They say a college education is never truly a waste because the lessons you learn both in and out of the classroom stay with you for a lifetime. Try telling that to a barista with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and student loan debt.
The harsh reality is that while a college degree is valuable on its face, not all degrees are viewed as valuable by employers. But fear not. Your degree in philosophy, fine arts or information systems is salvageable and even marketable if you take the right approach. There are a few things you can do to make sure that your potential employers see the real value in your not-so-popular degree.
What Was the Appeal?
Before you can get into the nitty-gritty of degree rehab, it’ll help to go back in time and remember why you chose the degree in the first place. Did you have a specific career track in mind? If so, why did you abandon it? If you still want to pursue that line of work, it will shape the choices you make from here on out. If you simply changed your mind about your career track, think about what else might have appealed to you. Did you like making presentations, group problem solving or doing research by yourself?
Identifying the enjoyable aspects of your degree can help point you toward possible strategies. For instance, if your favourite part of your philosophy degree was engaging in intense logical arguments with your professor and peers, then perhaps the legal profession is your destiny, be it as an attorney or a paralegal. Once you’ve isolated the aspects of your degree that you enjoyed the most, you can then choose a strategy that best fits your time frame and budget.
Get a Master’s Degree
Okay, so obviously this is the most expensive and time consuming route. And if you’re already covered up with student loan debt, going to grad school (or law school for that matter) probably isn’t the best road for you to take. However, if you’re debt free and you’ve got the means to make it happen, a simple MBA is a good way to add value to just about any degree. A degree in Fine Arts coupled with an MBA can lead you to a career as an Art Director. An MBA can also help you turn that Information Systems degree into a management position.
You should think long and hard about whether or not to pursue this track though. Don’t get a Master’s for the sake of getting a Master’s, you’ll be wasting your time and your money. Do your research, have a goal and use the opportunity to intern. If you don’t think a Master’s will help your situation, don’t go for it. There are plenty of other quick, low cost options when it comes to sprucing up your degree.
Get a Certificate or Learn a Skill
Adding skills or certificates to your repertoire can work wonders for your weak degree. Instead of standing on its own, your degree can now be considered as part of a package that includes real world or certifiable skills. Your local community college likely offers classes and certificates in Project Management, Geographic Information Systems, Computer Programming or Paralegal programs. Do some research and find a certificate that will help point your degree in the direction that you settled on during the first step.
Non-profit work is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to add skills and experience to your resume. If your degree isn’t super specialized or it’s not currently popular, use your time to make it relevant in a volunteer context. Having trouble getting your International Studies degree off the ground? Find a non-profit that works with developing countries on things like women’s issues, economic development or health care, depending on the direction you wish to take your degree.
After getting familiar with the ins and outs of the organization, volunteer for a chair position, spearhead a fundraising event or offer to revamp the organization’s website (if you’ve got web development skills or the desire to learn). Volunteering of this type not only shows your potential employers that you’re active in your community and committed to helping others, it shows them that you’ve got a serious set of real world skills that may not be expressed through your degree alone.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, having a degree alone may not be enough to open doors. The practical application of an education is becoming more and more important and with jobs scarce, many grads are finding themselves left in the cold. But if you think outside the box and prop up your degree with meaningful skills, there’s no reason that you can’t make the most of the valuable education you already have.