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A Degree in Useless

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"You're a genius if it only takes you two years to finish a four-year course in Ancient Babylonian Astrology.
You're an idiot if you think you'll ever get a good job with a college degree in Ancient Babylonian Astrology."

Wow, you took that degree? Ha! What a loser! First, all your peers will laugh at you for partying (or having your head in the clouds) instead of studying for a real, useful degree. Then, you'll find that it's impossible to find work in your field, and end up working at Burger Fool for the rest of your life — assuming even the Burger Fool will hire you! Of course, if you are lucky you can become a Mad Scientist's experiment or something and at least make a name for yourself there. The only thing worse for an Education Mama than her children not doing well in school is majoring in one of these.

In short, this is a college degree in a subject that is worth less (at least, financially speaking) than the paper it is printed on, and much less than the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars you paid for it. A common use is to have the guy describe his achievements: "Yeah, graduated top three of my class, BA in Arts, my professors predicting me an easy future and all that... Would you like fries with that?"

The crux behind this trope, both in fiction and real life, tends to center around the choice of studies in comparison to the dismal market for those studies. If a well-paid job requires a degree, and such as a lawyer, doctor and engineer, and there are many jobs available, the likelihood of acquiring the job is greatly improved after 4-8 years of study and tons of student debt. Of course, people can go to college/university for far more reasons than getting a bigger paycheck; personal fulfillment, joy of learning, gaining life experience by living in a college town, working on big projects with deadlines and moving away from home can all be of similar benefit regardless of the degree acquired, but some majors have little workplace potential because of being too abstract or general, creating a circular system where the best option is to turn around and teach the same subject to the next generation. As a result, people getting degrees in areas with poor job prospects (fine arts, music, philosophy, etc) may get a Bachelors and then graduate degrees, and then become a low-paid, precarious sessional college instructor and train more people for the same dismal job prospects. See Analysis tab for more.

All that said, advanced degrees often accumulate undergrad coursework that will help them get into a good graduate program but not help them in the job market at that point in time. Most Liberal Arts degrees such as English, literature, sociology and philosophy can be parlayed into graduate programs as diverse as journalism, law, political science or public administration. Universities aim to create well-rounded students, so they require at least two years of general education before they focus on their majors. Students majoring in the arts have exposure to the hard sciences and vice versa. And even still, some creative application of the knowledge gained can be a great benefit when everyone else is locked into the same point of view.

See Hard on Soft Science for when scientists invoke this on other scientists. Related to Classically-Trained Extra. The Worthless Foreign Degree is when you run into trouble not because of what you studied, but where you studied. Compare Not That Kind of Doctor, where people assume you are a physician when your doctorate was in literature. See also Expert in Underwater Basket Weaving for other useless skills and talents. Compare Technician Versus Performer when there is a contrast between training and knowledge vs experience and skill. Contrast I Minored in Tropology, where the "useless" topic isn't as maligned so much as catches others off guard. See also Career Not Taken.

By the way: In medieval times, alumni of the University of Paris, France got an official license to beg after they finished their studies. So this trope seems to be Older Than Print.

This is for cataloguing such examples in fiction. Please do not add real life examples to this page.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Akane-banashi plays this for drama. The main character's father, pre-story, was a student of a Rakugo school for nineteen years and made meager money performing in the interim. He was expelled from the school along with every other person taking their last exam, and as a result he left rakugo altogether and went into a cement company. Nearly everybody in his life applauds him for it, celebrating that he has a stable career and mocking him for ever seriously pursuing rakugo—everybody except for Akane, who knows her father is dead inside from having his dream crushed instantly and genuinely loved seeing her father perform. At the very least, it's implied the acting and communication skills he built up over his schooling were applied at his job.
  • Towards the end of Chapter 35 of Asteroid in Love, which is adapted in the middle of the eleventh episode, Endou tells fellow Shiny Star Challenge alumna Hayakawa back at the time when they were high-school students of that astronomy summer camp, she never thought both of them would become teachers. The translator's note of the Chinese fan translation notes interprets that line as "Implying it's hard to get a job with an earth-sciences majornote ." There's no indication if that's what the author means, though.
  • This is involved in the premise of The Full Time Wife Escapist. The protagonist Mikuri is actually a certified psychologist with a MA degree... but at 25 she still couldn't find a real job; at the beginning of the series, she was fired from her temp office-lady position and has to work as a house cleaner.

