Why I Don’t Regret My ‘Useless’ Degree

After graduating from high school, I did what many privileged kids do when they’re not sure what’s next…I went to university.

I was 18, a good student, and completely clueless when it came to a career path. Some of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do; be a firefighter, a teacher, an engineer just like their Dad or a nurse because the parties were better. Then I had friends who had no plan…I fell squarely in that group. I also had parents who highly valued education, both had university degrees, and saved up money in an RESP for me to follow in that path. That meant that the easy decision for me was to go the post-secondary route. And what do 18 years olds with a lack of direction and a strong distaste for math choose as their degree? A bachelor of arts with a major in history and a minor in sociology. Talk about narrowing down the career options! The world is your oyster baby…except for all those jobs that require a slightly more specific level of education.

“What’s the difference between a history degree and a large pizza? One can feed a family of four.”

I liked, maybe even loved, university (except for all the midterms, finals, reading, and term papers). School is kind of my jam, and it surprises me that I haven’t found my way back to grad school already.

Flash forward to the present day, and you’ll find me with a job that relates very little (you could argue not at all) to what I learned in university. Because of that, I’ve been asked more than once if I regret going to school. It’s a valid question. I spent four years of my life and a lot of money to get a degree that has no bearing on my current career. Seems stupid right? But honestly, I don’t regret it one bit. Here’s why…

I Didn’t Pay For It

Here’s my privilege screaming out loud and clear. I was hardly an accurate budget keeper during university, but my best guess places the cost of my university education at around the $25,000 mark. My Dad and his math brain could probably recall that number down to the penny, but let’s not go there. Compared to others, that might not seem like a huge number (it’s still a lot of money though!), but remember, that was in Canada, 10+ years ago, and I lived at home. If I was on my own and had to pay for rent and food that number would be significantly higher.

Looking back from where I’m sitting now, would I still be happy with that degree if I graduated with $25k of student debt? Heck no. I value education. I still think post-secondary is important. It provided me with marketable skills that helped me get and keep a job, but student debt is crushing.

And this is why I can’t recommend post-secondary for everyone. If you know exactly what career path you want then absolutely, get that degree and pursue your dream job. But if you’re like me and feel a little lost; don’t. Don’t force student loan debt on yourself because you think school is the right thing to do and you’ll find your path. You might, but you might also find your way by taking a year off and working. Positive instead of negative money flow.

Maybe you’re blessed with parents who have saved for your education and strongly encourage you to go. Take advantage of that, but realize how lucky you are and don’t waste it. University is a lot of fun, but make sure you come out with more than new friendships and a masters in beer pong.

An Understanding of Hard Work

University was a wake-up call for me. I coasted through high school pretty easily by doing the bare minimum, but that mentality didn’t cut it anymore. All of a sudden, I had to focus up, finish the readings, participate in class (ugh) and put in hours of studying to maintain good marks.

I couldn’t research and write a 10-page essay on the socioeconomic impacts of cholera in Zimbabwe the night before it was due. I tried…it didn’t go well. Usually, I work well under the pressure of a looming deadline (hello every blog post ever), but that was too much.

University made me a scheduler. I always thought I was organized, but it took on a whole new definition that I’ve maintained even now. Ask anyone who knows me…I’m a planner to a fault. Spontaneity plays a very limited role in my life. If we go on a road trip, I know how long we’re driving, where we’re stopping and have a hotel booked. Fly by the seat of my pants, no thanks. University made me that way; for better or for worse.

Marketable Skills

My degree may have very little to do with my work, but I give it credit for getting my foot in the door. Like it or not, having that on your resume is never going to be a bad thing. A BA was not a requirement for most of the positions I applied for after I graduated but I’m confident I got more callbacks because of it.

After four years of studying history, I came out with a lot of random knowledge about past world events, but I was also a better writer, reader and communicator. Practice makes perfect as they say, and writing hundreds of pages and reading thousands will bring improvement. You might not think that reading and writing are vital for my finance job, but you’d be wrong. Being able to write a newsletter that puts people at ease when the markets are in a tailspin is a skill. You can be the most brilliant analyst in the world, but if you put out an update packed with industry terminology and grammatical errors, people will skip right over it and judge you harshly.

My Dad recently found a stack of my old university papers in their basement and I skimmed through a few of them. There was a definite change for the better in the tone and delivery of my writing throughout my university career. Those first-year papers are garbage. I honed my skills though, and by the time I graduated my writing had improved substantially.

Diversity

I grew up in a very white, very middle class, very suburban town. It was safe with good schools and lots of playgrounds, but hardly representative of greater society. University helped break down some of those walls and open me up to a lot of new experiences. I was no longer swayed by the beliefs of my parents and was instead able to create my own set of values based on what I was being taught both in and out of the classroom. The conservatism I grew up with gave way to a more liberal mindset.

I was pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to experience new things. I didn’t always like it, but that’s ok. My introverted self will never be comfortable doing group presentations, but often the things you hate are the things you need to work at the most. Sitting in a classroom with 50 other kids from different backgrounds gave me insights I would never have gained if I had stayed in my suburban bubble.

To sum up, I don’t regret getting a university degree, but if I had to pay for it myself, I probably would. I hate that I feel that way. I’m such a firm believer in the benefits of a post-secondary education, but when I look where I end up, I just can’t justify the cost, especially considering how much more expensive school is now than when I went.

Two FYI’s

Your college or university exists in its own bubble. It might be more real than high school, but it’s not quite real life. Remember how you felt walking in on that first day, full of excitement and apprehension. You’ll be dealing with that again when you graduate and have to find a career. Don’t get too comfortable.

