Is Your Education Useless?

Back to SchoolMany freelancers have university degrees. Many freelancers don’t have to send their resumes to people anymore, so those degrees don’t see a lot of action, but they’re there, collecting dust on our walls.

If you have a degree, you probably spent a couple of years getting it. You put hours of effort and study into learning a certain subject inside and out. In many cases, it’s a subject that you loved, one you felt passionate about.

And then you graduated, spent some time in the real world and ended up working in a field that was wildly different from the one you’d studied. You probably can’t remember when you last put the knowledge you learned in university to work in your everyday business affairs. You’ve probably forgotten half of what you learned, too. After all, you don’t need it, right?


Is Your Degree Useless?

You might think your degree has absolutely nothing to do with your current job, or maybe you feel it’s not very helpful to your career or even the slightest bit useful. Even Taylor, a Men with Pens copywriter, doesn’t really think she gets much out of her college degree when she does her job.

And she has a degree in ENGLISH, for Pete’s sake.

You might have a degree in archaeology and now you write code for a living. You might have your degree in biology and now you knit fuzzy hats for babies. Or you got your degree in comparative religion and now you write a blog about snow sports.

I guarantee that if you think hard about it, you can find a way that your degree applies to your current career – and if you do think hard about it, I guarantee you’ll get a lot more out of your hard-won knowledge.

Your Knowledge is Never Useless

I studied psychology for years. Opening a practice of my own had been a lifelong dream of mine.

Of course, all the best-laid plans go astray, as they say. My life changed and I found myself following a different career path – several of them, in fact, before I became a copywriter and settled in quite happily.

It seemed like running a copywriting and design business and the science of psychology had nothing at all to do with each other. I didn’t pay attention to what I’d learned. I had a business to build. I had work to do. I was a writer.

In fact, it took me quite awhile to realize that the knowledge I had in me was something I used in my business every single day, without even thinking about it.

When you get right down to it, I’m in sales. I’m in marketing. I’m in the business of getting people to buy whatever you sell through great copy and eye-catching design. And in order to make that all happen, I have to understand how the human mind works.

I have to know why action verbs are more likely to convince people to buy than passive verbs. I have to know that people feel soothed by the color blue and that a darker shade of it also reassures them. I have to know why the color yellow is a better choice for this target audience but not that one. I have to know why writing in little paragraphs is easier on readers’ brains than big ones.

What lets me know all this? If you guessed psychology, you win a prize.

Your Degree Can Give You a Brand

You were interested in that subject you studied all those years ago for a reason. Maybe you decided you were more interested in something else along the way and changed your focus, or that you just weren’t very good at that subject after all. Whatever. You picked that subject at the time because it spoke to you somehow.

Go back and look at your notes from college or university. Look at the names of the classes you chose to take. Remember what you did in them. What you liked best about them. What you really rocked at in each of them. Figure out what interested you most about every single class you ever took.

That’s what you should be playing up. That’s what fascinated you when you were young and naïve and full of ambition. That’s what you loved before you became all jaded and worn down. If you want to be kick-ass in your business, whatever it is you do, look back in time.

When I looked back in time, I remembered how I fascinated was by how people’s minds work and why they thought the way they did. What made them think that? Which events shaped them? And how did they change and evolve to think in new ways?

That fascination is one of the reasons why I’m now so interested in sales and marketing. Good sales copy can make people happy, sad, worried, frustrated… anything you want. Ultimately, good sales copy is all about convincing some complete stranger’s brain that whatever you’re selling is a great idea. It will change that person’s life.

Our archaeology degree-toting friend knows how society thinks, and he can code programs that take full advantage of the fact that we tend to be attracted to objects or shapes that hit our brains in just the right way. Our biology degree-toting friend knows exactly how bodies lose heat from the tops of our heads and can knit hats that make you even warmer than the next guy’s without making you sweat because of that knowledge.

Even Taylor, with her useless English degree, can tell us how sales copy appears even in literature to convince readers that the storyline is powerful and valid and real, and therefore of great importance to the reader.

You spent ages getting your degree. Isn’t it about time your business got some use out of it?

Think about it. How can your degree help you be better at what you do now?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. I don’t even have a degree, but after reading this it feels like I do. I agree with you completely on the fact that we almost always can use things from the most obscure teachings. We walk this path called life and along it a lot of weird stuff happens that we think we don’t need, but somehow it all works out in the end.
    .-= Henri´s last blog ..How to Overcome Procrastination =-.

  2. Long-time lurker, first-time commenter here. Love this post!

    I did an Arts degree (English/Critical & Cultural Studies with some Philosophy thrown in for fun). Wow – the jokes that fly when people find out you’re doing an Arts degree because it’s “pointless” and regarded as the “lazy student’s degree”. And in my first few jobs people would laugh if I suggested anything I studied was any use.

    Years later, I run an editing and writing business. I use my degree every single day. When I am putting together an editing report or when I am fact-checking – I often work on books that match subject areas I studied. I guess mine’s a pretty obvious match but it’s amazing how many people think an Arts degree is useless. Of course my on-the-job experience was invaluable too, but the things I picked up at University are embedded in a different way.

    And yes – I went to Uni to study what I was passionate about. And now I am lucky enough to do a job I love, as well.

  3. I think many people go to university now to get a job. If that is their purpose than maybe it is a waste of time.

    However, if they go to develop skills like writing and critical thinking, to learn more about the world and to connect with future leaders, then university is invaluable.