  • In one of Ali Wong's sets she considers her BA in Ethnic Studies, a degree where "you study how to blame everything on white people", a degree that wasn't expected to make money.

    Comic Books 
  • Empowered has a degree in suprahuman studies (she always was a superhero Fangirl).

    Comic Strips 
  • Perhaps the cruelest application of this trope is a New Yorker cartoon showing two English majors whose occupation is standing as scarecrows in a field.
  • MAD:
    • The magazine once featured a parody of Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, one panel of which featured Marty Feldman doing the same as the aforementioned New Yorker cartoon — being a scarecrow in a field. The caption read, "We found him doing odd jobs... and boy, do we mean odd!"
    • One feature says that anyone who can get a four-year degree in Ancient Babylonian Astrology in two years is a genius, but anyone who expects to get a good job with that degree is an idiot.
  • Dilbert:
    • It is mentioned that problems with blackouts are due to the lights being cued to motion detectors, and the office workers aren't active enough to keep them on. Thus, an intern is hired to walk around flapping his arms all day: "Another journalism major enters the workforce."
    • A minor running joke is that other than the engineers there is no correlation between degree and job. The boss is an art history major, while the secretary has an MBA.
    • Inverted whenever MBAsnote  are brought up; despite being a very lucrative degree with proper accreditation and the right concentration,note  and frequently being found in the offices of high-level business executives, the strip consistently depicts MBA holders as arrogant and useless. Note that Scott Adams himself has an MBA (concentration in management) from UC Berkeley.
  • Garfield: The March 15, 2009 strip has Garfield comment about this.
    Garfield: "And [Jon's] dad thought that art degree was just a big waste of money."
  • Sabrina at See-CAD: The conversation between Eric and Sabrina at the end of the series.
    Sabrina: "So where do you go from here?"
    Eric: "I think Taco Bell has an opening."