The freshman 15 is a real thing. You will drink too much and eat too much junk food (even if your mom still cooks for you). Your social life is half the fun of going to university but do take the education part just as seriously.

Let’s talk about education…Did you go to university or college? Do you regret it? What benefits did it give you? Are you dealing with student loans? Are you on the career path you thought you’d be on?

This post was proofread by Grammarly

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20 comments

    1. That’s interesting. I could never pull off a career in IT, and I would have some concerns about outsourcing. I think there’s definitely going to be a shift in certain jobs but I don’t think our generation will be impacted too heavily.

    1. Obviously, I’m with you on that. There are lots of valuable skills to be learned at post-secondary, even if they don’t relate perfectly to whatever career you end up in down the road.

  1. I studied finance, so that has worked out well for me :). But recently I’ve started to have a different view – I think it depends on what you want to do. If you know, pursue it. Nowadays even in technical computer fields, a 4-year degree isn’t required. Sometimes it is (I’m looking at you, engineers, lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc.), and in those cases college is very much worth it.

    Another great option is community college – saves so much money and allows you to explore a bit without feeling rushed to declare a major.

    1. It’s funny how quickly some things can change. I remember when I was going to university so many people said that ‘in this day and age you need a degree just to get your foot in the door’. And I don’t think they were wrong. Even just 10 years later though, that doesn’t seem to be the case as much. It certainly is in some places, and for some specific career choices like the ones you mentioned, but not as widespread.

      Community colleges probably have a lot to do with that. They are cheaper and often offer condensed two-year programs that will teach you many of the same skills.

  2. Great topic! I would go back and do University again! It was my first time living alone, I meet people from a far more diverse background than High School, I learned how to defend my position, work hard, work in teams of people I didn’t agree with, and write. These have all been exceptionally useful in my professional career.

    If you know what you want to do all the better but the critical thinking skills I developed have been even more useful than the specific skills and knowledge (which I rarely use).

    I am also very fortunate and my parents funded an RESP for me so I graduated debt free. However, even if it did require debt I would go back. It is good debt – you investing in yourself.

    Even i

    1. Thanks for stopping by Laura. There is a lot of value to attending university but I am very happy to have come out of it without student debt. I think I could justify graduating with a certain amount of debt but I’d have a limit for sure.

  3. I don’t regret my English degree, and I actually feel like it’s a versatile degree! You can work in publishing, media, basically anything! It kind of bugs me when people say you should major in STEM. Not everybody is cut out for that stuff. Sure, I could have been an engineer, but I might have been the WORST engineer ever. I’d rather pick something I’m really good at, than something that pays well and I’m horrible/unhappy with.

    1. Absolutely! I’m sure I could have hacked my way through an engineering degree too but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it and would have ended up with a career that likely wouldn’t have held my interest for long.

      That’s the big perk of people having different interests, you get engineers, teachers, writers, actors, etc.

  4. I went for a slightly more practical degree (Comms, majoring in journalism) because a) I got a full tuition scholarship and b) I knew I wanted to go into media and this was the premiere place to study in this industry. Most of my high school friends went into traditional fields like engineering accounting etc, and couldn’t understand why I didn’t go to a more prestigious university and do a BA. My degree may not be from as established of an institution but the practical nature of it was invaluable 🙂 Lots of people also bash comms as a useless degree but at my uni it resulted in highly employable graduates who all came out with practical experience as well.

    I now work in the financial industry and I think we could benefit from *more* humanities/arts peeps.

    1. I would agree with you! There are too many math brains in finance…sounds silly but I believe it. You definitely need that but people with broader knowledge are so important when putting out public (client) facing materials. It’s a different skillset for sure, and there isn’t always a lot of crossover.

  5. I majored in Marketing and my job has nothing that entails to anything in marketing. But you know, going through a university and having that major helped me be a better communicator in terms of speaking out more, got to know other students with diverse backgrounds and working in groups to calibrate in projects. The experiences in and out of the classes were very valuable.

    1. For sure! Doing a not so technical degree gives you an entirely different type of education that is often more practical when it comes to excelling in a career and working with other people. I think marketing is especially valuable today, especially for bloggers 😉

  6. I got super specific in my degree and kind of regret it now as I can’t apply it to ANYTHING else. Two sides to every coin. 😉

    I did not go traditionally, but do think education is extremely important. Like you said, liberal arts gets your foot in the door at a faster rate than a high school degree!

    1. Interesting you went the other way and have some regrets! It makes sense to me though. If I had went with a more specific degree when I went to university it would have been a complete guess. I consider going to teaching route but decided against it. I’m positive that whatever I had chosen at that time would not have been what I wanted to do 10 years later.

      It’s a hard thing to decide how you want your career to play out when you’re that young!

  7. I regretted the time it took and overly expensive cost but not the knowledge. These days, I definitely don’t use my degree, which makes me question the future of high education. If I would do it again, I wouldn’t have but it’s not because my degree was useless. It’s because I was worth more than whatever degree I would have gotten.

    1. It does seem like we’re getting past the point where have a post-secondary degree felt like almost a necessity so maybe the prohibitive cost is causing fewer people to go. There seem to be more positions available for entrepreneurs and in the tech industry that either require shorter more technical degrees or none at all. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the next few years.

  8. I PAID for my useless sociology degree. And my useless accounting degrees :-/

    However, despite the fact I’m not pursuing either one of those fields anymore, I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today on any different path.

    For that I’m grateful!

    Turns out they weren’t useless after all, just stepping stones 😉

    1. Sociology AND multiple accounting degrees…you’re nuts 😉

      I took sociology as my minor so I know exactly how it applies to nothing and everything.

      It’s interesting, I think I’ve heard more from people with non-specific degrees who do the regret it that people with job specific degrees.

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