Things They Said in College (and the things they didn’t)

When I was in high school, liberal arts degrees were kind of all the rage — especially those of the English persuasion. “They” (and to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure who they are, but they’re idiots) insisted that employers simply needed a person with a college degree and strong communication skills. A Bachelors in anything would immediately get you further in life and you would, without question, land yourself a great job upon graduation. English majors were going to dominate the entire world.

There were charts, you guys. Charts and graphs and surveys and all this empirical data proving how employers just wanted people with strong communication skills. For the record, I’m not entirely positive that going to college made my communication skills any stronger than if I’d stayed at home and become bilingual, thusly ensuring me any secretarial position I ever wanted. Perhaps. But I have this sneaking suspicion that in reality, I entered college with the ability to read and write and left college still with the ability to read and write.

As it turns out: most employers don’t really give a flip if you have the strongest communication skills in the world. They don’t care if you excelled in your Creative Writing courses or had technically flawless papers. They don’t care if you aced all your classes or slid by with extremely mediocre grades. No, seriously, they might not even care that you went to college (but they say they do just so you don’t feel all crestfallen upon discovery and with thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt).

As it further turns out: They want people with MBAs and really strong computer skills, a solid understanding of HTML or C++, and an account with literally every social networking company in the entire world. Business acumen. You’re going to start seeing that phrase a lot.

I recently watched a colleague finish his PhD, all ready to become History Professor 2013, be turned down job after job after job after job, till he had the stark realization he just might have to get a job at Starbuck’s because nothing was panning out. Dr. Coffee. He did finally get a job that was marginally sufficient under the circumstances, not at a university, not even in his specialized field.

Not to be all doom and gloom, but: I graduated with a pretty solid GPA with a Bachelor of Science in American Studies, emphases in Creative Writing and History, and I was a secretary for seven years. I type and mail and sort and staple and print. Four and a half years of university education to print out papers. (And don’t get me started on the whole American Studies degree to begin with — an English professor and I somewhat recently came to the same conclusion that it’s just two halves of two degrees that do not equal a whole and therefore, you might as well graduate in general studies.)


My communication skills have, of course, helped me in life. I can write a damn fine cover letter and rarely dangle participles in my emails, despite how much I may want to. Family and friends eagerly await my Christmas letters each year. And there are critical thinking techniques I picked up along the way that have probably shaped who I am as an adult. College isn’t a total bust — don’t think that (and seriously don’t tell your parents what I’m saying because they’ll hate me when you knock on the bedroom door and say you’ve decided against college, and we don’t need that). But you have to be smart about it.

Which is kind of a funny/weird thing. People are in this huge rush to get to college, to choose a program in which to enroll, to graduate with some fancy degree, and then begin the world of work. Newsflash: The world of work, it sucks. And you will never have the same experiences or opportunities you have in college. Ever again. Under any circumstances. The closest I’ve gotten is being employed at a university, but I’m fairly certain Husband wouldn’t be particularly interested in joining me at a mixer (omg do they even call them mixers anymore? IS THAT STILL A THING? I’m so old.) and the students would probably be dismayed. But I digress. You get these plans in your head, and then, when you’re 22 or 23 (with a brain that still hasn’t actually finished developing), you’re supposed to make this enormous life decision that will alter your entire future.

This is hilarious. It’s ridiculous. Uproarious. Under no circumstances should you, dear reader, try to make a decision for your adult self when you are so young. Just don’t do it — chances are you won’t like it. I mean, of course there are exceptions. There always are. You might land yourself in a program that you’ll never want to leave and will find yourself, when you are seventy years old, still pleased with your decision. But empirical data these days shows that people make about four or five career changes in their lives. Even more job changes.

Instead, join a club. Take dance classes. Photography classes. If you’re going to have to pay for the tuition and fees, make the most of it. Find out what makes you really happy and then pursue the crap out of it. And then take those generals and find a field that doesn’t make you want to shoot yourself in the face and get a degree in it, assuming that somewhere down the line, you might go a different direction. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. After all, you’ll have forty to fifty years to work and work and work and work and work and work and work. It’s daunting when you’re almost thirty, I assure you, which is why, upon getting a seven-year career itch, I am turning to an entirely different field that doesn’t require a college degree at all because I think it might make me happy. But I could be wrong. Guess we’ll find out.


4 thoughts on “Things They Said in College (and the things they didn’t)

  1. Of course English majors will rule the world! As an English major myself, I can assure you of that fact. Although I have no regrets pursuing English, I have recently added a marketing major to my transcript. I’m enjoying my studies so far. I agree with you that computer skills are crucial. Thanks for the post!

    • I feel like even doing straight English would have led me to better places than the Am Stud degree, and it’s not always a total loss for people. I just found myself in the awkward place of having half a Creative Writing degree, about one-quarter of a History degree, a three-month internship as a copyeditor, and a Music minor. = nothing?

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