    University gave me a great introduction into key academic fields. Many people devote their entire lives to very narrow subject areas. I wanted to learn why.

    More important than that, university made me a more well-rounded person with a better understanding of myself and the world.

    If your goal from university is to be rich, then skip it and work on a start up. If you want to improve your mind, than I think there is no substitute for a quality education.

    With that said, you only get out what you put in. Drinking and partying every weekend may be fun, but it won’t really help you get more out of university.
    .-= John Bardos´s last blog ..Volunteer Global, Interview with Sarah Van Auken =-.

  4. While I may not use my degree everyday, it definitely helps in what I do. Knowledge is valuable. We use what we know everyday. It shapes our thoughts and ideas and is reflected in whatever we do.

    Great post!
    .-= Heather Villa´s last blog ..Weekend Reading: My fav’s from this week: 12/11/09 =-.

  5. Bizarre timing James.

    Today I found out that I’m going to be a tutor at university next year – teaching in the same course that I studied over ten years ago (public relations).

    The interesting thing is that I’ve really never worked in that field before. I headed down the web copywriting path pretty early on – a move that I saw as a move away from all that I had studied (media releases, stakeholder consultation etc).

    Or so I thought. Speaking to the subject coordinator today, she said that the course is trying to keep up with the times in terms of new technology and media. So what I do – web copywriting – is now even more relevant for students learning how to engage with stakeholders.

    So it has come full circle – and goes to show that you are right James. Even when you don’t end up in your field of study, you never know how it will become relevant to your chosen career. Or, like in my case, your chosen career becomes even more relevant to what you studied!

  6. James! I never thought about the idea of going back and looking specifically at the classes that I loved. Awesome idea … I have a degree in English too, like so many other writers, but this is a very cool way to differentiate oneself.
    Thank you – as always.
    .-= Laura Cococcia´s last blog ..A Story of Strength, A Cause For Hope =-.

  7. Most of my friends who have a degree ended up working in the same industry they studied for but those who had a communication degree didn’t always end up working in a communications related field. I think some degrees are more helpful and useful to others.

  8. I have a degree in Mathematics and hands down, find that to be the most valuable major imaginable. Not because of knowing math, but because you learn HOW to think when you want to solve ANY sort of problem.

    That’s one reason why I harp on my kids that they have to embrace math. They don’t have to like it, mind you, but they DO have to internalize logical ways on HOW to think. It will save them big huge bleeping amounts of angst as they get older.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..Today’s Make Money Tip – Think Evergreen Niches and Things that NEVER go out of style =-.

  9. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Last week I listened to Dan Zarrella talk about the science of social media. Excellent, excellent.

    My university courses in statistics and research helped me not only have a better understanding of the material, but I decided I want to believe in reincarnation and the chance to study social media in my next life.

  10. I agree with what Bothersome Words and John Bardos said. I did an Arts degree (Modern Languages). It helped me learn how to research and write on different topics, and introduced me to a wide range of material. I have used those skills almost every day of my working life. I wouldn’t be the writer – or the person – I am without it.
    .-= Sharon Hurley Hall´s last blog ..The Ebook Has Landed! =-.

  11. I don’t have a degree – I didn’t graduate from college. However, I took many courses and classes in small business management and they helped shape what I am today. In 1982 when I graduated from highschool, no one forced me to attend college. When my son graduates, I will insist on it. Going back to school was the best gift I could give myself.

  12. Like others who’ve commented, I did my degree more for the experience of learning at that level and the social side of things.

    And like Taylor, my degree’s in English.

    I don’t consciously apply much of it on a day-to-day basis … but I’ve used bits and pieces for various blog posts in the past (including a Daily Writing Tips one loosely based on one of my long essays) and I’ve got an idea for a Copyblogger guest post inspired by a long-ago lecture, which I must find time to sit down and write!

    Probably more important than any of the actual subject-matter that I learnt was developing the ability to be self-motivated, and figuring out the times and places where I work best. The freelancer life isn’t so very different from the student one. (Plus I’m taking a part-time MA, so I’m still a student really…)
    .-= Ali Hale´s last blog ..Staying Focused on Tasks That Matter =-.

  13. I was blessed to have a teacher that told me to go to college to expand my education – take classes that I enjoyed – gain more knowledge. Just the fact that I got a degree and committed to something would help me when I started looking for a job.

    So, I never expected to “work in my field.” I worked through college doing things I enjoyed and graduated with a BS degree in Leisure Services. Now I write for a living and my husband says I use that BS degree every day. 😀
    .-= Kathryn Lang´s last blog ..Writing is a Personal Journey =-.

  14. @ Deb – My teen is very clear on my position: “You WILL go to school. You will go to CEGEP, then University. I don’t care how you do it, campus, traveling or from home, but you WILL go. You may even go twice. I might just keep you in university collecting degrees for the rest of your life, if I’ve a mind to… get used to it.”

    @ Sharon – Ooh, modern languages. That sounds neat. Tell me more?

    @ Mary – You should become a market research consultant, with a degree in stats!

    @ Barbara – *blink* In math? You have a degree… in math? *blink* Oh wow. Oh that’s just… wow.

    @ Darren – I think you missed the point of the post – you can be working in something *completely* unrelated to your degree and still find a use for it. I bet your friends are using theirs right now.

    @ Laura – Hehe, you’ll have to come back and tell us what you *did* love most!

    (I loved Sports Therapy most, actually… I can tape a sprained ankle like no one’s business.)

    @ Sally – Oooh, Professor Snappy, is it? That’s VERY cool.

