The Rewards of a College Degree

According to an Associated Press analysis of data from 2011, 53.6 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 were unemployed or, if they were lucky, merely underemployed, which means they were in jobs for which their degrees weren’t necessary. Philosophy majors mull questions no more existential than the proper billowiness of the foamed milk atop a customer’s cappuccino. Anthropology majors contemplate the tribal behavior of the youngsters who shop at the Zara where they peddle skinny jeans.

I single out philosophy and anthropology because those are two fields — along with zoology, art history and humanities — whose majors are least likely to find jobs reflective of their education level, according to government projections quoted by the Associated Press. But how many college students are fully aware of that? How many reroute themselves into, say, teaching, accounting, nursing or computer science, where degree-relevant jobs are easier to find? Not nearly enough, judging from the angry, dispossessed troops of Occupy Wall Street.

It’s that time of year again when students across the country are preparing to graduate from high school and college, so media outlets begin asking that perennial question: Is college worth it?

New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni brings up that question, as well as that persistent argument that not enough American students are studying math and science — fields where they can acquire the technical skills companies are looking for. We’re constantly giving visas to kids from China and India who are acquiring those skills, while American kids delude themselves into thinking that they can find a job with a liberal arts degree because they have so much passion for it.

As a child who disappointed his Tiger Mom by rejecting science, engineering, and other Tiger Mom-approved fields of study for degrees in English and journalism, I feel for those kids graduating with liberal arts degrees who are having a difficult time finding a job. Is college worth it? Yes. But you have to hustle. You have to figure out which college will allow you to get the education you need without burdening you with so much debt. You need to figure out how you’re going to get a job while you’re in school, and not wait until after you graduate. You need to network with people who have the job you want, and your peers who are pursuing similar career goals. I would say 80 percent of the jobs I’ve had since graduating from college were gotten because I knew someone, or someone I knew was able to put me in direct contact with the person interviewing applicants for the job. You can go to college, and follow your dreams, but you have to do it in a smart way. Also, you don’t have to go to college if that’s not the right path for you. Choire Sicha, co-proprietor of The Awl, did not go to college. And he’s doing just fine.

Photo: Sean MacEntee

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.