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Your degree sucks

For my undergraduate degree, I attended a small liberal arts college in Lexington, Virginia, called Washington and Lee University. A highly conservative school with 97% of the students going Greek, it was not exactly somewhere that I fit in. I didn’t drink, I wasn’t wealthy, I didn’t dress up, I wasn’t a redneck, and I didn’t like Dave Matthews.

Adam Avitable, 1997, age 20

When it came time to choose a major, I was torn.  I knew that I wanted to go to law school, but I had no interest in political science or business or any of the other typical pre-law majors.  They all bored me to death.  I hated my politics class so much and skipped so many classes that on my final exam, the professor wrote a question like this:  “Congressman Adam Avitable is absent from 40 out of the 75 scheduled votes in a session.  What is this called?”  As you can imagine, I had no fucking idea what the answer was.

I took advantage of the fact that I was in a liberal arts college and took classes in religion, gender studies (which just means womyn studies, and I found that to be obnoxious), art, and Japanese.  It was in my Japanese class, taught by Professors Ann Rogers and Ken Ujie, that I started to find a place where I fit in.  Our classes took place in a tiny ramshackle house on campus that was falling apart at the seams.  The other languages were all taught in state-of-the-art classrooms in austere buildings that were part of the Colonnade that graces every photo taken of our school.  Japanese and Chinese classes were not where the normal, traditional students were.  This was the place of the outcast, the non-Stepford wife in training, the reject, the independent thinker.

Throughout the four years I was there, I expanded my classes to include Japanese language, culture, art, history, and religion.  I eschewed other classes in favor of creating independent studies where I could study the films of Kurosawa or curate a museum showing of priceless East Asian artifacts.  I didn’t have the money to go to Japan, but I desperately wanted to.  I didn’t care about my core classes – I skipped as many as I could, barely paid attention in class, and passed by the skin of my teeth.  But when it came to East Asian studies, I focused.  I studied the language and practiced my calligraphy.  We learned to cook traditional food and eat with chopsticks.  I convinced the teaching assistant, who was fresh from Japan, to teach us profanity even though it made her blush.  And when it came time to graduate, I may have only had a 2.8 cumulative GPA, but in my major, I had a 3.7, and that’s all I cared about.  My major – East Asian Studies.

Do you know what you do with a BA in East Asian Studies?  You work at McDonald’s, or you get a job as an assistant, or you keep going to school until you get a degree that actually counts!  And so I went to law school, got a Juris Doctorate, which I proceeded to waste miserably by never practicing a single day of law.

What’s the moral of the story?  Your degree sucks.  Mine sucks, too.  In fact, most people have a completely worthless and useless degree.  It doesn’t matter, though.  Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you need to do to move forward.  Go back to school and get a graduate degree.  Start your own business and build a pedigree that way.  Work for a company at the bottom and work your ass off until you reach the top.  But realize that it’s not your degree that’s holding you back.  It’s you.

78 thoughts on “Your degree sucks”

  1. Hmm. Does my degree suck? I don’t know. I have a degree in BJ and in Communications. I graduated from university first, and THEN went to college for Broaadcast Journalism. Looking back, hmm. For what I wanted to do – working in TV and Radio – my college degeee was all I needed; that’s where I learned how to be a reporter, to write the news, to go on-air, etc. And although I hardly remember everything I learned in university, those were four amazing years… socially, and also, the learning environment. I loved loved loved being in school. I badly miss it!

  2. My degree rocks. I may have fucked up a lot of things in my life but my degree has been my saving grace. Granted, I don’t actually use it, Per se, and that sucks but it’s the one thing that’s set me apart from the umpteen other people applying for the same IT job (I have a Physics degree while everyone else has a CS or Engineering degree there were 100 CS grads in my year… And oly 4 of us in Physics). I owe every work-related opportunity to it. And those four (cough-six-cough) years of college were the most fun ever, where I learned the most about myself and what I was capable of. I needed those years to grow up. A person spends decades working. I needed more time before diving in. If for no other reason than that, and being able to kick as at (cough-kids-cough) Jeopardy it was worth it. Plus I looked hot in my convocation gown. Hot, I say.

  3. I just wrote a whole passive comment and stupidly hit “close” on my browser. Moron.

    Starting over!!

    I got accepted to a few universities over here, but at the last minute decided not go go, I didn’t feel it would be beneficial (ancient Egyptian studies with archaeology) plus the idea of getting £40k into debt seemed pointless.
    Instead I got a job, working for a large insurance company that paid peanuts. I learnt, gained experience, moved on to another place, more money, more challenges.
    Each employer offered free courses to help you achieve qualifications in your job. All paid got by them. So of course I took them up on it.
    At the height of my career I was working in a large firm, in charge of their contracts department. The company paid for me to do a course in Business and Contract law and also a management qualification. The money was nearly £15k up from where I started the 7 years previous. Sadly I got made redundant and my department was merged with the finance team.
    But I picked myself up, moved on, and now I do revenue work for a railway company.
    The job is easy, simple and to be honest I don’t have to work hard if I don’t Want to, and the money, only £5k less then my Contract Managers job.
    This new company are paying for me to do another qualification.
    When I’m not challenged here, I’ll move on.
    I’m happy with the decision I made. I can always learn as I work, and without massive student debts.
    Life is what YOU make it.

