Depressed over worthless degree

Originally Published: November 11, 2011 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: December 23, 2011
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Dear Alice,

I am a senior who will soon (hopefully) be graduating with a BA in Anthropology. During my freshman year, I chose my major because I thought it would be interesting to study. Now I realize how completely useless a degree in Liberal Arts is unless you also go to graduate school and get at least a Masters, if not a PhD. I don't want to go to school anymore!

While I enjoy my major and feel like I've learned a lot, sometimes I think I should have just majored in business, engineering, or some other "real" major that would have helped me get a job. I feel like the last few years have been completely for nothing, and find it very difficult to motivate myself to finish, or even start, any schoolwork during this last year. I'm beginning to not even care if I graduate at all.

-Underwhelmed Undergrad

Dear Underwhelmed Undergrad,

Don't give up quite yet. For centuries, colleges and universities have considered liberal arts the bedrock of a sound education. Through classes in the humanities, writing, foreign languages, and social sciences, students develop critical tools of observation, evaluation, and judgment that translate into all spheres of life. Your liberal arts background has likely given you a solid foundation for a fantastic future, whether you decide to dive straight into the job-market, volunteer abroad, score an internship, or even go to graduate school (you never know!).

Anthropology grads are well acquainted with cross-cultural differences and similarities, particularly important in today's multicultural society. It is likely that you have an appreciation of cultural diversity, and understand how to approach other cultures with sensitivity, flexibility, and understanding. Along with that fancy diploma you're about to get, it is likely that your anthropology degree has provided you with a myriad of skills, including:

  • Analytical and critical thinking
  • Oral, graphical, and written communication
  • Understanding of the nature and causes of human diversity
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Planning projects and writing grant proposals
  • Sampling, gathering and organizing data
  • Conducting field studies with methods such as interviewing and surveying

Anthropological skills and insights have been used in an vast number of fields: from helping architects design appropriate housing for groups from different cultures, to developing highly successful reforestation programs abroad, to shedding light on the public health aspects of epidemics. When interviewing for a position, it is important to showcase your liberal arts degree and highlight your first-rate abilities. The following tips may earn you an A+ in the job market:

  • Show off your written and oral communication skills, whether in your cover letter, résumé, or in the interview itself. 
  • Highlight your interpersonal skills. Perhaps you have experience interviewing different populations, adapting to other cultures, or understanding group dynamics.  
  • Show your critical and analytical thinking skills. Demonstrate how you take the time to look at every situation from several different viewpoints before acting.
  • Promote teamwork. Provide examples from working in teams for a school project or extracurricular activity to showcase your leadership abilities.
  • Highlight your diversity. It is likely that your major provided you with a breadth of knowledge in a wide range of topics. Perhaps you had a unique internship or practicum experience related to diversity? Use this to your advantage and talk to employers about your diverse education.
  • Show that you're an avid learner. Promote your willingness to learn and gain new skills. This shows that you want to keep growing as an employee.
  • Promote your problem-solving skills. As a liberal arts student, you have been trained to dissect problems, analyze issues and develop practical solutions.
  • Emphasize your business savvy side. It is important to show employers that you have the ability to think critically and solve complex problems that could be used in several different business jobs.

Here's a suggestion that may help you feel better: Visit your school's career education center. They might be able to provide some perspective in this area. They may also be able to connect you with some alum's who graduated with your degree. If you are a Columbia student, visit the University Center for Career Education.

Remember, in the end, you are much more than a major. Aside from the time you spent hitting the books and tickling the keys (on a computer that is), what other experiences did you have in college? Internship, work, and extracurricular activities can all contribute to a well-rounded student. College may have been a long and winding road, but the experiences, skills, and strengths you collected along the way will prove to be invaluable.

Alice

February 12, 2014

551684
So I realize you've probably graduated now, but have you considered the Americorps, Peace Corps, or teaching ESL abroad? Those might highlight the strengths the article outlined above. Also, taking a...
So I realize you've probably graduated now, but have you considered the Americorps, Peace Corps, or teaching ESL abroad? Those might highlight the strengths the article outlined above. Also, taking a couple of elective classes in computer programming (Java, SQL, etc.), accounting, or extra quantitative analysis (SPSS, Stata, R, Matlab) may up your chances of getting a job later if you state these new skills on your resume.

June 27, 2012

513040
I remember sending this request for advice four or five years ago. Only I didn't happen upon the response until today, just browsing around the site. And it took me a little while to even figure out...
I remember sending this request for advice four or five years ago. Only I didn't happen upon the response until today, just browsing around the site. And it took me a little while to even figure out it was mine. I read it a few times, thinking, "Wow, I remember being in that person's predicament not too long ago... oh WAIT." So here's an update: I did end up successfully graduating in May 2009 (it was not easy and much later than I had planned). I can only read the advice in hindsight, although I'm sure there are plenty of liberal arts students out there who are in the same predicament and can benefit. This response is right-on, except for the part about visiting the school's career center. But the part about employers caring more about my skills and experiences that came from my education than they do about the degree itself, that turned out to be pretty accurate. Of course, if anybody had said that to me back then (and they probably did but I wasn't listening), I would have just said, "But I don't HAVE any skills or experience!" Which wasn't true. It's just that, the things I did that I thought were "just for fun" and for my personal development outside of a career, turned out to be pretty good indicators of what my strengths were as a person. Like the American Mentors Program, volunteer work, martial arts, the high school GSA, joining an excavation in Honduras for a summer, or even my post-graduation trip backpacking around Ireland/UK with my best friend. Basically what I've discovered can tell people with all honesty is: 1. I'm brave. 2. Left to my own devices and confronted with obstacles, I will solve problems creatively to finish the job (consequently i don't do well in industries that have little flexibility). 3. The more diverse the environment, the more comfortable I am. Work that stuff into a cover letter and you will prick a human resources manager's curiosity. Bring a couple of your many adventures up during an interview and your potential new boss will find you fascinating. Anyway, thanks Alice, for answering my concerns! And good luck to the rest of you Indiana-Jones wannabes that will be graduating in the coming years. Don't change your major. The world needs more anthropologists... even unemployed ones.