What is the most useless college degree?


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I answered this question on Quora in April 2018. As of today November 28, 2023), it has 470.1K views and 1,316 upvotes. Over all I have 3,381,661 views of my answers on Quora and 6,271 upvotes.

Here is my answer:

There are two types of degrees:

Those that are required to start a profession. This includes nursing, accounting, engineering, and others.

The rest of degrees are all equally worthless/valuable. At the end of the day, my degree in sociology is about as useful as a degree in poetry.

The most worthless degree is the one not completed. It is best to major in something that you find interesting to help give you motivation to finish.

Since then, I wrote a book Should I go to College? to elaborate on the question behind this question. That book has not sold very much, and I have since made it available for free online. My goal is to help people make better decisions not to become rich or famous.

This spring marks my 25th year of working in higher education. I started as a part-time professor back in 1997. I had the good fortune of teaching at a college that was very different from what I experienced as a student. Every one of our programs was in that category of preparing people for careers. I developed a degree in web design shortly after I started teaching.

Based on the questions I see on Quora, there are many misconceptions about higher education. One of the fundamental issues is what is the purpose of college and a college degree. This is not a new issue. I have a quote from William James from the 19th century asking this same question. Higher education has changed significantly in the 130-years since, but the question remains.

For many, the belief is that the value of a college degree is in preparing a student for a career. For others, that is not the purpose at all. I believe it is a “yes and” not an “either or” type of answer. The reality is that most of us do not remember what we learn in college anyway. If we are not actively practicing something, then we tend to forget it. What college teaches is the ability to learn. Each class is a process of learning something and then demonstrating how well it has been learned. A degree is a demonstration of being able to stick with something that requires sustained effort over years.

As I wrote on Quora, the most worthless degree is the one that is not done. The good news is that college will always be there. You do not need to graduate before you are 22. You can start and re-start. My oldest student was 60 at the time I had her in class. College can be used for career preparation, but it is not required to be. A degree alone will not guarantee career success. A degree in something not connected to a career does not mean you can only work as a barista.

The key advice I offer in my book is that if you do not know why you are there, you should not be there. Not knowing why you are there will make it hard to keep the motivation required to see it through, and it can also make it hard to know what to study. On that topic, my suggestion is to major in something that you enjoy. If you are taking courses that you enjoy, it will be easier to stay motivated and do well. College can be frustrating and/or boring. When that happens, it becomes attractive to drop-out and not come back.

Most of all, I think it is important to remember that college is a journey and not a destination. The question is how college and a degree help to get you to where you want to go in your life. Finishing college is important, but the importance rests on where it takes you next.