Monday, September 6, 2010

Useless vs. Functional Baccalaureate Degrees

This blog deviates from my usual blogging style in that I am, for once, not crusading for a particular cause. Most often when I write, I am doing so in hope of garnering support for one ideal or another, even if I didn't think of it until I started typing on the particular blog. Tonight's blog is different. My goal for tonight's blog is to gather information. Allow me to explain.

This is my final year of high school, which means that, barring disaster or in absence of a president of a major and accredited university in the U. S. deciding that I am so brilliant and accomplished that I deserve to receive a four-year degree without ever having attended the university, I will attend college next year. My educational and career goal is to complete a bachelor's degree so that I will be accepted into law school. In a very brief online discourse with the Honorable Judge Alex Ferrer, the topic of undergraduate majors was broached. Judge Ferrer worked full-time as a police officer while he was in the process of completing his undergraduate education. Sometimes his shift as a police officer would change, which meant that course offerings available to him would change as well. Since he knew that he wanted to attend law school, the quickest, easiest, and least expensive course of action had been to complete the course of study leading to a liberal arts degree. Though it had ultimately worked out for him, he didn't recommend it to others because if he had found that law school wasn't what he wanted to pursue, the liberal arts degree by itself would have been relatively worthless. At least I think that's what he would have said had it been an actual conversation and not a brief Twitter exchange. (I've actually attributed to him a lot of words that he never actually said.)

In this time educational inflation, where often it seems as though virtually everyone working and some people who are not are in possession of degrees, one might have cause to contemplate the value of a degree. What good is a bachelor's degree by itself? Not all degrees are created equal or hold equal value.

A four-year degree in nursing is either helpful or essential to working as a nurse, depending upon the hospital. (Registered nursing certification can be obtained in two- and three-year programs as well.) A four-year engineering degree will entitle one to work as an engineer. A bachelor's degree in accounting, along with passage of a state's required exam, will earn one the title of Certified Public Accountant. These are all worthy pursuits as long as one wants to be a nurse, engineer, or accountant.

What degree satisfies requirements for admission to law school, yet also holds merit on its own? In the event that a person entered law school and discovered that the legal profession was not an optimal fit for himself or herself, what four-year-degree would provide something of a "safety net" (Judge Ferrer actually did say this) in terms of job opportunities, either by providing eligibility for temporary or semi-permanent employment possibilities? For that matter, what degree does the same with regard to medical school?

My dad told me that in the olden days, doctors first majored in math or science of some kind, while lawyers typically majored in a social science, accounting, or possibly English for undergraduate studies. Since the olden days, law and medical schools have broadened to accept what they consider worthy candidates studying in much more diverse fields. Music majors have been admitted into medical schools with sufficiently high MSAT scores and a large number of math and scince courses. (I don't wish to disrespect music majors or anyone else, but I think, with all other factors being equal, that I would have a slight preference for the doctor performing open heart surgery on me to have studied one of the sciences versus visual or performing arts, but that's just my own prejudice.) Virtually no legitimate four-year degree wouldn't give a student at least consideration for acceptance into a law school with a high enough LSAT and grade point average.

Is there a perfect degree? What degree gains one acceptance into the law (or medical; I may as well keep all options open, though I think I dislike doctors too much to ever become one of them) school of one's choice, yet also provides reasonable possibility of degree-related employment so that one does not have to resort to substitute teaching or flipping burgers if the graduate program one had selected does not work out for him or her?

Lastly and importantly, though not terribly pertinently, I would like to go on record as explicitly stating that no disrespect toward teachers or the teaching profession is intended with this blog. Quite the contrary is true. Teaching is a noble vocation that should be undertaken only by those who feel called into the profession; the profession should never be entered into by default. At this point into my life I have not been called by anything or anyone to teach. Those who are not called should not teach. Period. I will say no more about it.

So what is the consensus? Are bachelor's degrees, other than in those areas of nursing, engineering, and accounting, practically prerequisites for life in the adult world, and otherwise worth very little in and of themselves? Any reader who has an opinion regarding undergraduate majors and their relative worth should post their opinions in the "comments" section.


  1. English majors are superior human beings. Go with an English major and be superior. Go English majors!

    an English major

  2. There's always geography, history, archaeology... Oh. Showing my bias!

  3. Psychology gains you a decent amount of insight into how people work, with the minor side effect that it might make you just a tad bit batty.

  4. My dad says all pyschologists and psychiatrists except my mom are "touched."