The hidden value of the ‘useless’ undergrad degree

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin.

Universities aren’t supposed to find us jobs—they’re supposed to teach us how to learn

The discussion about whether an undergraduate degree is useless or not is somewhat redundant. Just like many other points of societal disagreement, this is a systemic issue as well as an individual one. Speaking as a millennial, which Time magazine defines as someone born between 1980 and 2000, I think talking about the “point” or “usefulness” of an undergrad is elitist.

Imagine posing this question to someone who never had the opportunity to go to university. Attending university, or any other post-secondary institution, is a very important and privileged opportunity. In 2017, however, I believe our focus is on making sure we aren’t “behind,” especially when we compare ourselves to our peers and where they are career-wise. We seem to be constantly striving to be more successful than our neighbours.

I believe a fear of inadequacy is what leads to money being wasted and university degrees feeling useless. A person might end up completing a degree they are not passionate about or that doesn’t really interest them. Yet some may feel that if they don’t have a bachelor’s degree, then they are not as smart or as important as others.

According to a feature on millennials in Time, “millennials have come of age in the era of the quantified self, recording their daily steps on FitBit, their whereabouts every hour of every day on PlaceMe and their genetic data on 23andMe.” Comparing your career fulfillment and career success is no exception to this trend. Speaking from my experience in a Canadian individualist society, the norm has been to look for a career that fulfils you. It’s a privilege to find a job that brings you fulfillment. But I wonder: are there really less jobs available or are university graduates just soul-searching for a job and labeling it as “failure” when they can’t find one?

Being able to study something that interests you is a privilege in itself as well. In many areas of the world, one might not have a chance to pursue something they excel at and find interesting.

A 2016 Ottawa Citizen article reported that “only 58.3 per cent of high school graduates land a job without any additional qualifications, while nearly three-quarters of all university graduates find work after completing their degree, according to Statistics Canada.” Personally, I think there is a misconception for a lot of people studying at university. University is not necessarily a place that will lead you directly to a job.

According to Todd Hirsch, a reporter for The Globe and Mail, “your university education, at least at the bachelor of arts level, was never intended to land you a job. It was intended to make you a more complete thinker. It was intended to teach you how to absorb complex information and make reasoned arguments. It was, quite simply, intended to teach you how to learn. Those are skills that you’ll use in any field of work.”

It is important for me to understand that, when I speak about my degree, I am speaking from a position of privilege. For those living in Canada, education is more accessible than many other areas of the world. Furthermore, being able to afford university and access resources to help finance your time at university is also a privilege. During my time in university, I think I have developed skills that have increased my ability to be objective, critical, ethical and analytical. These things are not specific to my degree, and I think this is important to note.

I am a journalism student, and I am not sure where my degree will take me. I have switched programs and universities a lot, and through these opportunities, I have been lucky enough to find an undergrad program that interests me. With my degree, I hope to improve my writing, professional and social skills, while learning about interesting and diverse stories and how to write about them.

I’ve come to learn that, whether you are in sociology or nursing, your undergraduate degree can teach you to be organized and methodological. We are entering a changing workforce. Due to this transitional time, I think that, while it may be harder to get a job with just an undergraduate degree, this degree is still valuable.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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