    Fan Works 
  • Amazing Fantasy: Inverted. Peter has a dual degree in chemical engineering and computer science, but is stuck delivering pizzas as it's the only job he could get in Izuku's universe without documentation.
  • Asuka's college degree is never actually named in Neon Genesis Evangelion (and never used either). Asuka Quest has it be in Metaphysics, which our protagonist (possessing Asuka's body) bemoans as being entirely useless.
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged: brutal space pirate and gibbering idiot Nappa claims to have majored in Child Psychology at Saiyan University, "WITH A MINOR IN PAIN!". Obviously he never got much use out of his degree. This comment was likely a subtle joke at the fact that, along with Women's Studies and Pastoral Studies, Child Development is the absolute lowest earning bachelor's degree in existence (along with similar degrees like Early Childhood Education and Childhood Studies). He ends up becoming a Hollywood producer once he's brought back to life (and kickstarted Hercule's career) so it works out way better for him that most other examples on this page.
  • The Dresden Fillies: Brought up in the third story, With Great Power; the father of a missing person named Sean felt that the kid's music degree was not going to get him much in life, and had pressured him into going to college to pursue a more useful subject. Sean didn't listen, and ultimately his father cut him off when he continued to spend money living a lavish rockstar life despite not getting much in return and (as it turns out) not being very talented a musician.
  • The MLP Loops: One time at the bar, Twilight asks the other loopers "what's the most useless thing you've ever gotten a professional certification in?" Considering that everyone has been trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop for a very long time, there are a lot of answers. Celestia, who is a thousand year-old God Queen in baseline, wins with "official planting-stick sharpness tester." It's such an obsolete farming tool that not even the proud farmer Applejack knows what they are.
    Applejack: Right, but why didn't you lead an agricultural revolution?
    Celestia: I was eight, Applejack.
    Applejack: Ah've done, oh, fifty or sixty agricultural revolutions when I was under ten. You sure could.
    Celestia: No. This was the first time I was eight.
  • Mother Dearest (a DuckTales (1987) fanfic): This is Donald's opinion of his sister's Della's efforts in pursuing higher education. He is, admittedly, somewhat biased, since it was while pursuing her courses that she met her good-for-nothing boyfriend, got pregnant with the triplets Huey, Dewey and Louie, got dumped by him, and proceeded to abandon her sons on Donald's doorstep when they were two years old and leave her brother and children to work out looking after them on their own.
  • Quiververse: Quiver Quill's degree in Modern Ponish is considered to be this by his father, who never approved of his son's talent for writing and wanted to send him to trade school.
  • In the Real-Time Fandub of Sonic Riders and Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, Amy gets a degree in abstract thinking at some point during the intervening time between the two games, and explains that "it's a new degree that I made up myself". This is brought up repeatedly.
    Amy: I did not go to four years of master's school to get to be called a dusty bitch!
    Sonic: Okay, what did you go for though? 'Cause I can't tell.
  • Those Lacking Spines: The High School AU persona of Larxene (who happens to be a teacher) graduated from university with a doctorate in Philosophy.
    She was supposed to have gone places with that degree! But no, it's only after you're out in the real world that you learn that nobody knows who John Stuart Mill and Aristotle are, and nobody particularly cares, and you're going to be forced into a meager-paying job in education no matter what you'd previously expected.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Pixar film Inside Out has this for the clown that gave Riley her fear of them. In the credits we hear his emotions talking about how he spent six years in acting school to be a birthday clown.
