20 Most Useless Degrees

In a rare bit of good news for recent literature grads, former grads, and lovers of literary prose the world over, the 20 Most Useless Degrees were published in April by the Daily Beast — and a literature degree is no where near the top. Pole position for ignominy goes to journalism, that sad pathetic craft which counts among its practitioners such useless word-spinners as G. Orwell, C. Hitchens, C. Portis, E. Hemingway, M. Twain, and others. No, lit majors are no where near the top. They’re in 15th position, drafting behind such mediocrities as art history, theater, music, and even, mirabile dictu, chemistry and mechanical engineering. Now we could quibble about the meaning of the term “useless” and even question the value of median starting salaries and median mid-career salaries, but let’s face it — these degrees suck. You know it and I know it. If you earn one of them, you’re less likely to internalize the language of business, as well as the amoral values associated with it. You’re less likely to take your ambition in the world too seriously, and less likely to be avaricious and earn a lot of money, and more likely to appreciate the finer things in life, assuming you can afford them. After all money is freedom to do things, be those things what they may. So what do these useless degrees show? Well, that the larger market economy of which our lives are a part is fairly whacked. So toss your hat to that.


5 Responses to 20 Most Useless Degrees

  1. Anthony says:

    The other day I collected an apposite Jaron Lanier quotation: If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money. If the money is flowing into advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth and beauty. If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless.

  2. Fiona Bell says:

    Still working on my “useless” literature PhD and living on a scholarship that is below minimum wage, and I couldn’t be happier! Maybe that it because of my previous useless degrees in visual art, art history and literature?

  3. PJ says:

    How does a daily news journal publish a piece claiming that journalism is the single most useless degree and not include any commentary on this verdict? Or is there an accompanying story that I can’t find?

    And say, do you happen to know any recent pieces on the role of an education in the humanities that I could use in an intro class? I want to do some kind of debate/positions exercise on this in the fall.

    There is this excellent defense of the humanities as vital for democracy: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/09/0082640. And here’s one that is reluctantly critical from a career perspective: http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/06/19/time_to_kill_liberal_arts/index.html. But I’d like one or two others, and ideally a more individualistic defense and a more principled polemic against.

    • Hi PJ, hope you’re doing well. As for the Dailybeast’s failure to rise to the defense of journalism, I have nothing to say, except that the pub might reluctantly agree, in this our age of advertising, PR, and the twitterization of language. There’s no accompanying story I know of.

      No recent pieces on the role of education in the humanities that I can think of. Rohan Maitzen, blogger and English professor, comes to mind. She did a spate of blog posts a year or so ago. Google her. I myself prefer Dewey. He said the first and last word on the subject in Democracy and Education, as well as in a little pamphlet, a kind of personal manifesto, whose title I can’t remember. He’s the man.

      One last thing, I know I recommended Ecology of Fear, but another work of non-fiction comes to mind, Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. He challenges the science behind the current recommendation to eat a low-fat, high-carb diet.


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