Avoid This Useless College Degree if You Want to Get a Good Job

Source: Flickr / gadgetdude.

If you have recently graduated college with a four-year degree in liberal arts, you will almost certainly have a difficult journey on the road to job attainment and work satisfaction.

A recent study by Millennial Branding and Beyond.com lays bare the awful truth about liberal arts degrees: employers are not interested in them, and do not plan to hire applicants who have them.

How bad is it? Of the nearly 3,000 employers polled, only 2% said they were actively looking for such graduates. On the other hand, 27% of companies are looking to hire those with degrees in engineering or computer science, while 18% desire applicants with a business degree.

The scariest part is that 84% of employers also say they are desirous of candidates with good communications skills – the very characteristic that liberal arts majors are known for.

Fulfilling, perhaps – but not very marketable
The notion that a liberal arts degree is not one of the most marketable is not new, and seems to have gained traction since the financial crisis.

A 2007 publication from the Bureau of Labor Statistics entitled, "What can I do with my liberal arts degree?" speaks volumes about the angst students were feeling seven or eight years ago about the job prospects for graduates of liberal arts programs.

Interestingly, this particular publication declares that a liberal arts education prepares students for the workplace because of the communication skills such degrees bestow, and which employers covet.

Obviously, today's hiring managers are not seeing the correlation.

The path to underemployment?
For liberal arts graduates, underemployment has become a real problem, as many find themselves procuring work far below their level of educational attainment.

Source: Flickr / Kate Hisock.

A research paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York published earlier this year found that 52% of those with liberal arts diplomas were laboring in a job for which no bachelor's degree was required. Only 20% of engineering graduates, by comparison, were in that situation. 

Similarly, jobs website PayScale notes that liberal arts majors are often underemployed, and generally wind up with median starting salaries between $30,800 and $36,200. A recent Pew Research Center Study shows that only 43% of those with liberal arts, social science or education undergraduate degrees reported working in a job that very closely mirrored their major.

A stunning 28% said that their current work has nothing to do with their degree subject – compared to 15% of engineering majors, and 12% of business majors.

Choices matter
Does this mean that everyone should avoid the liberal arts like the plague? Not necessarily, but it pays to know exactly what line of work you prefer before choosing a college curriculum.

For example, though the National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that graduates with degrees in foreign languages and literature are currently starting work at salaries well over $40,000, a little research is in order to ascertain whether or not the types of jobs represented are the kind in which you may actually be interested.

An important lesson from the Millennial Branding survey points up the fact that 64% of hiring authorities would consider an applicant without a college degree, and that attitude, communication, and the ability to work as a team are of the highest importance when considering applicants.

When it comes to landing a good job these days, those factors might turn out to be the skills that matter the most.

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Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (16)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 25, 2014, at 2:28 PM, BilboBaggins wrote:

    What they teach in the liberal arts departments is not traditional liberal arts. Postmodernism, far left politics, anti-capitalist, anti-Western ideologies are the norm. Critical theory has completely replaced critical thinking in most liberal arts departments.

    My son's intro to political science textbook was written by cop-killer Mumia Abul Jamal. Who would want to hire someone whose education consisted of only radical indoctrination?

  • Report this Comment On May 25, 2014, at 3:59 PM, Fog643 wrote:

    If college is intended to be a 4-yr trade school, then by all means get a degree in a readily-marketable area. Getting an undergraduate liberal arts degree does not prevent anyone from going on to graduate school later, FCOL.

  • Report this Comment On May 25, 2014, at 4:29 PM, BelindaLin wrote:

    Liberal arts degrees should be avoided (for most people). Rather than using college as a way for students to get a trade or a vocation we need to revise high school so that students can have an apprenticeship or a vocational education. We have forgotten that average doesn't mean stupid and that college is not for everyone. No one who doesn't want to go to college should be forced into it because our educational system fails to equip him or her with the skills for finding and keeping a decent job. This is part of what the common core is about. We need to expand our definition of a good high school education back to what it was in the mid 20th century: one that allowed people to hold responsible positions and let them have a good middle class life.