  • Art from Monsters University is a New Age philosophy major. Also, Terri is a dance major, but unfortunately his conjoined twin brother Terry is an English major and won't cooperate.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Bruce tells his girlfriend and future wife that he is majoring in philosophy. When asked what he plans to do with his degree, he replies, "Think long, deep thoughts about unemployment." In real life, Lee actually majored in drama (and dropped out after three years due to poor grades).
  • This conversation in Lost in Translation (2003):
    Bob: What did you study?
    Charlotte: Philosophy.
    Bob: Yeah, there's a good buck in that racket.
  • In PCU, Droz has the following conversation with students to whom he's selling papers:
    Droz: What's your major?
    Sanskrit Major: Sanskrit.
    Droz: Sanskrit? You are majoring in a 5000-year-old dead language?
  • Alluded to in The Addams Family movie when Morticia is at the employment office. When she tells her case worker that her major was "spells and hexes", the worker nods knowingly and answers, "Liberal Arts."
  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), when the Smiths are telling each other their real backstories:
    John: I never went to MIT. Notre Dame. Art history major.
    Jane: Art?
    John: History! It's reputable.
  • In The Brass Teapot Alice's degree in Art History isn't exactly helping her find a job.
  • Ghostbusters: Parapsychology is by and large a useless degree in-universe, with little if any "practical" application. Part of the movie's lasting appeal comes from seeing three guys with "useless degrees" make good outside of the academic world.
  • James of Adventureland runs into financial problems between his lit major as an undergrad and going to Columbia for journalism. When he starts looking for work, he notes that his degree can't even help him with a manual labor job.
  • Averted in the first Francis the Talking Mule film. Army Intelligence goes on a recruitment drive, and one of the volunteers was a professor of philosophy at Duke University before he was drafted, which is considered a plus. (Though it's also worth noting he apparently speaks several languages of the Far East.)
  • In Goodbye Lenin, the main character's sister Ariane clearly recognized her studies in (clearly Marxist-Leninist) economic theory would be useless in a country (East Germany) which was turning capitalist... so she quit whilst she was ahead and went and got a job in Burger King!
  • When the lads get lost in the Outback in The Inbetweeners 2, Simon bemoans the fact that he's studying Sociology, noting its lack of applications to their current predicament. Not that any other degree would have been of any use, but Simon is established to have very few other skills over the course of three seasons of the TV show and a previous movie, aside from an offscreen aptitude for golf.
  • In Knives Out, Meg's liberal arts degree is derided as a useless "Marxist" and "SJW" degree by her more conservative family members. The film even agrees with them and deconstructs her studies as when her grandfather cuts off tuition payments, she realizes that her comfortable future might be in jeopardy as she doesn't have a job or future prospects due to her less than practical degree.
  • Subverted in Legally Blonde, where Elle's Major in Fashion Merchandising is said by other characters to be likely to prevent her from getting into Harvard Law. However, the fact that she has a 4.0 and scores incredibly high on the LSAT helps her get in. Additionally in an early scene, her knowledge of fashion prevents her from getting scammed by a clothing store worker. It also helps her find holes in Chutney's alibi, exposing her as the real killer.
  • Sadie from If You Could Say It in Words complains that her degree only qualifies her to earn more degrees.

