like, if OP already has a pretty solid job that pays well and is somewhat flexible, and wants to study a popular "night school" thing like accounting, this could work well. But thinking back to my college's tuition structure and approach to registering for classes, this would have been cripplingly difficult for me to do out of pocket.

That said I do think that enrolling for a semester or two part-time and taking as many courses as possible in the evening would probably be a better bet than going into a bunch of debt right off the bat when the OP isn't even sure they want/need the college experience.
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 AM on May 28, 2013


You have an English degree and two part-time jobs.

What are you talking about? I work full-time, at a museum, as a book editor. I am on staff, with benefits, and make a solid salary in one of the most expensive cities in the country. All with a liberal arts degree (actually, with two).
posted by scody at 10:24 AM on May 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


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