    @ Heather – Hehehe… with all the degrees you have, you just need to pick and choose. “Oh, this comes from my X degree, and that from my Y degree…” 😉

    @ John – I often tell my teen that she needs an education in something that can give her a wider range of opportunity (she’s going into translation), and that she needs a Plan B. You can’t just go get a degree and expect a job anymore. Sadly.

    @Bothersome – Good to see you here! And yes, I know that “arts is the lazy degree” perception. Then I hand them my textbook on Physiological Psychology and they shut up pretty quick.

    Speaking of Philosophy, to those students like myself who honestly DIDN’T know this: There are no right answers. Stop looking for them. They want you to just wander and think and give opinions. Trust me on that one. There are NO right answers.

    @ Henri – Life gives you one major kick-ass degree. I think my life experiences have provided me with the best education possible – and I’m still learning, every single day.

  15. I have a degree in Broadcasting and Film. (I also took classes in journalism photography, linguistics and art) Am I a broadcaster? No. Am I a filmmaker? No. But what I now realize after so many years is that the appeal was communication. Pictures, sound, words, visuals, environments. It was getting that understanding of how to communicate an idea, whether it was a thought, a visual, whatever, was what got me excited. Those things still do today and I have had a “colorful” career that has included, working for a non-profit visual arts organization (loved being around creativity), being an antique dealer (loved the hunt of finding cool old stuff), owning a retail boutique (loved buying, merchandising, staging an environment in my store and designing and creating window displays), starting a children’s shoe brand (loved the start-up of having an idea and figuring out what the product line should be and how to get it out there in the marketplace), and now freelance writing, branding and marketing. The adventure I know will not end here…too many ideas flying around in my head. There are those people who know what they want to do when they grow up when they are 17 and heading for college. They do their studies, and become what they set out to be. But I think for many, especially the creative types, the path is not such a straight line.
    .-= Cheryl aka Momblebee´s last blog ..How To Bait Your Press Release Hook =-.

  16. @Cheryl – I love that with today’s technology, we can all have that “unstraight line” of learning that I too think is important for creative types. Distance and online education offered by top schools lets people take a course here and there, pick and choose, and amass an eclectic bunch of knowledge that I think can really be handy.

    I’m totally stealing ‘colourful career’ and using that from now on, by the way.

    @ Kathryn – As long as your husband doesn’t say you use BS every day, you should be safe. 😉

    Do tell, though – what’s Leisure Services?

    @ Ali – Ahh, good one. Yes indeed, you learn a bunch of related skills during formal education – time management, scheduling, progress planning, etc etc. I think we tend to appreciate those more as we get older, though.

    One of my courses had an introductory course called something like, “How to Study Efficiently So You Can Remember,” and the whole course was packed with tips on helping yourself get the most out of studying instead of doing a ‘read and forget’ style.

    (Another favorite two courses of mine were in Critical Thinking.)

    • Leisure services – all of those jobs that people do to serve people on leisure 🙂 I focused on tourism and commercial recreation, but had others in my class that focused on working with the elderly or working in the corporate sector.

  17. It’s a great topic. Our degree can help us get somewhere… or not. I think it’s all what you decide you want it to do for you. We all need to weave a personal “narrative” and connect all the disparate dots in our own personal histories. We need to tell our own stories in the way we want them told. But creating the personal narrative also is helpful to the people we deal with, because often people appreciate a little help seeing the big picture. They’ll ultimately come to their own conclusions about us, but why not help them out and tell a little story.

    In my background, I have a Master’s Degree in Shakespearian Literature, from the University of Warwick, England… and I have an MBA in Finance from Babson College. And now I coach public speaking skills. Seems odd, right? But I’ve woven it all together so that it all makes sense, and in doing so I help people see me in the way I want them to see me, at least initially.

    Anyway, great topic. If your degree doesn’t overtly connect to what you are doing now, see if there is a more indirect way to connect those dots. You’ll seem more interesting, and you’ll position yourself nicely.
    .-= Dean Brenner´s last blog ..10 Great Ideas for Better Communication… #8 =-.

  18. Just a fancy word for French and Spanish, James, nothing more exciting than that. I am – or rather, was – fluent in both. These days, I need a few days in the country before I recover fluency but it’s still in there somewhere. I actually got my first job in journalism because they wanted someone who could translate copy if necessary – and look how well that turned out!
    .-= Sharon Hurley Hall´s last blog ..Stuck on a Freelance Writing Assignment? Don’t Know What to Write About? =-.

  19. I’ve got a bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts university and have been given to understand that, while that doesn’t specifically qualify me to be a doctor, physicist, lawyer, or corporate CEO, it prepares me for the possibility by proving that I can LEARN. About anything, any time I need it. My higher education taught me to learn, and that’s priceless.

    Besides, as I was told when I was looking at the dismal entry-level salaries being offered when I graduated, and my Dad was wondering aloud why he had paid $$$ for a degree that wouldn’t get me much more than minimum wage (I wanted to go into book publishing, go figure), I shared the quote I got from the university’s job office.

    A college education doesn’t mean you start from a different place as the people who finished high school … it means that you can go further.
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..Do You Write With Conviction? =-.

  20. Good post. I’d argue that the mere process of getting degree, of getting educated, is an important one and teaches you how to think. Do I write routinely about Policy and Management or about Labor Relations? Nope. But my teachers and classmates all challenged me to become a better writer. I keep those lessons with me today, even as I write primarily about technology.
    .-= Phil Simon´s last blog ..My Social Media Experiment =-.