  • The Science major asks, "Why does it work?" The Engineering major asks, "How does it work?" The Liberal Arts major asks, "Do you want fries with that?"
  • Q: What's the difference between someone with a BA in English and someone with a BA in Theater?
    A: The one with a degree in English says "Would you like fries with that?". The one with the Theater degree says "Good evening, I'll be your server tonight. The special of the evening is Medallions of Wild Boar in a Cranberry-Dijon Reduction, served on a bed of Ramps sautéed..."
  • Q: Which of these is not like the others? A Ph.D. in Mathematics, a Ph.D. in Theoretical Mathematics, a Ph.D. in Statistics, or a large pepperoni pizza?
    A: A Ph.D. in Theoretical Mathematics. The others can feed a family.
  • Friendly reminder to STEM majors: be nice to Liberal Arts majors. After all, they'll be serving your food.
  • Q: How do you get a philosophy major off your porch?
    A: Pay for the pizza.
  • An ordinary degree may only qualify you to ask “Would you like fries with that?”, but a degree in philosophy makes you able to ask some of the deep questions of life, such as, "Why would you like fries with that?"

  • In A Song of Ice and Fire the Citadel mostly considers the study of magic to qualify, because one of the major lessons is this: magic doesn't work. It's implied that the Citadel is trying to suppress magic, so even at the start of the series this is less true than they claim.
  • In Felidae (the book), Gustav is an egyptologist, can't find a job, and no-one wants to buy his books, so he has to write pornography for cheap magazines to make a living. In later books, he became more successful.
  • Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century has a scathing view of the attitudes that produce this trope, more than a century before it became prevalent. Michel Dufrénoy, the protagonist, is one of the last students of the humanities graduating from his university, which is a cause for shame for his family and endless misery and failure for him throughout the story. Sounds like a straight example at first... except that the story takes his side, with the rest of French society having pretty much abandoned all creative and artistic pursuits (those that don't involve the Lowest Common Denominator, at least) in favor of an obsessive focus on science and rationality, creating an emotionally cold world to live in. This attitude is treated as a key sign of a dystopia.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Trillian explains that she decided to go into space with Zaphod because, with her degrees in Mathematics and Astrophysics, it was either that or back to the dole line (these may have been hard sciences, but highly specialised and, at the time the series was written, would not have given entry in to the general jobs market — the time when a Mathematics degree could get you a highly paid banking job was yet to come).
  • This trope features in several stories by German author Heinrich Böll. One of them works at the railroad announcing the station, the other one starts a fruit business after the object of his studies (a Pacific islander people) turns out to be quite different (less romantic) than in his books. Both of them have a PhD at least.
  • In the Alice McKinley Books, her brother Lester eventually decides to switch his college major from business to philosophy. It becomes a running gag of asking what he'll do for a living after. Lester says that he'll "have people pay to climb up a mountain to reach him and ask him for the meaning of life". He eventually becomes head of personnel at the George Mason University.
  • The Unseen University degree available from the Discworld Emporium comes with a list of "Indefinite Studies" (essentially optional courses) that students must choose from to gain a well-rounded education. It specifically notes that UU does not consider sports, art, drama, or "medium studies" to be academic pursuits. Of course, the whole point of the Unseen University is to teach wizards to be useless — wizards caught up in university politics, big meals and/or highly esoteric studies are wizards who are too busy to disturb the rest of the world.
  • In the Malloreon, Belgarath, who once spent years trying to prove that two plus two equals four, derides a university student for trying to figure out how much the Earth weighs, claiming no sane person would ever be curious about it. Garion chides him for mocking and potentially disrupting a man's life's work, even if they are on a quest to save all of creation.
  • Subverted in the Mercy Thompson novels. Mercy has a degree in mythology, which is not useful in her job as an auto mechanic, but so many of the people she interacts with on a daily basis are actually ancient mythological figures that it's very useful for her to know about, for example, the lore of a magic cup made by the fae or a volcano god from the Canary Islands.
  • Played for drama in There There. One character has a graduate degree in native studies, but no job prospects. This is used as a metaphor for the plight of Native Americans in the modern day.
  • The Heartstrikers: Variant. Julius has a broad range of degrees, some of which are theoretically useful. Except his family eventually realized that he was just studying whatever struck his fancy as an excuse to not go out into the world conquering things like a real dragon should.
    Justin: If it's online, undergrad, and useless, Julius has it. He also has degrees in Pop Culture, Art History, and Accounting.
    Marci: Accounting's not useless.
    Justin: It is if you don't have any accounts.
  • In the Dragonriders of Pern novel Dragonseye, the faculty of Pern's sole college are forced to conclude that continuing to treat Computer Science as a prestigious degree is really stupid on a planet that hasn't had the tech base to build any computer parts for three hundred years and as a result has only one working computer left — which is at the college. The degree becomes even more useless when a lightning strike destroys their last surviving computer. In the first three books, set chronologically later, it turns out they do need to know how to access the colony ship's computer systems, but they're lucky enough to have a good teacher....
  • Forest Kingdom: In book 4 (Beyond the Blue Moon), Allen Chance says he earned degrees in law, philosophy, literature and military strategy from his school, but none of them helped him get a job, since most prospective employers considered him to be overqualified.
  • Chocoholic Mysteries: In Book Bandit, librarian Betty Blake considers her bachelor's degree in English to be this, because she was told that if she got one, she'd be in line to become the new library director... except soon after she did, they hired a man with a master's degree in library science for the job instead.
  • Community Planning is considered this by several characters in Colony. Even Charles Perry Gordon, the community planner Eddie swaps identities with tells him he can bluff his way through it. Eddie's own qualifications in accountancy become useless when he joins The Project, since the Willflower is a society that doesn't use money.
  • Naughty: Nine Tales of Christmas Crime: In "Naughty," Hannah's liberal arts degree has failed to get her a job outside the retail sector in the months following her college graduation, and she and her mother acknowledge that earning it was a poor use of her college fund.
  • Re:Zero: Subaru has studied a wide range of very minor things which are not really useful in his new life, such as doing a cat's cradle, making bamboo dragonflies, musical accompaniment (and singing), sculptures, bed-making, ironing, sewing, cooking, sign language, tongue-twisters, othello (reversi), crossdressing, and so on. He also reveals knowledge of astronomy that turns out to be useful to interpret important characters' Stellar Names.

