When Your Degree Means Squat

Burning a college degreeSo what the hell are you supposed to do with a degree that doesn’t mean shit in the real world?!

If you’re reading this, you know who you are… you’re the optimistic creatives that chose to major in Fine Art Painting, Glass-blowing, Creative Writing, Video Gaming…

You are one of the few that had a fantastic time in college because you were doing what you loved. But now you’re out in the real world with a degree that does little but help you apply to Graduate school. What now?

I know first-hand what it feels like to have a “useless” degree: I went to school for Film!

Anyone in the film industry will tell you flat out that a film degree means nothing in Hollywood – in fact, most people in the industry equate a degree with a pompous, know-it-all attitude, meaning that it’s actually preferred that you didn’t go to film school!

This, unfortunately, is the situation for many college graduates today who chose to follow their heart to university and now find themselves competing amongst thousands of applicants for a scant few jobs. It’s not an easy scenario.

My first bit of advice is something that I still have to remind myself some days:

Quit your bitchin!

It can be a real kick-in-the-pants to realize that your degree is not doing much for your job hunt. But the next time you receive a job rejection letter or no response, for that matter, remind yourself that you were one of the brave souls who chose to get an education in a field that truly meant something to you, regardless of the uncertainty in the job market. Which brings up my next point – are you really surprised?

Didn’t your high school guidance counselor, parents, and friends all tell you that it would be challenging finding a job with a Ceramics degree? In fact, didn’t your professors tell you the same thing? If you’re like me, you ignored them all and thought ‘Not me. Everyone else will have it rough but I’ll get the job.’ Right…

You chose your path, no one else. You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself that all of your buddies that graduated with Engineering degrees have a job and you don’t… or you can get over it and get creative. My suggestion is the latter. If it’s any consolation, remember that the U.S. Department of Labor’s annual study on the job outlook for college graduates STILL concludes that having any degree at all almost guarantees shorter periods of unemployment and an overall higher income throughout your life. So relax!

Next: Get Creative!

There is always, always a way… it just depends on how hard you’re willing to work, how much time you’re willing to put in, and what you’re willing to sacrifice!

You need to first determine your career goals: What is your dream job? What are the appropriate steps to get you there? What can you do in the meantime that assist with getting you there? How badly do you want it and how hard are you willing to work?

The answers to these questions are crucial in figuring out a plan of action – and sometimes the answers might not be as obvious as you think. Three years ago, I was fairly certain that I wanted to be a documentary cinematographer – indeed, a highly specialized and competitive field.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to do just that on a handful of different film projects. But it took me a lot of contemplation and honest self-assessment to realize that my heart was not in it – I had, for a moment, my “dream job” – and I didn’t truly love it. I was afraid to admit it because it meant that I didn’t really know what I wanted.

Admitting that you still don’t know what you want to do after obtaining a massive college debt is a very scary thing. But you’ll save yourself many years of potential frustration if you admit it now instead of later – it’s much easier to change directions now than after you’ve trapped yourself in a career corner.

Once you’ve determined your major career goal, no matter how many years it may take to get there, you need a plan. What little steps can you take now to propel you in the right direction? The obvious answer is an entry-level job in the field. But if you’re reading this, my guess is that there are few jobs and you’re having a hell-of-a-time landing one.

The second best way to get an IN is to – ugh – work for free. Yes, the intern. It sucks and no one wants to do it, BUT it’s the easiest way to show off what you can do, get a foot in the door, and begin building a network. Contact a few employers where you want to work and be honest – tell them your goals and offer to work just for the experience.

Don’t make them feel obligated to hire you – but DO set a timeframe – I would recommend offering your assistance for a cap of three months, after which they can offer you a job or you can go on your way. Creating a timeline will prevent the employer from taking advantage of you and stringing you along with the promise of a job that may never come. If you’re “hired,” now’s your chance! Work your little tail off, learn everything you can, and prove to them that they need you around!

The best-case scenario is that they offer you a job once they realize how fantastic you are! The worst? Well, at least you now have experience and some possible connections to help you land your next job or internship. There’s also the chance that you may hate it and realize that you’re going in the wrong direction – priceless information that will help you pinpoint what it is that you really want to do.

What if you can’t afford to work for free? Believe me, no one can afford to work for free! But at this point, getting your foot in any door is going to pay off in the long run. You may just have to suck it up and get a full or part-time job to pay the bills, and then intern part time or on your days off. The fact that you are willing to work so hard just for the experience will speak volumes to your employers and don’t forget – it’s only temporary.

There are always a host of pay-the-bills jobs that you can land fairly easily with a college degree. Waitressing, bartending and any other job that provides an hourly wage + tips are always a good option for this period of your life. Find something that you can tolerate that pays just what you need to survive frugally. Then you can use your off days or hours to work at taking those steps you need to get your career going.