  21. The degree is partly to put your knowledge to work, and partly to teach you how to think and to apply knowledge.

    I did a double major and a minor. I use my English major to write, my art history minor to review design, and my Poli Sci degree to better understand people with different points of view. Doing all of that at once also helped me develop strong organizing and executing skills!

    Strong literary skills can also apply to business (in unexpected ways). Here’s a quote from John Steinbeck: (I’m paraphrasing): I must write for someone. If I write for everyone, I write for nobody.”

    Sounds like good copywriting advice to me.

  22. This is especially interesting as I’m currently evaluating grad school options. I agree that regardless of your degree, the time you spent getting it, the pieces of information you actually retained – whether from Survey of Science class or Philosophy 101 – mold who you are, how you think and how you approach your job.

    I decided not to drop the f-bomb on you this time. See what happens when you don’t “promise” trees to people in your headline?!

  23. Many people use their ‘useless’ degrees without realizing it, I agree with that.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s the degree that matters. It’s the person behind the degree. I know someone with an English degree who can’t hold a decent job. I know someone with a Masters-she’s working for beans (and quite unhappy). I know a Political Science grad who works in fast food.

    I know a man who never went to college (humbly calls himself a painter) but he started a business and takes home millions.

    I think education can be the firewood but if there’s no match laid to that firewood-it’s not going to burn.

    BTW-read the post on Copyblogger. Excellent writing as always.

  24. James ;-),

    I’ve been exploring these very issues (see my site) and there’s evidence for both arguments what a degree will and won’t do for you.

    It’s somewhat semantic, but there are differences between an “education” and a “degree”

    Degrees often prove to have a low return-on-investment, but education (not necessarily academics) always pays off.

  25. Education influences us in interesting ways.
    For instance, I believe it’s a good idea that people learn a foreign language. But not because for the benefits of using that language. Most people who take up foreign language fail — and that’s fine. Just learn how hard it is to master a language. Be humbled. This can lead to respect for those who use English as a second language and still manage to do something with it. Probably even leads to global understanding and cooperation.

    Btw I just read your post on Copyblogger. Why did you post that there, not here? Like I commented there, I don’t really care whatever you are. I just think you made such a big deal about the gender issue, like telling me to call you the “handsome debonair king”. I feel a bit cheated — I thought we liked and trusted each other. . .

    Love & Light,
    .-= Akemi – Yes to Me´s last blog ..The Ultimate Productivity Tip =-.

  26. @ Akemi – The post is posted here:

    Copyblogger picked it up and republished it after asking permission.

    Back on topic, I think learning different languages is an awesome way to expand our experience and businesses. There are plenty of people in the world who need services that don’t speak our language.

    @ Steve -That’s true; there is indeed a difference in the two words and yes, there’s a longstanding debate about them. I’ve always found the school of life to be the one that comes out the winner, but I also know people who swear by the credits on the paper!

    @ Sonya – I do have to admit that most people who email me their resume and quote an English degree tend to have some of the worst writing in the world… Not sure why that is, actually. Wish I knew.

    @ Jenny – I’d been grinning that day, honestly.

    As for what to pursue, be vast! Expand and pick and choose what’ll give you a nice, well-rounded education.

    @ Jodi – That’s the best quote and I do agree. It’s like when we ask people their target market and they say “Everyone!” (No, no!)

    @ Phil – I HATED researching for essays. Today, I’m THANKFUL I had to learn how!

    @ Deb – That’s very true. I think people have many expectations about what a degree should provide, but the best I can think of is “Just another opportunity to learn something different.”

  27. I’ve found my degree in English very useful as an “in” with publishers who give me editing and proofreading work, which is the work I most enjoy.

    Heck, I’ve found my English degree so useful that I’m working on a Masters in Professional Writing, even though I don’t plan on doing much more with it than what I’m already doing. I just love the constant practice and supervision that schooling gives you in your craft.

    I’m kind of geeky like that.

    Of course, my Spanish component nets me translation work, and my K-6 education component means textbook publishers luv me, too. So far so good I suppose.

    University also taught me how to jump through hoops. Go to Building A to procure form D and turn it into person C. Now when I’m presented with similar hoops to jump through, I have more patience and follow through for it, and let’s admit, sometimes jumping through those hoops nets you a lot of “stuff” down the road.
    .-= Allena´s last blog ..Freelance Writing Income =-.

  28. Great post! I was recently speaking to someone who’s just about to graduate with a degree and English and she’s already worried that she’ll never use her qualification… Not a great attitude.

    I think that you can always make use of what you’ve learned – whether formally or otherwise – and what you’re passionate about to make money and to enjoy your job more.
    .-= Ravi Kuwadia´s last blog ..How I Got 700 Unique Visitors Last Month? =-.

  29. maybe i am much more pessimistic that most of the people who are commenting, but i don’t think i have gotten one day’s use out of my degree. everything i do in my current job was learned on the job.

    i got my degree in electrical engineering. have never worked in engineering or with anything electrical since college.

    now i am at a pivotal point in life where i am contemplating a career change. my girlfriend thinks i should go back to school, and i can’t for the life of me think of one good reason to do it.

    i would even go as far to say that i would discourage my kids from going to college. i would rather pay for a year of them traveling world and experiencing life than pay for one semester of college.

    of all the successful people i know personally, none have college degrees.

  30. Oh, did I miss it? When was it published? I have hard time finding it in your archive.
    .-= Akemi – Yes to Me´s last blog ..8245 Lightworkers Can Change The World =-.

