useless degrees stigma

Is there such a thing as useless degrees? Debunking this stigma.

The assumption of useless degrees

It’s something that a lot of people hear – or, rather, dread hearing – when they are starting off in university. The question is always around “What are you going to do with a useless degree like that?” or some awkward variation of it will be proclaimed and emphasised, whether it’s by a family member, a close friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or even a perfect stranger who decided that they knew better about your future than yourself. 

Here’s the thing about academia – all degrees have considerable value, however the amount of its “worthiness” is, quite often, going to be up to you. And, more specifically, to the career choices you make.

Did you go into your university career with a different major than you have now? I did. This degree was less lucrative, less “useful” than my previous major would have been. However, I excelled in the classes, and enjoyed them, which was not what happened in my previous academic program. 

The experience you have while you’re studying at the undergraduate, or even graduate, level does not just have to extend to coursework, but to other things as well. Did you make new friends? Did you uncover an interest you might have not otherwise known about had you not taken that class? Did you overcome a fear? Did you read more books than you ever thought possible? Did you learn something new about yourself? Did you have fun?

What are the official stats on tertiary education?

books, stack, book store

According to OECD,

1. Younger adults (25-34 year-olds) are better educated than they were a decade ago. On average across OECD countries, the share of younger adults without upper secondary education has decreased from 20% in 2009 to 15% in 2019.

2. On average across OECD countries, 40% of younger adults have upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education as their highest attainment. Of these, 59% held a vocational qualification. However, the share of adults with a vocational qualification has decreased over the generations: the share is 66% among 35-44 year-olds and 72% among 55-64 year-olds.

3. Tertiary education is the most common attainment level among 25-34 year-olds on average in OECD countries (45%). However, the share varies substantially across countries, ranging from 24% in Mexico to 70% in Ireland and South Korea. A bachelor’s degree or equivalent is the most common tertiary attainment level for younger adults in most OECD and partner countries.

As the stats illustrate, having a degree is a necessity. The possession of any sort of degree can be the difference between you gaining employment with a stable company, or not. Or even, a determining factor in defining your salary. There is no such thing as “useless degrees”.

An upper secondary qualification still offers good protection against unemployment. On average across OECD countries, 61% of 25-34 year-olds without upper secondary education are employed, in contrast to 78% of those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education as their highest attainment.

On average across OECD countries, less than 3% of youth are out of school in primary and lower secondary education, but this share rises to 8% at the upper secondary level. This increase is particularly striking in Colombia and Mexico, where over 20% of youth are out of upper secondary education, compared to less than 3% at primary level.

Your program is there to help you learn and become a better scholar, but it is also to help you grow as a person. To me, there is no such thing as useless degrees – I get more out of my degrees than most people would expect.

What makes your degree worthwhile?

Worthiness of a degree

If you have fun, your degree is worthwhile. 

If you’ve made friends, your degree is worthwhile.

If you have memories you’ll never forget, your degree is worthwhile.

If you learned a lot from your program, your degree is worthwhile.

If you “found yourself” during your program, your degree is worthwhile. 

Remember, there is no such thing as useless degrees. If you’re enjoying your studies, if you love your future field of work, and you’re studying a degree because you really want to, that’s more than enough for your degree to be worthwhile. Let no-one stop you from doing what you love.

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We crowdfund and teach English to underprivileged children in both Africa and South America, via e-learning platforms. Our aim is to bring economic development to those who need it most through fully funded English education programs.