    Live-Action TV 
  • How I Met Your Mother has a discussion on long relationships and how when they're over, both have a huge amount of knowledge they will never use. "It's the emotional equivalent of an English degree."
  • This is a common gag on The Weakest Link when a contestant lists having a maths degree as his greatest achievement.
  • One act on Extreme Gong was a guy eating his film school degree.
  • Buster Bluth from Arrested Development used his family's wealth to become a "professional" graduate student well into his 30s. By the start of the series he has done coursework in cartography, Native American tribal ceremonies, 18th century agrarian business principles, and archaeology. With the ability-level he demonstrated in his archeological dig and just reading maps, it makes sense that he would be guided away from learning skills, e.g., engineering, he could use on a day-to-day basis.
  • Community, being set in a struggling community college, has more than a few jokes about this kind of degree: Britta at one point asks "How many schools would let you get a degree in Theoretical Phys-Ed?" A Running Gag is that the school's only alumni with money to donate are graduates of the HVACnote  program.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000:
    • In the "Kitten with a Whip" episode, one of the characters on the screen says, "I majored in poli sci. That's political science." Mike, speaking as the main character, retorts, "Oh, so you're unemployed."
    • During the short "The Home Economics Story", a character in college states that she's majoring in Food and Nutrition, and "I'm going to be a dietrician". Tom Servo comments, "Yeah, right, you're going to be a short-order cook for truckers in two years."
  • On Cougar Town, Jules is worried that her son Travis won't get a job with his art degree, so she tries to get him a job at the local coffee shop; and when that failed, she tries to scare him straight using his layabout father Bobby as an example.
  • The protagonist of Big Bad World has a Master's Degree in Norse Poetry. The series starts with an Imagine Spot where he is offered a highly paid job where he gets a free car, unlimited funds and is asked by his boss to impregnate his daughter. Cut back to reality, where he is forced to move back in with his parents and finds work on an unpaid graduate programme at his local pub.
  • Nodded at on Last Man Standing, Vanessa has a Doctorate in geology from The Ohio State University and repeatedly admits that her career choices are either energy companies or teaching.
  • Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory considers his field, Theoretical Physics, to be the apex of all sciences and anything not in the physics area is pointless. This includes a hard science like Engineering, but it's even worse if you don't have a Ph.D. on top of it (ie Howard).
  • Deconstructed in 2 Broke Girls, where the series regulars briefly talk about what they majored in before working at the diner. Turns out any degree can be worthless if nobody's going to hire you for it.
  • Home Improvement:
    • In talking about getting an education, Wilson, who has led an extremely vivid life anyway, admitted that he worried that all his studies of great writers, philosophers and leaders would be useless in the real world. Then Tim moved in next door, letting him call on that knowledge and wisdom Once an Episode.
    • The book Wilson wrotenote  is called "The Psycho-Physiological Indices of Amorous Connections Among Termites of the Southwest". He mentions in a few episodes that it sold only four copies, and one was to himself.
  • In Doctor Who, when the Eleventh Doctor is asked whether he has an actual doctorate, he claims to have a legitimate one in cheese making.
  • On Red Dwarf, one of the many, many things holding David Lister back in his career prospects is the fact he only went to Art Collegenote , which he complains about all the time.
  • Averted in this sketch from Studio C where a philosophy major is guarding the inside of a bank vault.
  • Young Sheldon: In "A Baby Shower and Testosterone-Rich Banter", Connor McAllister is described by Jim as an art school graduate with no prospect of ever holding a real job.
  • Ghosts (US): Todd majored in dance and minored in classics. After graduating, he's a wannabe historian who lives with his mother and who works as a waiter at Bennigan's.

    Magazines & Newspapers 
  • Inverted in this article by Jessica Powell for The New York Times, a satirical "op-ed from the future" depicting a world in the 2050s where, thanks to automation and artificial intelligence, it was the once-lucrative STEM degrees that were rendered useless while the once-maligned humanities and social sciences are now seen as the ticket to a well-paying livelihood. MIT has changed its name to the Massachusetts Institute of Teleology and dropped most of its general science requirements, schools hold Philosophy Fairs instead of Science Fairs, out-of-work scientists, engineers, and doctors get gentrified out of college towns and stage protests on Capitol Hill, and there is much hand-wringing over high schools cutting funding to the sciences and leaving their students with only a stunted understanding of the world, mirroring present-day debates over funding for the arts in public schools.