  31. For years I thought my teaching degree was not-so-useful because I chose not to teach in the school system; then I came to the conclusion that the real value came from “learning how to learn”; now I realize it was probably the ideal education for a blogger!
    .-= Rebecca Leaman´s last blog ..Big Changes to Facebook Pages Could Hurt Small Nonprofits =-.

  32. I recently completed an MBA. In all honesty I have thought it was completely worthless for the last 6 months. Then, as I started to read more and more posts on running your blog like a business, I started pulling back concepts from my MBA. I actually created my first quarterly marketing plan for my blog. I started looking at strategy and even using tools from my MBA to gain insights. So, I realized I probably have been using my education on subconscious level.
    .-= Srinivas Rao´s last blog ..Mad Libs of Wisdom from the Skool of Life =-.

  33. Yes, Rebecca said exactly what I meant – learning how to learn was the best thing that I got from my university degree, even though I hardly use the actual subjects that I studied.
    .-= Sharon Hurley Hall´s last blog ..Enough Of The Gender Divide, Already! =-.

  34. I have an honors B.A. in history, and have been working successfully in I.T. since 1994. I believe the skills and experience I got from going to university help every day, in research, written communications etc.

    Looking at the impressive list of people who have commented here, imagine putting them all together as a company: I bet they would wipe the floor with a company made of of people who only had job specific skills, and no cross-disciplinary experience and perspective!
    .-= John Meadows´s last blog ..On the Log Episode 86: Eye Witness, Part 2 =-.

  35. I got my B.A. from a liberal arts school that focused on critical thinking and writing skills, no matter what your major. My double major is in Music and Creative Writing. I often refer to it as my “Would You Like Fries With That?” major.

    But I did end up as a public school music teacher for nearly 7 years and now I’m working as a copywriter at a super geeky/creative company. I’m using both of those “fry-worthy” majors. 😉
    .-= E. Foley – Geek’s Dream Girl´s last blog ..10 Geeky Stocking Stuffers =-.

  36. One interesting thing about getting an education it does not just teach you facts but gives you a set of lenses through which you filter the world. A teacher, a physiologist and a chef all are looking for different bits of information even when looking at the same scene. Realizing how your own past experience have shaped your view of the world can be a powerful thing.
    .-= Quinn´s last blog ..Standing on the brink =-.

  37. My PhD is in Civil Engineering.

    Voluntarily never practiced it.

    Long story.
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Blog World Recap: How to Attract a Large and Loyal Audience =-.

  38. I don’t think the problem is “degrees” but it’s the mentality that goes behind it for more than half the graduates. I know many people who spend 4-5 years getting one and then they’re like “YES! I’m done, no more studying! Now I can just work the job I want and retire happy”

    I’m like, you moron, education never stops! If your field is ever expanding like mine, you need to accept the fact that you’ll be soaking in information till the time you are 6 feet under. The knowledge you get from a degree is only the starting point.

    Shocking. I know.
    .-= FitJerk’s Fitness Blog´s last blog ..Optimizing The Mind-Muscle Connection For Superior Results =-.

  39. For a while I thought my degree in graphic design was useless and a waste of money since no one asks for it and especially because I no longer design, but code. After thinking about it for awhile, I realized my design education does help me when coding, the organization and visual cues you learn in graphic design go a long way when slicing a PSD or planning the way you’re going to code a site.

  40. Despite getting great marks in high school and being accepted into a great uni, I chose the route of a journalism cadetship. Best decision I ever made. But I tell the kids these days that you ‘need a piece of paper’. You may never use what you learn at uni, but in many cases people won’t employ you without one. Thankfully, I was at the tail-end of an era where a piece of paper wasn’t mandatory (early 90s). Interestingly, though, every cadet that I ever come across has said they learn more in one week working in newspaper than they learn in three years studying journalism.
    .-= Pamela Wilson´s last blog ..So you want to write like Bryce Courtenay? =-.

  41. The cleverest person in the world doesn’t know as much as someone with a library card who’s learned how to use it.

  42. One thing about the library degree I’m planning to get–I know that it’ll be useful at the very least as long as I’m in libraries. I’m a bit frustrated by the theoretical aspect of the requirements, but even so I realize that if I’m ever in a position where I have control of a collection (I don’t want to be a manager, but I wouldn’t mind being in collection development), the theory might come in handy in helping me create guidelines.

    Theory might also be useful in other information-management contexts, such as website and database design.

    As for my English degree, I definitely use it when I blog. I think little bits of it also come out in my library worrk. I also learned a lot through college, in and out of class, in electives and experiences. So in that way, my full education is useful.
    .-= Mrs. Micah´s last blog ..Best Personal Finance Practices of 2009 =-.

  43. Love the point about “degree” versus “education” and “school of life” versus “credits on paper”.

    I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have actually been asked about my degree. No one has EVER asked for proof it exists or asked me about my grade point average or anything. However, in my field, at least when I was working in-house, I don’t think I would ever have got my foot in the door for the first time without a degree.

    Nowadays, no-one asks me about my degree. As the original post says, rarely am I even asked for my CV. As a freelancer a lot of my work comes from word of mouth and people are more likely to ask about the last couple of jobs I did. It’s all about the on-the-job experience/reputation. That experience is way more valuable than the “degree” – but I couldn’t have got where I am without 1. the piece of paper or 2. the education and learning.

  44. You had me at useless.

    I’m a fan of results and effectiveness, learned from the school of hard knocks.

