Is majoring in liberal arts a waste of money?

An interdisciplinary major might be the best answer to the problem today of finding work with a liberal arts degree. Today, there are more college graduates than there are jobs available that require the type of college degree or major most college graduates have.

Why did I ever get a graduate degree in writing poetry, fiction, and plays? The answer is because college then only cost $94 per semester for fulltime courses.

And back then I knew people with tenured full-time jobs in quiet college libraries with graduate educational technology degrees. They retired with pensions and spent summers traveling in Europe.

Now, changes have created a need for colleges to have better job training. For those with the interest in liberal arts, there’s that plan B alternative, the interdisciplinary major, where job skill training is a reality if you choose the right courses, such as medical journalism and technical writing for English majors with educational technology minors.

Or journalism majors taking courses in forensic DNA informatics so they can work with computer databases while reporting on medical conventions. The publications have merged, and less jobs are available. So you have to go tech, but still be a generalist with specialist skills that don’t go out of style because they can be easily upgraded through professional associations’ seminars.

Higher education is supposed to be about creating self-sufficiency through job training so a person won’t end up homeless, dependent upon relatives, or victimized for being in poverty.

The public library’s and bookstore’s purpose is to increase one’s knowledge, ethics, and intellect. If four years or more of an expensive public or private university education is spent on only increasing intellect and morality with no job training, the money’s wasted.

Make sure your college education is spent finding out how to raise, earn, and save money to prevent becoming a burden in a future relationship. You go to college to become financially independent. Otherwise you risk remaining in abusive relationships for the free food and rent. You create intellect through books read outside of college.

Don’t think for a moment that college isn’t a job-training hub. It better be. You’ve only to look at thousands of college-educated persons out of work long before their retirement years or dependent upon others with incomes.

You’re going to college to learn how to have enough money so that social security can never reduce your total income to three figures a month for the remainder of your lifetime with the power to reduce it further when the government decides you’ve earned a hundred bucks from a freelance article and reduces your spousal social security retirement benefits because you’ve earned a three figure income one month out of a year in citizen journalism, for example.

Just think of this scenario in your old age. If only you had majored in a subject where they was a great job opening in a relatively secure field, well, a more secure field.

Then you wouldn’t be competiting with the crowd at the bottom of the pyramid for the scarce monies available as an income. What if you had taken job training in college instead of reading those novels?

Yes, college may be your last opportunity for job training. Don’t let the money and years slip by because you’ll be spending your golden years in public libraries or bookstores reading everything you thought you needed to learn in college that’s intellectual rather than in the job training category. Get the transferable job skills first.

Right now, healthcare training is in. In five years, it may be something else. The key word is transferable–the generalist with the specialist skills that can be transferred from one field to another, where experience is never going to be obsolete and retraining is life-long and without age discrimination when you reach fifty or seventy and still need to work.

Are the days gone when after high-school graduation, you can sit in a public or university library for four years and read all the books you can read like Ray Bradbury did? Or travel like Hemingway did with a fourth-grade education and still write best-sellers? People with some college often are left out of the type of job security needed to become financially independent, pull your own weight, or head a household.

Can you still open a business and become a millionaire entreprepreneur with no formal schooling like so many immigrants have done? And is it true that majoring in liberal arts for a four-year degree (and going no further) is a waste of time? Back in the seventies, even PhDs in the liberal arts were driving cabs because there were too many graduates and too few jobs related to their studies.

When I started university studies in 1959, getting a master’s degree in English with emphasis in creative writing did lead to a job for many. First you started in publishing as a typist as long as you could afford to live in New York City (as I did then). Then you work your way up to editor. But the job was never secure.

You could try to get a teaching job once writer’s cramp ended your secretarial work. If you were male, you could skip the typing pool and walk right into teaching if you were lucky enough to land a job in the late 1950s, but teaching might wear you out because the new teachers were put into the inner urban schools. The lucky males walked into technical editing work in a secure government job. Today, the competition is keener than it was in the 1950s or 1960s. By the mid to late1970s, jobs were opening in technical illustration with computer corporations.

For females, in the 1950s, with a liberal arts degree, you were last hired, first fired as a typist. To make your job secure in addition to your graduate degree,  you had to learn shorthand, speedwriting, or notehand and pass typing and dictation tests. But something happened as the years passed. Publishers merged. Jobs went away. You could audition for a job in public relations, but those jobs went to the journalism graduates majoring in public relations who also took a master’s degree in public relations. Yet communications jobs were opening as technical writers. But it’s not 1959 any more.

Why do you want to major in liberal arts when you can get the same education at any age in the public libraries? The college majors preparing you for the jobs most in demand usually are overcrowded, impacted, and have a long waiting list to get into. And they can pick and choose who to let in. Don’t waste your money on a liberal arts major unless you have a very good reason to take that major, and possibly know where you’ll work in what field and how you’ll apply what you learned in your courses to transfer to a job in the real world.