    I have medical school debt, but if I can't pay back my student loans it's my own fault. Even if I'm going to be paying them off for 30 years they will be paid off. I may not have an Audi or Mercedes but I have a job that I love and enough coin to drive a used Toyota, insure it for cheap ($25/month at Insurance Panda) and take care of my family. I'm sorry that I'm not sorry that the average American can't have a luxury vehicle.

  • Report this Comment On May 25, 2014, at 9:02 PM, Fauquier wrote:

    Why is this news now? I graduated over 20 years ago and discovered how useless a liberal arts degree was, and my alma mater LIED to me about how businesses LOVE liberal arts graduates. Perhaps the ability to critically think, in a different era, is why corporations used to love liberal arts graduates, but Bilbobaggins is correct in that it no longer provides one with useful skills, but rather brainwashes our youth into believing that left wing anticapitalistic ideals are what one needs to learn in college. And how are you going to use that course in womyn's (sic) studies in the real world? And, after believing all the anticapitalistic junk that was dished out to you for four years, how exactly do those anticapitalistic studies make you of value to the mega-corporation of your dreams, whom you wish to work for?

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2014, at 4:14 AM, ErikEriksen wrote:

    the ability to communicate the fact that you possess no other marketable skills doesn't seem to stand out all that well... the bovine excrement published by the bastions of education and the governmental flunkies seems to be the polar inverse of reality...

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2014, at 10:01 AM, danallen9 wrote:

    This article shows how badly the country needs literacy skills. The title itself shows that Motley Fool could use a little schooling, and if you can't see what's wrong with the title, you need to head back too.

    Rather than look at a study (as the writer does above) that emphasizes professional preparation, this study looks at knowledge and thniking: http://www.amazon.com/Academically-Adrift-Limited-Learning-C...

    It shows that students in business and communications had very little to show for their 4 years, with almost zero increase in complex reasoning. While the Humanities students had the most gains after 4 years. If you want to ignore the research, go ahead, but as someone with an undergrad professional degree major who then went on to do advanced work in the Humanities, this jibes with my experience. My marketing, business, finance, statistics classes at a top 25 USNews university had little value (accounting was the exception, since I learned appreciable skills in those courses). My younger brother, who I later advised to avoid business, went into History, and with no courses in finance, he passed his series 7 a month after he got his BA.

    This link shows a survey of employers that throws cold water on this article: http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/2013_EmployerSurvey.pdf

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 2:34 PM, MiguelPCortes wrote:

    Wow, 20% of Engineering graduates are working in jobs for which no bachelors degree was required. 20% is a very high percentage in my eyes. Pretty discouraging isn't it?

    "52% of those with liberal arts diplomas were laboring in a job for which no bachelor's degree was required. Only 20% of engineering graduates, by comparison, were in that situation. "...."A stunning 28% said that their current work has nothing to do with their degree subject – compared to 15% of engineering majors, and 12% of business majors."

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 2:38 PM, MiguelPCortes wrote:

    Wow, 15% of Engineering majors are working in jobs that have nothing to do with their degree subject. Author points to a "stunning" number of Liberal Arts majors being in the same predicament. I'm thinking to myself, what's the difference between 15% and a "stunning" 28%? Both numbers are too high.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 3:01 PM, MiguelPCortes wrote:

    Can a kid or middle aged person for that matter, skip an expensive four year university degree in computer science all together and instead take 20 or 30 targeted computer classes for free on UDACITY, COURSERA, EDX, FUTURELEARN etc.?

    For example, after taking the nine (9) classes in the Johns Hopkins University Specialization track on Data Analysis at Coursera a student would be "set back" $500.00 dollars. Can that ambitious student then land an entry level job and work full time while pursuing the nine classes (8) in the Data Analysis tract at Udacity, the seven (7)Computer Science X-Series tract at MIT through EdX, the four (4) classes in the Cybersecurity tract through the University of Maryland through Coursera and the three (3) classes in the Computer Science tract through Rice University through Coursera?

    All five of these tracts would be FREE or relatively inexpensive if the student wanted a Certificate and should equip the student with enough computer skills to "take over" an industry.

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