    You’re right – knowledge never goes out of style.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..What 25 Holiday Classics Teach Us About Life and Fun =-.

  45. I got an immediate chuckle out of the headline. After spending tons of money on college, then tons of years paying off the loans, no one ever even once asked me my grade point average.

    If you’d like to be the first, please email me at and ask me. I’d really appreciate it, seriously. Do you know how many all-nighters I put in trying to keep my grade point average up?

    Luckily, I had a liberal arts education. While I majored in Graphic Design and minored in Business, I also had to take tons of English, math, algebra (iuggh), Social Studies, etc. This diversity probably accounts for a curiosity that has lasted me many years since graduation. And that curiosity is what makes me a better writer.

    One of my very good friends is an 86 year old from Scotland. He’s proud that he’s still learning; still curious. I hope to be like him when I get to that age.

    Great post as usual.

  46. I graduated English and English Literature as well as cultural studies in publishing before hitting computer science. I would have never thought that the “Classics” studies would have been of use until I got my first real job: SEO consultant. I was grateful to be at ease with text and have some writing skills which were real assets in this job. So a degree can never be useless.
    .-= Web Design Mauritius´s last blog ..Are you a real designer? =-.

  47. Sean McKenna says:

    I went to university to have a good time and ended up loving web design. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do so I applied for a course in design. once I got into it I loved it. So if I hadn’t went to uni would prob be stuck in some dead end job.

  48. I have two degrees in marketing (BS/MS) and have worked in marketing for 15 years…so, I’d say “no, my education isn’t useless.”

    That said, college/university is also about learning to become a critical thinker…isn’t that useful in any job and in life in general? I think so.

    I know folks that don’t have degrees (or are doing something other than what they studied), but are great at what they do because they are passionate. I also know folks who have degrees that suck at what they do because they lack passion or have lost the passion they had in college/university.

    There are days I wish I had a degree in psychology/sociology because it would really help with marketing. Alas, that’s not going to happen, so books will have to do. And I am okay with being autodidactic… 😉

    Beth Harte
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs

  49. I wouldn’t say that my degree is “useless” per se. Though my site is probably a little on the fluffy side, I try to utilize my background on some of my posts. I have an upcoming series of articles on Hong Kong, which not only uses my background in Asian/Chinese history, for example. My master’s background in the History of Education hasn’t been put to much use yet, but may be in the near future (my main focus was on middle and upper class women’s education in the English speaking world from the industrial revolution to the middle of the twentieth century. Kind of fluffy, according to my male, middle aged advisor (he thought it was too Austen -he wanted me to talk about lower class girls or boarding school abuse – but nevertheless, an important topic.)

  50. The farther away you get from your college or university days the more important it is to keep in mind the youthful passion that made you believe you could do most anything – all you had to do was choose. That kind of passion should fuel and inform you well into your future. It is part of the foundation you build on and essential to an entrepreneurial attitude about life – what I call Entretude. Learn more at

  51. I can not tell you the number of times I have needed to use differential equations. Area under the curve, hell yeah. Anyway, college was at least a lot of fun.
    .-= mepsipax´s last blog ..Taken Tuesday 2 =-.

  52. Jury is still out on whether or not it will prove useful, but I think it has worked for me to a certain extent, so far. As a kid, I spent summers at a lake cabin; swimming and getting burnt in the sun. In H.S., I went to work for the city sewer department X 2years, then passed my WSI test and became a lifeguard. After graduating from H.S., I went to the Oakland School of Deep Sea Diving where I learned salvage; welding, cutting, and pipe fitting, etc. But there wasn’t much work for hard hat divers & finally, dejected, I returned to Eastern WA. University, and joined the ROTC program which, at that time paid $54/mo. (enough to cover part of the rent) AND they had a flight program.

    I graduated, and eventually learned to fly helicopters (and be all that I could be). The life span for helicopter pilots in those days was short, so I got out of the service after 1 tour. However, I went to work for Bell Helicopter Co. and became a production test pilot. I was also a Regional Marketing Mgr for the Far East, selling commercial helicopters along with gunships to Korea; (quite boring) After 8 years, the travel got old.

    I returned home and joined a private company called People to People that was established by Eisenhower in the 50’s which was created to send people all over the world. I developed hundreds of programs with folks involved in business and resource development. It was the best job ever (except for flying) A great deal of direct mail work was involved, selling to trade organizations (in virtually every field of professional endeavor one could imagine), on programs that travel to China to meet with their counterparts in various Ministries, Commissions and quasi-governmental organizations. Part of their “Opening Up” era in the 1980’s and 90’s.

    After 15 years doing that I, the company was ripe for a takeover, and the company went public. Soon, I was fired by a 29 year old pencil necked accountant from Newport Beach. (But, karma struck and their stock is now worth .54 cents.)

    So I left and started my own business delivering laundry and dry cleaning. What a bummer! But I was my own boss. Yaayy team!! When oil hit $147/barrel I had to sell my business and now I hope that I could rely on my degree to write about something compelling; perhaps political action stories. There seems to be a great deal going on these days and it looks like it would be kind of exciting. (I’m going to create a site called ‘Death by Lieberman.’

    My B.A. is in Journalism. I love to write but I am really intimidated when it comes to creating a website or a blog. I freeze up online for some reason.

    I really enjoyed reading about your struggles to overcome slim pickins and prejudice in the freelancing biz, but you were able to stick with it and persevere. Great stuff! “Good on you,” as Thom would say. Your writing style flows smoothly and effortlessly. You are very good at what you do and it is encouraging for people like me who aspire to do something larger.

