That Moment You Realize Your Degree is Worthless

your degree is worthless
This was me a year and a half ago. What a dummy.

[Disclaimer: I know I sound bitter in this post, and that’s because I am.]

Yesterday morning I came to the depressing conclusion that my college degree is practically worthless. First of all, I’m mad it took me a year and a half to realize it. I should’ve seen it just a few months after I graduated. At the time, my wife and I had moved to Arkansas to be closer to her family, and I started applying feverishly for finance-related jobs at Wal-Mart. I even had the networking thing down. About 80% of my church congregation worked for Wal-Mart in different areas, a lot of them in finance, and most of them being in decision-making positions. So I got the interviews, which was great. I certainly couldn’t have expected more. I even got to the final interview every time. But in the end, it didn’t matter who I knew and it certainly didn’t matter that I had a crisp piece of paper from a Top 20 business school testifying of my aptitude.

I didn’t have the experience.

I had an internship, though. In financial planning. In fact, I was in the top 1% of all interns nationwide in productivity. When you consider there were about 3,500 of us total, I was feeling pretty accomplished. But of course that didn’t matter, because I wasn’t counting beans or running Excel models for 80 hours a week.

After six months of post-graduation unemployment (which is eternally married to depression, discouragement, and pretty much any other negative thought you could have about yourself), I ended up settling for a job as a bank teller after necessity kicked me in the butt and said, “Hey dummy, look at your bank account.” My wife was a long-term substitute at the time, earning $70 a day, and that comprised the whole of our income. On top of that, we owed her parents almost $4,000 for some medical bills they paid for us to help us out. Good thing I paid all that money for that degree, right?

Six months later, I couldn’t tell the difference between the feelings going to work and going to my own private cell in a mental institution. I was going insane. I’m sure my wife would tell you that I came home most days foaming at the mouth. Because every time I tried to find opportunities to go the extra mile and get noticed, I was met with indifference. When I tried to apply for a job within the bank that I was qualified for, my request and dignity were squashed with the reply, “You have to wait six months before you can apply anywhere else within the company.” Forget the fact that they regularly made exceptions for others. I later found out that it was because the branch was understaffed and the branch manager was too lazy to hire someone else. And, of course, by the time I hit six months, there were no positions available. Of course.

All of this happened about the same time as I started my freelance writing business on the side. While I hated every minute of work, I had my blog and my writing to look forward to. It gave me the fulfillment I couldn’t find at the bank, and I learned quickly that my success was completely dependent on me.

But my blog wasn’t making anything and my freelancing wasn’t paying the billz with only a couple hundred dollars a month, so I started applying like crazy for jobs. A month or so later, I got a call from an employer in Texas and they loved me! After going through the interview process, they told me that they wouldn’t pay for us to move and my pay wouldn’t be what I was looking for, but I decided that the move to Dallas would at the least open up more opportunities in the future than Northwest Arkansas.

Fast forward to today, I don’t hate my job. In fact, I really like the people I work with, and I don’t mind the work itself, even if it’s menial. But I’m smart enough to know where this is heading. When I first asked about opportunities for development, my manager told me I had to wait a year before I can move to a different position (he then told me about how he got out after 10 months). I was then told that I shouldn’t expect to be able to get to where I am qualified for immediately, rather I need to climb the ladder just like everyone else, meaning making 6-12 month stops at one tedious job to another for the next few years before I can reach the type of job I supposedly should have gotten when I graduated (at least, that’s what the business school told me).

At this point, I’ve been told by everyone and their dog that I should go back to school to get an MBA. To that I answer, to what end? When I think about it, all I can see is another two years of working my butt off to the background music of tens of thousands of dollars of debt, followed by more uncertainty of whether any of it would translate to a job. It hasn’t helped that I’ve become so jaded by corporate world’s foundation of demanding loyalty while giving nothing in return that I’d prefer to do my own thing.

In the meantime, I’ve built my freelancing up to a more respectable sum. Rather than averaging a couple hundred dollars a month, I’m averaging a couple thousand. Still not enough to survive on alone, but it definitely makes things nice with me not making enough to sustain us on my salary at work alone, especially for when we have the baby so my wife doesn’t have to work.

And that’s what keeps me going. And it’s ironic. After all the work and money I put into my degree, in the end it’s my passion for personal finance that has turned into my only post-graduation success. I didn’t learn any of this stuff in college, at least not anything I didn’t already know.

Why don’t I go back to financial planning? As much joy as it brought me, I’m afraid that I would probably end up burning out on the sales process. It’s not just that I’m not a salesman. I hate salesmen. I’m pretty sure I’m too soft, which would make it difficult to get the big hauls that make that career lucrative.

As far as the future goes, I have no idea. It’s frustrating sometimes to think about it. Yesterday, I was ready to punch a dolphin. This morning, I’m a little more melancholy. But I’m sure I’ll get over it. I’m fortunate to have something I’m passionate about, something that I’ve already seen has the potential to become something great. It’s only a matter of time now. The future is as bright as your faith. It may suck now, but I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t suck later.

It’s not a fun experience to realize your degree is worthless. Have you had it? 

(photo cred)


13 thoughts on “That Moment You Realize Your Degree is Worthless

  1. Is there such a thing as a financial planning consultant–i.e., someone who gets paid directly by the client for the advice rather than being "sponsored" by the providers of financial products? I can imagine some people would gladly pay for financial advice if they could be reassured it was not biased by the commission-based compensation structure that is so common. Are there tough licensing requirements for that kind of thing?

    1. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the company I worked for, and would definitely go back if it weren’t for my aversion to sales. But there are a number of different things I could do too. There are money coaches, which I’m considering. They focus on more basic things and aren’t selling products, so there’s none of the regulation surrounding selling securities and insurance. Then there are daily money managers, who simply manage the day-to-day things for people: bills, debt payments, budget management, etc. Not a lot of regulation in that, but there probably should be since they’re acting in a fiduciary relationship–not something I’d want to get my hands in. Then, of course, I could always start my own financial planning firm, but if I were to give advice regarding specific products, I’d have to jump through all the regulatory and licensing hoops.

  2. I worried mine would be worthless before I even graduated. When I finally got my diploma, I wasn't excited or proud of myself, it was more like a mental "check, did that" and that's it. It's been 4 years since I graduated and my degree benefitted me exactly zero seconds of those 4 years. But at least I still owe a few thousand dollars of student loans…oh, wait. Maybe one day both of our degrees will prove to me worth it.

    1. Yay for student loans! Right? Yeah, it sucks, but I like what a friend commented on my Facebook thread–“It’s not about the degree my friend. It is about learning how to learn, and more importantly, think critically. In that regard, college is never a waste -although some universities do a better job teaching that skill than others.”

    1. That’s another thing that bothers me. In my mind, there should be no reason why arts and humanities degrees should be any less marketable. My sister worked harder when she was studying musical theater than I ever did in the business school. The moral of this story: society is dumb.

  3. Hi Ben,

    Sorry to hear your struggles. There are two positives I’ve read:

    1) You got a better job than the one in Arkansas. Congrats!

    2) You are making a couple thousand freelancing! That’s huge!

    Once you’ve got a couple years of steady work at the same employer under your belt, more opportunities definitely open up.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Sam. You’re right. There have definitely been some good things happening, especially the freelancing. I’ll be honest, patience isn’t really my strongest suit when it comes to stuff like this. But it will come.

Leave a Reply