Analysis: A Degree in Useless
There are numerous subtleties to this trope depending on the degree that you're attempting to ridicule; English, Theology, Philosophy, History, purely abstract Mathematics
and other Classical intellectual subjects tend to be academically respected and prestigious but financially weak, unless when these courses are do used as a preparation course for a vocational degree (e.g. Philosophy as pre-Law course). Less traditional degrees such as Sociology, Media Studies, Leisure Studies etc are ridiculed for both their uselessness in employability and the lack of intellectual scope in their subject matter. Vocational degrees tend to be the subject of ridicule mostly based on how respected and "realistic/concrete" the profession is; Natural Sciences, Engineering and Architecture graduates are generally off limits, but Journalism, Political Science and Law
are fair game
This stereotype was reinforced by the expensive value of education today. There is an epidemic of victims of student loans that could not be repaid, deterring people from borrowing cash only to spend those for useless degrees. The more the tuition fee hike goes up, the more there is a large drop
in the percentage of students going for degrees in the humanities. Statistically speaking, these degrees are a lot less likely to get you a job (especially a good one) than most other ones, but is still is possible. People nowadays view education as a form of capital investment rather than an intellectual venture, hence the rise in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Education and Business courses, which are overtaking more and more "unnecessary" subjects. In actuality, the only STEM degree really guaranteed to get a student a job is computers, but somehow nobody mentions that: works of fiction go on pretending that students of physics, chemistry, higher mathematics, or biology can actually find work in their fields.
Another variable contributing to the fall of humanities courses is the rise of self-studying and the Internet; one can self-learn Philosophy by searching on the Internet, downloading eBooks or living like Socrates
, and one can learn English Literature in a more entertaining form through This Very Wiki
. Indeed, discussing the Meaning of Life with your friends over a Sunday cup of tea or studying Hegelian Deconstruction
via the media examples provided by TV Tropes may be more satisfying and cost-saving than overspending on a degree. A major in Philosophy is unnecessary to become The Philosopher
; after all, Socrates and Jesus were poor and didn't need cash to spread their ideas. As a result, humanities degrees, despite being academically respected and prestigious, have acquired the same public status as Conspicuous Consumption
(I have this prestigious Liberal Arts major because I'm an aristocratic emokid rich enough to afford it), and expensive colleges are reserved for more important and pragmatic courses such as Technology and Business.
Its worth emphazing that for many, regardless of the level of personal enrichment or prestige someone may get from their degree, the typical reason a person goes to college in the first place is to get the education needed to make a decent living and avoid living paycheck to paycheck. Thanks to the previously mentioned neccessity of student loans for all but the smartest or those subsidized by others, former students have a hard time avoiding substantial debt, which can make even a decent job a lot less worthwhile if it takes years or even decades to pay off loans. Of course, that's assuming that the student can find a position in the first place, in which many students don't realize just how difficult it can be to find work, assuming that just because they have a degree that employers will be all to happy to hire them when in reality, even amongst the educated, employers often demand experience or that students start off humbly making peanuts in order to get to the positions the students assumed they would be getting. Thus any degree that doesn't offer a high chance of a substantial financial reward to offset all this risk, i.e. the humanities, is often a huge liability and could literally ruin a person's life.
Sometimes averted in real life, at least for people who get humanities degrees from respected schools
. It's not really surprising that world-changing historical figures who spread revolutionary philosophical ideas attend, well, Philosophy (of course, many of the best philosophers were double-majors and many solid contributions have been made to academic philosophy without philosophy degrees, but hey). Writers of fiction, however, tend to ignore the fact that such a thing is possible, depicting anybody who didn't choose a highly-profitable and/or Business-related major as a penniless loser, despite how many fiction writers actually had a degree in "useless". Self-Deprecation
A few notable real-life aversions:
- Classics: C. J. Cherryh
- English: Stephen King, Toni Morrison, Beverly Cleary, Margaret Atwood, Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia A. McKillip, Robin Mc Kinley, Douglas Adams, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Stephanie Meyer
- Creative Writing: Colin Meloy