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How to Leverage a “Useless” Degree

From arts, cosmetology, and culinary, to social sciences and marketing, turn your “useless” degree into a purposeful career.

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Sometimes during undergraduate studies, we’re forced to decide on a major by a certain time. We often choose what we’re most passionate about, or sometimes, we stay grounded in pragmatism and choose a path we believe will provide financial stability. For me, I took the route where my passion lies: writing.

Writing is integral to most businesses spanning various industries. From email communications, company websites, and marketing collateral, to grants, proposals, and contracts, writing is essential to maintaining and growing business.

Some degrees recognized as “useless” degrees include, arts (i.e., music, theater), cosmetology, culinary, fashion design, social sciences (i.e., psychology, sociology, criminal justice), and advertising/marketing (i.e., communications, writing). The main reason for these degrees are considered useless is because tuition costs no longer align with industry wages, as well as real-world experience becoming more invaluable than classroom experience or “booksmart.” That’s not to say that formal education is not recognized, appreciated, or unnecessary.

For example, my first job post-undergraduate studies was a social media manager. I didn’t have any previous experience or formal education. In fact, I asked the hiring manager why he chose me over all the more experienced candidates, and he replied, “I liked your process.” It wasn’t because I had X years’ experience in social media, rather it was my ability to approach it from a fresh perspective. From there, I landed my dream job as an associate editor with a publishing company.

Expectations vs. reality

According to a majority of sources, I have two “useless” degrees – a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a master’s degree in psychology. However, writing has always been my passion, and despite having a love-hate relationship with it, I always fall back into it. For example, in my undergraduate studies, I switched majors every semester until my third year where I was placed on academic probation. No matter what major I selected, I always found an excuse to change back to writing. Athletic training requires statistics? No, thank you. As a writer, you don’t have to do numbers. English requires you to take British Literature? After reading the original Old English version of Beowulf, I was convinced English was not my first language (it is). You learn pretty quickly where your passion lies when you run away from it just to run back to it.

There are three steps that will create the foundation you need to truly leverage your degree.

  1. Identify your passion(s).
  2. Research what path that passion can lead you through and set a goal.
  3. Strategize a plan to achieve your goal.

Tips and tricks to leverage your degree

Like most degrees, there are ways to leverage “useless” degrees beyond the traditional or obvious career paths. No matter what useless degree you have, it just takes some creative finagling to make it work. Here are some of my tips and tricks I used to leverage my degree.

Resumes/CVs and cover letters

With almost any job, your first impression is your resume/CV and cover letter. Whether you’re thinking about changing fields (e.g., writing to psychology), or you’re working a job you dislike to simply pay the bills, try revamping your resume. It also helps to create different versions of both resume and cover letter. For example, I have a resume for marketing, legal, and education roles, as well as cover letters to go with each resume tailored to specific skills, education, and volunteer opportunities relevant to each role.

Volunteer opportunities

Volunteer opportunities can include apprenticeships, internships, mentorships, or simply volunteering. Volunteer opportunities showcase your interest in helping local and national organizations, building soft skills (i.e., time management, volunteer management, mentorship from organization leaders), and opportunities to build hard skills (e.g., computer programs, industry-specific software). Likewise, if you’re volunteering while working a paid job, it can show your philanthropic side. Additionally, whether through the organization you volunteer for or the professionals you network with in a volunteer role,  volunteer opportunities can turn into paid opportunities.

Certifications

Certifications, like HubSpot Academy, can offer free extended training and validation for business-related roles. For example, I am a mid-level writer working in marketing and communications. My role involves creating content for websites, social media, blogs, and emails. With that in mind, I obtained HubSpot Academy certifications in content marketing, social media, and email marketing. While I knew most of the information, all my knowledge came from learning on the job rather than formal training or education. I learned industry terminology, tips to improve my current processes, and ideas to implement in my current role.

Memberships

Memberships can be classified into different categories, such as academic (e.g., memberships that require a certain GPA) and professional (i.e., memberships to industry-recognized organizations). Post-graduate studies, I was offered a lifetime membership to Alpha Chi. I was proud to have worked full-time, continued my volunteer responsibilities, and maintained a 3.97 GPA in a master’s program. I also joined NAMI, Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative, and continued my work as a mentor for my undergraduate alma mater. All of these organizations have allowed me to grow my professional network, which in turn allows me to create future growth opportunities.

Wake your passions and take control of your future!

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