Baby boomers and hippies might deny the existence of “worthless” college degrees; because their English degree paid off back in the 1970’s, or because you should “follow your heart, for you won’t be good at what you don’t love!”
In the 1960’s about 10-15 percent of the workforce (in the United States) had college degrees. Today, that number hovers at around 40 percent, and we have had a decade of virtually no economic growth. That entry-level job that allowed the English major to enter the white-collar workforce in 1970 doesn’t exist anymore.
A college degree is worthless if nobody is willing to pay you for the skills you acquired while earning it. STEM graduates, as well as those from Accounting programs, learned actual skills in their studies. Humanities majors learned only “soft skills” like writing, and “critical thinking.” All useless majors teach the same “soft skills.” Many of the useful majors also teach them, so why not choose a useful major?
What does a useless major look like?It is all soft skills.
If the department only discusses the great instruction in cognitive ability, critical thinking skills, writing, and analysis and is without reference to any hard skills like running a computer, keeping the books, or designing a satellite; it is probably a worthless major.2. It prepares you for graduate studies.
I was a Political Science major. It is a terrible major. It prepares you for law school, which is a graduate program that churns out about 3 graduates per available job in that field. That is all Poli-sci does. The ultimate soft skill is preparation for more school.3. It contains absolutely no math
Mathematics is the language of the universe. Deal with it. Any major that has no arithmetic at all is likely to be a massive waste of time. It doesn’t have to be calculus, but if you hardly ever add, subtract, divide, or multiply, your major is worthless.4. The course matter are conspiracy theories.
Things like Gender Studies, Post-colonialism Studies, Sociology, and the like are dripping with post-modernist, Marxist Critical Theory nonsense… Perpetrators, Victims, Patriarchy, Oppression everywhere, taught in an “intersectional framework.”
Some colleges (Macalester, Occidental) actually have a major in Critical Theory. The big, bad Patriarchal, colonialist, imperialist, capitalist, white male power structure is oppressing Humanities students. These are the collegiate equivalent of conspiracy theorists on AM radio who’ve “seen behind the veil of society and know the truth of the all-powerful Illuminati"…. Down the rabbit hole you’ll go. Graduates of these sorts of programs will be oppressed by serious underemployment as they try to build careers as professional left-wing political agitators. If you're surrounded by statistically improbable numbers of vegans that sound like Lyndon Larouche, you need to re-assess.5. You’re planning to teach it to other college students.
Majoring in Anthropology, to go to grad school for Anthropology, so you can become a Teaching Assistant in the Anthropology department, teaching Anthropology to Anthropology majors… as Sterling Archer put it, “thus continuing the circle of Why Bother?!” Ignoring this could be condemning yourself to a long sentence as a transient adjunct professor, since colleges churn out too many PhD's.6. It’s all for helping people, but it doesn’t.
Sociology majors like to pretend that they’re going to have a career in the non-profit sector where they will help people; usually by nagging people. Somehow, that‘s helpful. They end up working as part-time HR Generalists who reject job applicants for “not being a good fit.” People with Nursing degrees help people by being nurses. Kindergarten teachers, and pharmacy techs also help people… by helping people.7. It Closes Doors to Entry-Level Jobs
This is the real sticking point. In the 1970's, there were more college-degree-preferred jobs than there were college graduates. It was easy to get into professional entry-level employment. That is not the case today. Liberal arts, humanities, and soft majors of all types now face competition for entry-level positions from people with far more vocationally relevant degrees. The Accounting degree gets the good starter job, and with that, work experience.
When confronted with this, liberal arts diehards refused to attend to the problem. It was far easier to retreat into simple rhetoric about "broad-based education laying a foundation for life and civics and careers twenty years from now," even as colleges created financially ruined, unemployable wastrels.
Supply and demand
Courses of study that are attached to an actual career track can become worthless if the number of graduates greatly exceeds the available number of jobs. The graduate program of Law is an example. TaxProf Blog: Looking at the Law School Crisis.
Law in the United States has become something of an All-Purpose Liberal Arts graduate degree. The course material is entirely “soft skills,” being focused on things like legal reasoning, critical thinking skills, and argumentation in the framework of the Socratic Method. With the possible exception of learning how to write a court brief, a law degree doesn’t teach “hard skills.”
Those soft skills are necessary to successfully practice law. The problems happen when law schools blast out far too many graduates for the job market. Left out of the legal field, those graduates are forced to navigate a job market with what is essentially a Liberal Arts degree.
The sliding scale of worth
Electrical engineering is a good major. Mining engineering is as well. An AA in Computer Networking would also be a pretty good choice. Geology is probably a better major than Geography, which would be valuable on Jeopardy but not necessarily in the job market.
Accounting is probably a better choice than Finance, which is probably better than Economics, which is definitely better than Political Science, which is absolutely better than Gender Studies.
College is too expensive, and too time-consuming, to be entered with a whimsical disregard for the student’s future in the real world. That is the hard truth of life, and hiding away in the collegiate land of Humanities make-believe will only make the eventual crash much more devastating.
As of July 2020, Liberal Arts colleges in the United States have been closing at a shocking pace. The End of Liberal Arts Colleges. It turns out that small colleges are also highly vulnerable to political ideologues and plundering administrators.