  53. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Mike L. “I’m going to create a site called ‘Death by Lieberman'”

    Let me know when it is up and running, I’ll sign up.

  54. I have my degree in Computer Science but, seriously, nothing is as uninteresting to me than sitting in an office and writing VB .NET all day long. I did that for three years.

    At twenty-two (yeah, I finished early), I was burned out before I even started. Now I’m starting all over as a web designer and web developer, where I can wear many different hats without having to beg for diversity in my job. What I learned in software has applied to my work in design and vice versa. It even applies to my fiction writing from time to time.

    So even if I didn’t continue my .NET software career and education, I’m still using the transferable bits every day.

  55. You’re totally right. The things that fascinated me when I was a kid are the things I get the most pleasure and benefit from writing about now. They’re the things that got me interested in college, and the things that can probably brand me now — still working on that one.
    .-= Alison Kerr´s last blog ..Fun With Sticks – Build a Shelter =-.

  56. Don’t forget the classes you took that weren’t within your major! I’ll admit that some classes, the main thing I still use from them is the lesson that I can learn things at least well enough to pass a test if I really put my effort in… Others, the lesson I carried out into the world was the ability to go to a professor (or senior coworker) and say “I dont get this. Can you explain it again?” But honestly, most of my classes, I use some small part of.

  57. Hi,
    I had also acquired a degree long back, but workplace pressures and surroundings made me completely forget that, so much so that I stopped even telling people that I hold Master’s Degree and that I was a good student.
    I can say one thing, you sure have fire in your pen( or should I say keyboard) but I totally agree that all those years in college and unversity acquiring a B.A and M.A have actually fashioned the way I think on most topics.
    Keep up the great work!!
    .-= Laya Bajpai´s last blog ..Article on Buzzle =-.

  58. I think a degree is a stepping stone to the next phase in your life. A communications degree got me an interview but after a few years, no one bothered to ask me about my communications degree. And then when it came to middle and senior management, it was essential to have a degree to progress further.

  59. I definitely agree that whatever degree you have is not worthless. Especially after I am about to graduate here in the spring and after reading “You Majored in What? by Katharine Brooks.” You get so much more out of your education than what you learn in the classroom. The experiences and social setting are priceless (not really but you know what I mean)
    .-= Tanner Maluchnik´s last blog ..What is Lifestyle Design? =-.

  60. I sent 6 hard and long years earning my Degree in Performing Arts… I didn’t have the comfort of a scholarship, so i busted ass writing term papers, holding numerous low paying part time jobs and fixing computers on the side to make enough cash to pay for my education and living expenses.

    After a few years doing stints as a session musician, touring, and other mundane events as a side player i lost the the drive to continue, but i was extremely fortunate as i had established some valuable contacts in the computer industry and in short time i had secured a decent paying job as a computer support technician for a Major law firm in Santa Monica, California. This new position also afforded me to the opportunity to get free training to attain Microsoft Certifications. My success was rapid and soon after earning multiple MS certs, i was rewarded with a substantial promotion in this prestigious law firm…The only downside in my eyes was the new dress code i was required to follow, so now i was reporting for work each day in a suit and tie.

    My true artistic nature was cultivated in a relaxed non-formal atmosphere and i was most comfortable in jeans, tee shirts, and other ultra casual clothing. I resisted the urge to bail on this gig, and move on as i was happy with the financial rewards this position offered, and i knew that by creating a solid resume with this company that i would be able to write my own ticket elsewhere in the future.

    I have always held a friendly appreciation for the written word, and i suppose i owe that to my artistic background as a once professional musician. As i continued working at the law firm in Santa Monica my working relationship with my supervisor grew, and soon i was writing technical reports and white papers that were used by our IT staff. Writing had taken on a new meaning to me, and i found myself writing more and really enjoying it. I was soon getting a rebellious itch brought on by the ultra conservative workplace environment i had spent so many waking hours in, and after dedicating 5 years to this company i decided to take off on my own and see if i could really do something with this new found love of writing.

    So here it is almost 10 years later…. I have moved from the hustling masses of Southern California to a quiet rural home in Northern Michigan, and while my progress in cultivating a career in writing was slow at times, my dedication, determination and love helped me push on. Today i am quite busy writing for a number of regular clients and promoting myself as a freelance writer through my Blog, and what i have learned along the way is; by applying the same dedication, and determination i had while in college to everything else in my life rewards me with the fruits of freedom and reinforces the belief that with hard work anything is possible!

    So to me my college Degree is more valuable than anything i could ever imagine!
    .-= Rob Fleming – Freelance Writer for Hire´s last blog ..The Facts About SEO Vs. PPC Campaigns =-.

  61. I recently completed an MBA. In all honesty I have thought it was completely worthless for the last 6 months. Then, as I started to read more and more posts on running your blog like a business, I started pulling back concepts from my MBA. I actually created my first quarterly marketing plan for my blog. I started looking at strategy and even using tools from my MBA to gain insights. So, I realized I probably have been using my education on subconscious level.
    .-= condo finder´s last blog ..Top 3 reasons to buy a condo =-.

  62. I think it is. I just graduated last year at 28 and 6 months later my salary went up 32%. I think employers are looking for people with experience and education. I suggest getting a job in your field while you’re going to school and you’ll stand out against the rest of the graduates when you’re finished. Good luck!
    .-= cosmetic surgery for men´s last blog ..Health is the most important possession =-.