  4. I have a BS in Computer Science. I don’t know if they still call it that, mine is from 1988. Except that I decided in my junior year that I never wanted to be a computer programmer. But I also didn’t want to spend any more time in college than I needed to spend. So I used up all my electives on Accounting courses and I kinda became an Accountant. So I have a degree that I’ve never really used at all. Except it helped me build some really useful applications using MS Access that none of my other colleagues could ever have hoped to have built. But even that was a long time ago.

    So I guess what I”m saying is, I hear ya. East Asian Studies would have been just as helpful for me as Computer Science.

    1. @B.E. Earl, yeah, theres still CS, but theres also (multiple focus) CIT, now. CS tends to focus on the theory behind the technologies of today, whereas CIT tends to focus on practice and application, which is fun when youre a criptalogist criptologist cryptologist … breaking codes

  5. I have *half* a BA in history. Since it’s not a math degree I can’t tell if that means it sucks twice or half as much.

    And I totally thought you were a lawyer. Why did I think that? Well I mean a practicing lawyer. I did also wonder what type of law, as I was trying to figure out what sort of clients you’d have given the googleability of pictures of your balls. (And from that sentence you can tell I wasn’t an English major.)

    1. @Neeroc, English is a fluid language, evolving more and more quickly as technology continues to advance. Did you think some god figure type guy just gave us a dictionary and syntax every century? while hilarious, i dont think he would want to write it any more than we would…

  6. My majors have been architecture, accounting, education, business, and culinary. Nothing has ever held my interest long enough to finish, although I have enough credits for a degree. There have been rare times I have regretted not finishing, mostly because I work with engineers who have a tendency to treat non-degreed coworkers as second-class citizens, yet at the same time I’m glad I didn’t waste that time since I never found the right fit. The reason I never landed in my happy place is because everyone in my family wanted me to be practical and pick a major that would afford me a stable career and I just wanted to be an artist. Now that I’m a grown up, and my son is grown, I have been considering going back to study art. It doesn’t matter if it’s impractical, I love it.

  7. I don’t know that we always have to think of a degree as something you “use,” it’s something you have, or something you are–I am a bachelor of arts in English. Yes, I know in a way it sounds silly, but I don’t think the sole purpose of an undergraduate degree is vocational preparation; it shapes who you are, how you feel, how you think, in ways that you probably don’t realize. Robert Frost once said, “We go to college to get over our littlemindedness,” and I bet that’s very much what happened to you as you found your place at Washington and Lee. Really, most people with college degrees don’t “do” what their degree implies–most people with degrees in history aren’t historians, most people with degrees in physics aren’t physicists, even people with degrees in music aren’t usually musicians. That’s okay. At its best, college helps you learn and think better, and those are the most important skills we need anyway.

    1. @Bryan, I don’t think college teaches anyone to think at all, but maybe because my high school was very pro-active in that arena. Nonetheless, I don’t feel like I really learned how to think until law school.

  8. Heh…. I knew my degree sucked when schools began cutting music & art teachers the year before I was going to graduate. Kids are asses, they shoot at you now, and you can’t do anything about it or you’ll get fired. Sigh. So now I’m a roller girl who at one point ran a company after only working there for 6 months! ind over matter!

  9. well, im still in college. seems kinda like high school; im taking bullshit courses that i dont really care about trying to get into the classes that i actually care about. the one thing that changed for me during that transition was the people. i met people with similar interests to collaborate on projects with, and because of that ive spent more time and effort on projects with my failserver than i have on classes, and ive learned more, too. i suppose what really matters isnt the piece of paper at the end of the road, its the people, the projects, and the persistence.

  10. Yes, my degree in Psychology was useful in helping ME recover from a less than ideal childhood, but otherwise? Waste of 35K. Which kills me to think that I should have gone into nursing, or teaching or med school. Something that has a “use”.

    I’m currently waiting to hear if I was accepted to a Social Work program, from there I could see myself getting my masters. More and more agencies are hiring people with SW degrees vs a psych degree (because here you need to be registered with a governing body to work as a social worker, where with a psych degree, you do not unless you go get your PhD and call yourself a psychologist).

    Otherwise, yeah, my degree sucks.

  11. I have a degree in radiography. But I work as a technical account manager for a company that develops workforce management applications (yup, just as dull as it sounds, but it pays well). I’m currently in the process of starting my own business as a wedding photographer, because at the age of 47, I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up. 🙂

  12. My IT degree has worth. It convinced corporate America that it was okay to hire me to do the work I could already do before the degree. Plus in school I learned that on a mainframe computer, enter and return had separate functions so that when I got hired and my boss said “you know that on a mainframe enter and return have separate functions, right?” I could honestly answer “hai” instead of having to say “hontou ni”. Totally worth four years of my life.