Many people select a college major because they like the subject studied, not because employers can’t find enough graduates to fill jobs requiring that major. The exception would be teachers of math and science with math and science majors and teaching credentials and persons with degrees in various healthcare occupations, including various technologies, along with state licenses to practice. Examples would be nursing, occupational, respiratory, radiology, ultrasound, dental hygiene, physical therapies, certain types of social work, especially social work doctorates and social workers with master’s degrees as well as law degrees, and allied health care professions. Even paralegals are experience age discrimination if they’ve gone back to school to retrain in their forties and fifties.

Pick an occupation that is least likely to fire you if you are past the age that they usually hire. That includes most teaching professions, engineering, software design, animation, certain types of web design jobs, graphic arts, and video game design. Interestingly medical doctors are usually not laid off when they reach their forties, fifties, and sixties, unless they have health issues.

University tuition isn’t under $100 a semester any more like it was 50 years ago when I attended college. With private colleges costing around $25,000 annually and state college tuition costs rising so frequently, don’t bother going to college if all you’re going to do is major in one of the liberal arts courses, unless you’re pretty sure of landing a job when you finish that will lead to enough financially security for you to be independent and self-supporting. Here’s why.

One example could be Cal State Fullerton. The university recently had been forced to cancel up to 150 class sections for the 2009 fall semester to help the state balance its budget. (Full story). The cancellations were made in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the largest of the university’s eight schools.

The college hosts most of the university’s traditional liberal arts programs, including sociology, literature, religion, history and philosophy. Campus officials say the cuts will affect up to 3,200 students. And it is possible that deeper cuts will be made in the spring semester. (Other public colleges and universities also are making cuts.)

Let’s say you’re pretty sure you’re going to be a high school teacher of one of the liberal arts subjects. Then major in a practical, but generalist major and minor in the subject you want to teach in the field of liberal arts. For example, if you want to teach English, you’ll be competing with thousands of other university graduates and re-entry students for the few jobs available teaching English in most high schools.

The schools can be picky, choosing young students over those homemakers in their late forties returning to college for a teaching credential after the children are back in college and the nest is empty. Think twice if you assume you’re going to be hired over the 25-year old completing a graduate degree and credential.

If you’re a young student, pick a major than is transferable to other fields. You can be a generalist with transferable skills to other types of work. For example, instead of majoring in English if you like to write, pick a major in technical and science writing. Then take several courses in the type of science you want to emphasize in your writing, for example a minor.

Most people major in one of the liberal arts because they are not doing well in courses that require math skills in practical applications of the math, for example, accounting, informatics, genetics, statistics, neuroscience, or biochemistry.

Look at some of the newer majors that have a great outlook for jobs opening and increasing in the next decade. Instead of majoring in fine art, choose graphic design with animation and 3-D modeling using animation software, video editing, or digital media. Take a major in educational technology and minor in technical and science writing.

If you don’t do well in math, there are technical jobs waiting that aren’t being contracted out overseas. Find out what they are, such as informatics and DNA testing as a minor and technical/science or medical writing as a major.

If you want to pick some of the most practical majors, they’re in the healthcare industry–teaching nursing online if you have the appropriate graduate degree and experience, or teaching at a community college level the various healthcare technologies. Another route is to get a four-year degree in vocational education, doing what you like to do, such as technical illustration with computer software, and go on to a graduate degree in vocational education administration.

You can focus on any subject from auto mechanics and repair (now computerized to a large extent) to electronics technology in vocational education, getting a four-year degree and finally a masters with a teaching credential. But with the costs of college so high, don’t waste your money on a liberal arts education. You won’t have job skills.

If you think a liberal arts degree gives you transferable job skills, you’re wrong. What you’ll end up with is a last-hired, first-fired job as an administrative assistant, formerly a secretary or clerk. You won’t be promoted, not as fast as you’d like, unless your family owns the business.

Many people think a liberal arts major gives them an education in ethnics. No. Sitting in the library during summer vacations and reading books on ethics and moral teachings is just as good to get a liberal arts education in morals, ethics, or philosophy.

You can take courses as electives in foreign languages or even minor in area studies and languages, but for your major, get a job skill that isn’t going to become obsolete in five years. Web designers are needed now, but what about in the future when software will do the programming and designing? Where are the jobs not related to opening your own small business at home and competing with a thousand others doing the same work with the same skills?

Find an area that needs your energy. Right now it’s in healthcare. If you want to become a lawyer, become a CPA accountant first. At least you’ll be able to find a job quicker as an accountant than you’d find a job with no experience as a recent law school graduate clerking for 80 hours a week with the dream of becoming a partner.

