Should You Pursue a Degree?

It’s an oft-asked question and controversy nowadays: Are degrees “worth it”, and, if so, who should pursue a degree, and when? With the cost of college rising, job requirements becoming stricter, and the amount of required unpaid internships, it’s important that the decision to go to college be a carefully-considered one.

Realize that most degrees do not directly lead to a career. Gone are the days where simply having a bachelors degree in any field would open up worlds to you and make employers go gaga. The degree fields nowadays that most likely will lead to a well-paying career right out of college are known as the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math. Now, the common denominator in all of these is math. Even the more science-based fields (chemistry, biology) will require a lot of math courses. Engineering degrees require a lot of advanced math. Unfortunately, the “S” for science does not include social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and political science. It is important to first figure out what you want to do for a career and then consider which degree program will help you reach that goal instead of picking an appealing major and then trying to figure out what you’re going to do with it as you near graduation.

If you don’t go into STEM, you could go into a medical field. Degrees in pre-med, nursing, physical therapy, or respiratory technology are easily transferable to a well-paying job straight after college. However, some of these will require graduate-level degrees. For example, an MD must go to medical school after undergrad and a physical therapist must get a masters or doctorate (depending on the state). A dietetics student must complete a one-year internship (often unpaid) after their bachelors and starting in 2024, they’ll be required to have a masters degree. A job as a mental health counselor requires a masters degree and thousands of hours of post-degree supervised practice before you can even sit for a license. As well, in any of the medical sciences, you still won’t be able to get away from taking hard science, statistics, and math courses. However, if you don’t mind some science and math, there are well-paying medical fields you can enter with an associate’s degree, such as nursing, respiratory technology, dental hygiene, and physical or occupational therapy assisting. Just be aware these associate degree programs are typically highly competitive to enter and will take one full year of math and science pre-requisites before you can enter the program.

If you don’t decide on STEM or the medical field, you could get a degree in a social science, but be prepared to teach. People who get degrees in psychology, English, sociology, etc., generally have a hard time finding a job in their field straight out of college unless they pair it with an education degree or get a doctorate in order to be able to teach at the collegiate level. If you desire to work on the research side of things, you will definitely need a doctorate.

A related issue is that degrees have become highly-specialized. It’s not enough to get a business degree. It needs to be in economics, marketing, or another niche. “Everybody and their mother” now has an MBA, and a lot of schools offer 1-year MBA programs online. The ease of earning the degree is a double-sided sword, as it means more people have access to them, causing saturation in the market and more competition for jobs.

If you don’t have a passion and strong skills for anything specific, it might be more worth your while to learn a trade or earn a certificate in order to become a truck driver, paramedic, or cosmetologist/barber. People in these professions can make a livable wage but don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars and 2 or 4 years of their lives preparing them for their chosen occupation. Trades often require apprenticeships, but they are paid. And of course, you can go back for a degree at any time of your life. It’s not uncommon for middle-aged people to earn a degree. Online classes make getting an education at any age or stage of life more feasible and appealing.

Don’t pursue a degree because you’re bored or feeling stuck in life. Take up a hobby, talk with a therapist, apply to different jobs that require the qualifications you have currently. Pursuing a degree should be a logical decision, much like choosing which stocks to buy, route to take while driving, or retirement plan to get. If you’re fascinated with a subject and want to learn more, learn about it for free via the library or take a free online class or workshop. Unless, of course, you have the money and time to sacrifice getting a degree just for fun and you know you won’t ever regret giving up your time and tuition money.

Don’t tie what you do for a living to your identity. What you do for a living doesn’t necessarily say anything about who you are as a person. There are incredibly intelligent people who decide to go into a trade instead of pursuing a degree and people with a modest amount of intelligence who are strong at memorization, good test-takers, and get tutoring throughout college in order to make it through with decent grades.

I know this topic inspires a lot of different thoughts and opinions. I probably could have written an entire doctoral thesis (ironically, haha) on the topic, and I’m sure I missed a lot of good points in this blog post. What are your opinions on the topic? Do you agree with me or are there any points about which you feel otherwise?

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