  13. I too studied Japanese language, culture, art, history, and religion. But I did so by traveling to Japan a dozen times and experiencing it first-hand. It was cheaper than getting a degree, but the down-side was I didn’t get a piece of paper I could show people that says I’m a master of East Asian Studies. I did get some nice photos and a bunch of friends that I still keep in touch with though… maybe it’s a fair trade?

  14. My advice to anyone wondering what to major in is: Do whatever interests you. Either you’ll make a career of it or you won’t; it doesn’t matter. College is an experience, and most of the education takes place outside of the classroom. You’ll have a much better experience if you do what you love.

  15. Well – I didn’t get to pursue “higher education” until I was in my mid-thirties and married with two kids. Higher education was not something my parents insisted on or could afford. I had to move from part-time to full-time work to afford school, which I could only attend part-time so the course of study took twice as long. I graduated at the top of my nursing class with a Associates of Applied Science and that was all I was going to get since I had to get right to work after graduation – during a time when no one was hiring new graduate nurse.

    But — I parlayed that AAS into sequentially different careers in nursing and healthcare (which continues to be a strong field) and am now in my happy place. Along the way I’ve taken advantage of opportunities to do new things, each of which led to other jobs with more money and responsibility.

    The return on investment is more than I expected. I only wish I had started earlier and had the time and money to obtain a graduate degree – not for the degree itself, but for the additional opportunities that would have been available. But I’m not too disappointed in where I was able to get to.

    1. @Mrs RW, I think that getting a degree when you’re not right of high school can be beneficial because you have a better sense of where you want to be in your life. Maybe everyone should work for a few years minimum before going off to college.

  16. I started to work when i was 16 and by the time i was 18 i was in management and making more money that my fucking high school teachers. Everyone always bitches about “you are nothing if you don’t have a degree” so after a few years I went to College, what a waste of time, i did it for two years and said screw it, I was not learning anything. I have not regretted my decision ever. I have lived a wonderful live, if I died today I hope no one would give a shit about any degrees I have or dont have

  17. My degree doesn’t suck, but only because I don’t have one. I quit high school school at 15, went to college as a mature student (without a HS diploma) and left before first year was done because I ran out of money. I worked crap jobs for a few years and then just worked my ass off and have actually pulled off a pretty successful career so far – working my way up the corporate ladder so to speak. Specializing in events, corporate trade shows, PR and communications. I’ve been a departmental director and I’ve worked for the government with an excellent salary. My resume kicks ass, but I’ve had to work HARD to get here. That being said, I feel immense shame for being a high school drop out; but I don’t let it hold me back.

  18. I gave up on my BS in Political Science because the core classes at the HUGE university sucked my soul dry. I quit, got married, had a couple of kids and then went to school for an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies. Much happier with a specialized degree. No crappy classes that didn’t have anything to do with working in my field of choice.

    Not sure how I feel about the student loan debt that got me the degree, especially since I held a Paralegal position even BEFORE i got it, but I digress… Employers want to see that piece of paper, even if you know nothing about the job that goes with it.

  19. Yep. Loved school but agree it was a colossal waste of time. After 10 years, I have 3 degrees, 75k in student loan debt, and a job I absolutely hate. Oh, and I work along side people skipped higher ed, went straight to work, and earn 25k more than me. Kim, PhD

  20. ooh I wish I could agree, and if I lived in the States I probably would but here….sadly here it doesn’t matter how much experience you have, they want that degree. It is because education is free so they expect you to go to school, get a degree and then work. This is why, at 40, I am in school getting my Bachelors and will go on to get a PhD.

    But man, I would have loved to have taken the classes you have taken. That must have been a lot of fun and very interesting. I find Asian Culture and History to be fascinating.

  21. A day spent learning is never wasted. A day spent learning something you are passionate about is a gift.
    There is no such thing as a wasted education, nor a throw-away degree. You’ve succeeded in college and in life if you enjoyed your time there.

  22. Thank you for getting a completely useless (in the “real” world) degree….it enabled you to explain that whole “Asia isn’t a continent” thing to me quite nicely.

    I’m three credit hours shy of my “degree” in Paralegal/Legal Secretary. I didn’t have a drivers license so when my brother graduated (we went to school together), I had no way to go to my classes. Also, I was starting to go crazy so I needed the break. My “one semester break” to give me time to save up for a car and insurance so I could finish has been going on for eight years. Oops.

    “Luckily” I already had the job so finishing wasn’t as important anymore.

  23. I have two degrees (B.A. and M.A.) and my husband has 4 (B.A., M.A., M.A., Ph.D.) and neither of us are working in our field. But am I sorry I did it? No. Am I sorry he did it? No. It was a wonderful experience, and really, since you don’t know the road less traveled, why waste time wondering what might have been?

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