  • "Weird Al" Yankovic:
    • In his song "Skipper Dan", about a theater prodigy working a dead-end job on a Disneyland Jungle Cruise ride:
      I should've listened when my grandfather said
      "Why don't you major in business instead?"
    • In interviews, Al has also noted that his bachelor's in architecture is effectively one, given how seldom it ever comes up for him.
  • Kanye West:
    • He references this trope in his song "All Falls Down":
      I promise, she's so self-conscious
      She's got no idea what she's doing in college
      The major she's majoring in don't make no money
      But she won't drop out, her parents'll look at her funny
    • Useless degrees are actually a recurring theme in Kanye's College Trilogy albums. One series of skits focuses on a man who spends his entire life enrolled in school and earning degrees without actually getting a job to earn money, causing his family to fall into poverty.
  • Mitch Benn's "Once We Made Planes":
    We would work and toil amid smoke and oil,
    With our buddies.
    Now we all sit at home with our useless diplomas,
    In media studies.
  • The Creation's "Painter Man":
    Went to college, studied art
    To be an artist. make a start
    Studied hard, gained my degree
    But no one seemed to notice me

  • In the Rifftrax for Jurassic Park, during the opening scene, Mike comes out with this gem:
    Mike: [as a guard] I shouldn't have majored in Sociology.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In Primordial Soup (a.k.a. Ursuppe), one of the mutations your character can take is a PhD. Of course, since all characters are amoeba, the mutation card spells out that the PhD is rather useless. It's a cheap way to score some points though.

  • Avenue Q's song "What Do You Do with a BA in English?" Reprised at the end when it turns out what you do with a BA in English is help run a monster school.

    Video Games 
  • Humorously referenced in Paradigm where the makers of designer babies boast that their children will never waste their parents' money on liberal arts degrees.
  • In Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, if you take the art classes at the academy, Hassel admits that most students will probably forget everything he taught them after they graduate. That said, he does try to get his students to use an artist's eye for detail in practical ways, such as identifying Tera Types easily.
  • In The Sims 2 with the University expansion pack, each university major gives a boost in several career tracks. The career tracks tied to the English degree include "Slacker" and "Criminal". Also, the final semester for Philosophy majors is "Senior Project: Preparing for the Fast Food Industry" and that major is where Sims who are still Undeclared after their Sophomore year are automatically enrolled into.
    • Though in practice this trope is Subverted. College-educated Sims have exclusive perks regardless of what they majored in, such as accessing the Paranormal, Artist, Natural Scientist and Show Business careers, and having 1 extra possible job when looking for a job on the computer or newspaper.
    • The Sims 3: University Life continues to make fun of people whose degrees didn't involve test tubes or coding, even before your Sims takes the course. In the Aptitude Test your Sims can do to get a head start in university, the traits that will get you ahead in the Communications degree all have more to do with charming and manipulating people than applying skill or actually, y'know, reading books or studying. It's also linked to the closest thing to a Slacker career path the game has: Fortune Telling. Meanwhile, the actual Bookworm trait, which you would expect to line up with an interest in Communications subjects, instead gives you an advantage in only the Science career. In a twist, though, the much maligned Fine Arts degree has the most "flattering" set of traits overall, and is linked to three fairly lucrative careers.
  • In The Simpsons Game, Bart and Lisa are at one point attacked by players from the Madden NFL series (It Makes Sense in Context). Lisa taunts them:
    Lisa: Your communications degrees are a joke!note 
  • This is one of Beatrice Trudeau's greatest fears in Bully:
    Beatrice: My fear is that I'll end up working in a bookstore when I'm 30 because all I have is a Master's degree from some Liberal Arts college!
  • The Heavy Weapons Guy from Team Fortress 2 has a PhD in Russian Literature. One would think it rather useless for a combat mercenary whose primary job is just to gun down targets en masse with his BFG, yet when asked whether that comes in handy in his line of work, he replies "More than you think."
  • In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Adam Jensen can talk to a homeless aug who claims that people think she's just a stupid bum, and tries to rebuff that opinion by saying that she has a degree in art history.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: A note at the door of Oxenfurt University says the university is closed as all the students have been conscripted into the Redanian army. The only exception are students of medicine, who have been drafted as field medics, and students of philosophy, because they aren't useful for anything.
  • In Spider-Man (PS4), Peter went to Martin Li for his expertise on analyzing the demon mask he took for Mary Jane, stating that Martin has a BA in Art History to which the latter jokingly replied that its one of the few times he gets to use his degree.
  • The Walking Dead (Telltale): In the final episode of Season 2, Clementine and the other survivors are spending the night at an abandoned power station, and while they're talking around the campfire, Luke brings up college and remarks that his liberal arts degree isn't doing him much good these days. Kenny, predictably, considers college to have been a waste of money regardless.
    Kenny: Sounds like you majored in working in a coffee shop!