If you want a career in publishing, right now it’s in digital entertainment and online journalism if you have other skills in a subject. If you want to teach, should you get a PhD in psychology or social work and teach at the university level? The problem really emphasizes the fact that there are too many college graduates with the same or similar skills. There’s a mismatch between what people major it, the most popular majors, and what jobs are open.

Not everyone can pass courses in electrical engineering, and if they do, when they reach age 35, they could very well be passed over for the 25-year old just coming out of graduate school with two years of experience already from internships.

What’s your best bet? See: Occupations With the Most Job Openings. Also see: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupations With the Most Openings.

You’ll see that the jobs with the most openings don’t require a college education and don’t pay very much either. At present there are too many college graduates and not enough job openings that require a college degree, at least in the field or major in which most graduates have degrees.

That’s why being a generalist is as important as being a specialist. You need skills in both areas. Maybe you want a degree in sports medicine management, but how many others will be competing against you with similar degrees for the few job openings?

You could become a registered nurse, for example, and then take a graduate degree in either teaching graduate nursing courses online or in person or add on more skills, such as a specialized field within nursing or an allied field such as respiratory therapy, social work, or even go to law school and become an expert witness. But can you depend on those degrees for a secure, steady job with health insurance, pension plans, and perks, let alone long-term care insurance?

Most jobs opening don’t require four years of training and pay little. Few are secure. That’s why majoring in liberal arts, for example history or English or fine art (unless you’re a talented, gifted illustrator) may be a waste of time for you when jobs are going unfilled because employers can’t find anyone with a degree and/or experience in what is really needed. That’s your task. Find out what’s really needed now and for the next decade.

What’s needed right now are nurses and experts in forensic DNA testing, including informatics. Pick a major where you could also apply for a secure job, maybe with the government or a large industry or institution that may not cut jobs so fast. And find a major that insures you against being laid off by an employer. Don’t learn one skill that will never be transferable to another job in a different industry.

For example, if you’re in medical sales, you can work in sales or healthcare if your degree is in a healthcare profession, for example, nursing or social work, or even law, if you can travel. But if you are not able to work as a nurse, say if older or have disabilities, but can place nurses in home health care environments or screen other nurses for temporary employment, if you have a registered nurse license and a degree, even if you’re sitting all day in front of a computer or phone.

Registered nurses in the USA earned a median annual salary of $57,280 in 2006. This is one of the highest paying occupations on this US Bureau of Labor Statistic’s list, and also requires more training than all but one other occupation. Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much registered nurses currently earn in your city. Browse the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Handbook gives you job search tips, links to information about the job market in each State, and more.

According to the list of occupations with the most job openings at About.com, here is the list.

The latest available data are from 2006 to 2016. Read more about national employment.

# Occupation Employment

2006 Job Openings Earnings Training Needed

1 Retail salespersons 4,476,900 193,521 Short-term on-the-job training 

2 Cashiers, except gaming 3,500,200 166,437 Short-term on-the-job training 

3 Waiters and waitresses 2,360,600 153,712 Short-term on-the-job training 

4 Customer service representatives 2,202,300 115,840 Moderate-term on-the-job training 

5 Registered nurses 2,504,700 100,079

Associate degree  6 Office clerks, general 3,200,200 99,080 Short-term on-the-job training 

7 Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 2,502,900 92,656 Short-term on-the-job training 

8 Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 2,416,000 82,304 Short-term on-the-job training 

9 Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners 2,386,600 80,184 Short-term on-the-job training 

10 Postsecondary teachers 1,671,800 66,178

Doctoral degree 

11 Child care workers 1,388,200 64,648 Short-term on-the-job training 

12 Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks 2,113,800 59,430

Moderate-term on-the-job training 

13 Elementary school teachers, except special education 1,540,200 54,544 Bachelor’s degree 

14 Truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer 1,859,800 52,297 Moderate-term on-the-job training 

15 Personal and home care aides 767,300 51,855

Short-term on-the-job training 

16 Executive secretaries and administrative assistants 1,618,000 49,668 Work experience in a related occupation 

17 Receptionists and information clerks 1,172,700 48,882 Short-term on-the-job training 

18 Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products 1,562,300 47,551 Work experience in a related occupation 

19 Maids and housekeeping cleaners 1,469,500 46,273 Short-term on-the-job training 

20 Home health aides 787,300 45,408 Short-term on-the-job training 

21 Food preparation workers 901,700 45,086 Short-term on-the-job training 

22 Accountants and auditors 1,274,400 44,977

Bachelor’s degree 

  23 General and operations managers 1,720,500 44,067

Bachelor’s or higher degree, plus work experience 

24 Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop 532,800 42,390 Short-term on-the-job training 

25 First-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers 1,675,900 42,268 Work experience in a related occupation