A Matter Of Degrees

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

For SITD Junior Members needing college career advice, best and worst paid majors

Joe Doakes

The graph at the link is the usual link you see on the subject this time of year; engineering good, social “sciences” and humanities bad, at least in terms of money earned right after graduation.

Of course, there are some questions:  the graph counts people with degrees in a field who get jobs in that field.  Not all engineering majors get jobs directly in their fields (as we talked about a few weeks ago) – and not everyone with a degree in technology or engineering has a degree in the field (many of the best software engineers I’ve worked with had degrees in music).

And not everyone who goes into social “science”, humanities or even arts works in those fields after graduation, and fewer still do it for an entire career.  How many history majors do you know who became managers?   Most of us Twin Cities beer drinkers know the example of the CEO of Summit Brewing, who started out as a psych major.  And in my own field – which is a bastard child of engineering and psychology – I’ve worked with people who graduated with degrees in music, computer science, folklore, math, graphic design, education, and not a few English majors like me. 

Not a few very successful lawyers majored in theatre.

And the Elizabethan Poetry major who goes to work selling insurance, cars, real estate, institutional software, drilling equipment or a raft of other things can, with talent and hard work, make a ton of money – and never recite a single couplet. 

The mania for matching degrees with post-graduate salaries is completely understandable, as education costs are hitting a peak even as the higher ed bubble starts to implode with all the grace of a whoopie cushion. 

But it’s a little misleading, too. 

How many of you are working in the field in which you got your BA?

How many of you could have even predicted where you’d be now, given your undergraduate degree?

15 thoughts on “A Matter Of Degrees

  1. I started out with a Bachelor of Journalism degree, even though 12 weeks before graduation I knew I hated the field. I interviewed with some smaller daily and weekly newspapers after graduation, but then was offered a marketing communications position I applied for almost as an afterthought. Turns out it paid about $30/week better than the journalism positions (though it was still chump-change) and I found out that the problem-solving aspects of the job (matching product benefits with the audience) was fun and the j-training to be concise and well-organized in your writing paid off. (In later years when someone would suggest hiring an English major for a communications job we’d joke that it was alright to hire an English major but it would take you 3 years to teach them how to write). Journalism was also good training for “Generalism”; being interested in and able to engage in a number of different fields and topics that have helped my career. While some of my work has appeared in newspapers and magazines over the years, I’ve never darkened a newsroom door.

  2. I’m an English major and I write advertising/catalog/web copy these days, but I’ve also been a retail operations guy, a financial analyst, a legal assistant and a college sports information director. A college degree is often a poor predictor of your career path.

  3. […] and not everyone with a degree in technology or engineering has a degree in the field (many of the best software engineers I’ve worked with had degrees in music).

    Agreed, but try that in today’s “mature” technology environment some time. It’s not like the old days and the usual HR filters have grown up around the jobs, as well as all the HR bullsh*t.

  4. “try that in today’s “mature” technology environment some time”

    It’s never been much different. If I’d been trying to get into a field that had more of a track record in the Twin Cities, I’d have had a much harder time of it.

    And I do it every time I switch jobs in today’s “mature” environment. But as someone who’s been in IT in one form or another for 20 years, I’m not selling a degree anymore.

    I will say this; modern HR is a net drag on innovation.

  5. And here I thought my degree – Marketing from a “Party” School, was the worst kind of degree. Until the schools themselves are the guarantors of the student loans, I don’t expect them to quit roping young people into borrowing large sums to study for occupations non-paying fields.

  6. But as someone who’s been in IT in one form or another for 20 years, I’m not selling a degree anymore.

    Yep. Most of those “music guys” writing software managed to get into the market a while back when there weren’t many qualified guys and employment demand was exploding, or they did it in startups and proved themselves. Your particular instance is a guy with a background in the general business in a new subfield that hasn’t ossified yet. Try breaking into UI design in 10 years without a degree in it…

  7. I do work in a field related to my degree. But I had absolutely no clue I would be doing what I do today when I first graduated.

  8. As far as I can tell, and going by a very famous example, you can get a degree in poli-sci and foreign relations from Columbia w/o knowing much about poli-sci or foreign relations, and get a law degree from Harvard w/o being able to tell what is and what is not a constitutional exercise of presidential power.

  9. I feel your pain. The previous President brought an MBA from Harvard to the White House.

    Politics is a people-oriented game, stressing communications and relationships. Lawyers, skilled at the crafting of language and the manipulation of others through language and the law, are a natural fit. I wish we had more engineers and fewer lawyers in politics, as government would be more efficient and would accomplish more, but it is unrealistic to hope for many successful engineer-politicians.

    Which is yet another reason to limit the power of governments wherever possible. How much power over your life do you want to entrust to a bunch of lawyers?

  10. Emery, you might be onto something. Look at Mount Rushmore and what do you see? Three surveyors and a lawyer!

  11. We’ve had two engineers as President.

    Hoover was a Progressive, a famous engineer with many impressive projects, and an abject failure as President.

    Carter described himself as a “nuclear engineer” but wasn’t formally trained as an engineer (ROTC, with graduate work in nuclear physics and reactor technology). He’s the only president who is in serious competition with Obama as our worst president.

    Not exactly a stellar recommendation for engineers as Presidents.

  12. Carter was USNA, not ROTC, so his “engineering” degree is “military engineering”, which was the custom at the time–a mile wide and an inch deep, so he probably learned more in depth developing the Rickover reactor. So he was indeed a “nucular engineer”, as the infamous SNL skit portrayed. Hoover, in turn, was trained as a geologist, though he worked as a mining engineer.

    Both are good illustrations of generalists turned to specific areas, though, and perhaps that specificity led to their disasters as President?

    I’m personally thinking that the idea President in our age is someone who understands a balance sheet–doesn’t have to be a businessman or accountant himself, but he does have to understand that incentives and disincentives matter.

    (personally; engineer working as an engineer with a great love for classics and languages)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.