What if you want to work for yourself?
So you’re an artist and you intend on selling your work? Or you’re an entrepreneur and you have a brilliant idea? Or perhaps you just want to work freelance in your chosen field? All of these options are tough but certainly not impossible.

The one commonality between them is that all require an incredible labor of love – long hours of hard work and complete dedication. Unless you’ve got a stash of money somewhere, you’ll probably need to work a job that you don’t love and begin building your dream in your free time.

If you want to work for yourself, there is no perfect time to do so. Do it now. Start small and slowly, but steadily. Get yourself out there – create a website, business cards, a logo if necessary. Network. Keep yourself informed about your field, your competitors, potential clients, and trends. Attend social events or conventions that are relevant. Continue learning new tools and continue creating work, even if your first few “jobs” are pro-bono.

Make it your second job and go at it with full force – it’s the only way and your hard work will pay off in time.

Your Degree Really Doesn’t Mean Squat

As frustrating as it might be that you can’t land your dream job, the truth is that having a degree will help you land a job – just maybe not your first choice. Be patient, work hard, and continue learning and looking for new opportunities. You may find, like me, that something completely unrelated captures your interest and ends up taking you in a completely different direction (despite my degree in Film, I’m now working as a web designer).

Try to remember that you can’t predict the future but you can work your ass off to give yourself more options later! And lastly, the next time your receive your student loan bill and you curse the money you spent on college, remember everything else that loan bought you: four years of unforgettable memories, friends, and priceless experiences, as well as the ability to have all of these options in the first place!

Article by Raeanne Wright.

Raeanne was the founder of College Aftermath and has been writing about surviving the post-college experience since graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology with a BFA in Film and Animation. Now working successfully as a freelance web designer, she’s happy to report that the curveballs she was thrown during those first few years out of college made her stronger, smarter, and ultimately led to a much more fulfilling career path.

9 thoughts on “When Your Degree Means Squat”

  1. I’m fucked, dude. I am FUCKED.
    Can’t even join the army now to hopefully get shot by the “enemy”.
    Homelessness here I fucking come.

    1. It’s that bad man? There’s gotta be something you can do… probably just depends on how hard you’re willing to fight for it…

  2. I had this exact situation. There is a lot that you have to do in order to salvage your education and even more to start shifting gears effectively.

    There’s a great article about this at mylifeisacarnival.com that sort of breaks it down.

  3. I have a physics degree…. So not the case. I literally have to dumb down my resume to get a job at all. And when I post my education, I have to leave it at a B.S. … NOT B.S. in physics. I just stopped trying after 6 years.

    1. I got a Health Physics undergrad and then a Medical Physics graduate degree from the University of Ky. It’s a specialty degree to work in radiation therapy. I can get a job just about anywhere working in cancer center. I started at 42K a year in 1987. I now make 4x that have a great career. Girl’s can scientists and they should!!!

  4. Hello,I got my degree (we call it a licence here where I live ) only this year at the age of 26..I’m keen to apply for masters degree which means going back to college for another 2 years,that if I got accepted of course ..and if I should get accepted I will get an alright degree with more promising prospect.however ,I will be 28 or 29 by then and probably be employed at 30 in the bast case scenario . I’m really desperate..I would lile to hear your views on this. I will be utterly thankful ps:my degree is in English,I don’t k kw what’s its equavelent in your country by in here we call it licence in fundamental English

    1. Hi Zied,
      Thanks for your question. I see your concern in regards to age and starting your career at age 30, which is obviously a concern. However, please keep in mind that – these days – people will have multiple careers during their lifetime, so the thought of starting a new career at any age shouldn’t be a concern.
      My only suggestion to you is whether you should think about starting your career now and pursuing your studies on a part-time basis?
      All the best,
      College Aftermath

  5. 2.2 million ppl a year graduate college in the US alone. Its simple math, your degree means nothing.

  6. Do your research. The myth of basket-weaving BAs who can’t (therefore) find work after graduating needs to die. More and more reserach is showing that due to the record numbers of graduates in nursing, teaching, and even engineering, these grads are more and more under- and unemployed. You can’t send the entire nation to college for the same “valuable” degrees and expect everyone to get a job when the number of “good” job vacancies remains nearly the same or diminishes. Add to this outsourcing (in tech fields) and large tech companies hiring cheap foreign tech and engineering workers on H-1B visas to avoid paying US engineering and tech graduates as much as we historically have commanded and the situation is bleaker. Worse yet, people spend years earning degrees and certificates, can’t find work in their fields due to the far too great ratio of graduates-to-jobs, but then can’t get near-minimum service work in other industries because they don’t have degrees in THOSE industries. It’s a vicious catch-22.

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