  63. I plan on going overseas and making music for video game companies as well as teaching music (specifically guitar). There are a number of degrees I can get, but I don’t know which one I should go for.
    .-= advanced seo services´s last blog ..Tool for internet marketing =-.

  64. This is a terrific post and I particularly enjoy all the interesting responses. Thanks to Tanner for reading/mentioning my book, “You Majored in What?” I hope it’s been helpful. My favorite question to ask alumni is “What was your favorite useless course” — by that I mean the class you thought was going to be worthless but you took it because you had to for whatever reason. The responses are amazing– people’s lives change sometimes as a function of one class. Many report changing majors, changing professions, learning something that becomes a lifelong hobby or fascination. It always pays to explore and learn– as the saying goes, “not all those who wander are lost.”
    Thanks for this great post– I’m sure you helped people think differently about the value of their education.
    .-= Katharine Brooks´s last blog ..Crush Your Dreams and Watch Them Take Off =-.

  65. Education whether a degree, or not, is the key to successful applications in the world of life. Formal education provides a set of tools as an enabler to conduct yourself whilst learning the tools of a particular trade. Informal education provides the same tools, if you choose to learn and hold onto the belief that you can achieve your goals. I have had three vastly different careers, now onto my fourth. I am fortunate. I use a set formula when establishing my new role, I then consider the product and work on whats ethical and go about achieving a working environment that utilizes my skills whilst learning the tasks of the current role.

  66. Like so many others who’ve already commented, I too have an English degree 🙂 And when I started taking classes I never imagined I would wind up working as a copywriter for a web design company.

    I think classes teach you far more than you realize at the time you’re in the class. Especially critical thinking and logic. You may not realize just how much you use these skills until years later.

  67. This is a little late but I wanted to comment. My mother used to be an English professor, when we came to the U.S. she went to hairstyling school, worked at a barber shop for a few years, her clients followed her to the new place. She was good and quick and made good money that way. Anyway my mom is a U.S. citizen now, and I am too, and she retired in her late 50s. Which was just a couple of years ago.

    A degree doesn’t have to be the end all be all that many people think it is. When I was 18 I went to college, I didn’t know what to major in, I thought about majoring in art history, but I had a total freak out about it. Especially when a professor discouraged me.

    Anyway I decided to work for a few years, now I’m in my late 20s, and I wish that I hadn’t listened to her, I wish I had listened to my mom. My mom is always like “Just get any college degree, that’s what many companies look for first.” When I went back to college last year I was faced with the same issues that I was faced with when I was 18.

    Not all of us are meant to become accountants, lawyers, doctors, nurses, physician assistants, or bankers. I knew that if I majored in accounting, finance, or health care that I wouldn’t last too long in those fields and quite frankly I think they’re quite boring and how could I finish a degree that I have no interest in? I took accounting 101 last year and withdrew twice from it because it was too boring. I couldn’t even do the hw because it bored me to tears.

    Finally I’m an art history major with an entrepreneurship minor. The best advice I’ve heard is to find out what your passion is and find a way to make a living with it. The point of all this is to listen to yourself and do what you feel is right, don’t waste time like I did. There are writers, designers, musicians, and artists who make good money and there are those who are poor.

    IMO if something is truly your passion then you will find a way to make a living with it. You’ll try different things, and you won’t give up.

  68. I’m currently studying BA Criminolgy with Psychosocial Studies and whenever I tell people what I’m studying they always ask what I’m going to do with my degree and I say nothing. I don’t say that because I’m going to do nothing with it but because I’m at university to learn at the moment and where it takes me at the end of it I have no idea but I’m grateful for the education I’m getting at the moment. I do want to go back to college and get a BTEC in media studies because I did a few short films and I like working with a camera and learning how to put films together. So I suppose that my degree can help when it comes to creating films based on crime or socials and how discourses work within film and so and so forth.

    I was having a conversation with someone from my university who saw going there as a means to an end, just getting a job, and I was trying to explain to him that sometimes getting a degree isn’t just as limited to getting a job. His line of argument was that all a person who studies Sociology can do is become a Sociology teacher. And I tried to explain that Sociology, as with many other Social Sciences, is a broad subject that can be applied anywhere in any field.

    I think that sometimes the joy of learning is removed and this need to get a job is applied harder than an actual education. Having a degree doesn’t mean you’re educated its just means you can learn something and have commitment. Have a degree isn’t a means to an end its the continuation of all that you’ve learnt previously. I can be a black and white, this or that way, kind of person but even I know that education is vast and leads to greater things. I’m too creative to be in the rut of get a degree and get a job in a certain field and be done with it. That’s too boring.

    • Wow Shay – that is VERY well said, and something similar to what I tell my own children (and anyone that will listen). Education provides so much more than a degree. It teaches research skills, opens the mind and prepares the imagination for more things than the words on the degree could ever understand.

      Good luck with your studies and with the future that lies ahead.


  1. ichannel says:

    Copywriter at MenWithPens comes out as female…

  2. Freelance Friday - Freelance Writing, Design, Money Matters & More | Kristi Hines says:

    […] Is your education useless? […]

  3. […] Weekend Reading: My fav’s from this week: 12/18/09 Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on December 18, 2009 in: Weekend Reading Is Your Education Useless? […]

  4. […] right. No one cares what degree you have. You’re a freelancer. People want to see your portfolio, your testimonials, […]

  5. […] he confessed that he’d never figured out this stuff in school. The way the teachers taught was straight out of a textbook, and if you didn’t understand it the […]

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