    Visual Novels 
  • In Double Homework, Ms. Walsh’s “extensive training” that she mentions in order to qualify to teach “intellectually disabled” children certainly seems like this. Of course, Ms. Walsh’s own incompetence doesn’t help.

    Web Animation 
  • In Camp Camp, camp counselor Gwen, who was rejected in just about every other job application, is a Liberal Arts major. Minoring in Psychology, which one of the kids says is equally useless but which at least helps her assess the mental health of the other counselor, David.
  • In DEATH BATTLE! for "Samurai Jack vs. Afro Samurai", Wiz reveals that although he did attend a college for Mad Scientists, he still had to pick a major, and found out too late that the four years he spent getting that English degree took him nowhere. Even his not-as-bright co-host Boomstick got a more practical degree in Poultry Science (which is a real major, by the way- and offered by some pretty good schools).
  • FreedomToons: Dr. Mac claims to be knowledgeable about firearms because he has a PhD, but when queried further, he clarifies that he's a doctor in "lesbian poetry".
  • Gustav of SCP Animated - Tales from the Foundation works for an organization where you expect researchers and assistants to have some form of scientific major. Gustav's major in college? Theatre.
    Dr. Buck: I'm sure your mother was...very proud?
    Gustav: She...wasn't.

    Web Comics 
  • Questionable Content:
    • Wil has a Liberal Arts degree. Previously an aspiring poet, he eventually got a job as a barkeep in order to keep his girlfriend, Penelope. He even composed a poem about the situation, titled "The Rime of the English Major".
      It is a McDonald's cashier,
      and he stoppeth one of three.
      "By thy patchy beard and glittering eye,
      wherefore earn'st thou a Liberal Arts degree?"
    • Same comic, same degree, different character. Though Tai is later revealed to be studying Library Science.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:
    • According to this strip, the best way to make a theologian angry is to ask, "Could God make a degree so useless, even he couldn't get a real job?"
    • An earlier strip had a convenience store that stocked Liberal Art Degrees next to Particularly Low Quality Brand of Toilet Paper. They got a lot of complaints. From the toilet paper vendors.
      • The store's solution, according to the votey? Sell them as 2-Ply Degrees.
    • Subverted in one strip that points out the #1 reason to get a degree in English: because Science is incredibly difficult and boring if you don't have the aptitude or interest for it, and all you get for your money is four years of failure and misery.
  • One of the doomsday cultists in 8-Bit Theater reveals that he's a psychology major.
  • Not so much a Useless Degree as an Absurdly Narrow One, Bob in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! has a degree in newsstand management.
  • Penny Arcade: Similarly, Tycho apparently has a degree in pig waxing (the real-life Tycho didn't attend college).
  • In xkcd, every single figure in the strip who doesn't/didn't study engineering, mathematics, physics (string theorists still get slammed though), chemistry, or computer science falls into this. However, he did spoof this kind of thinking with one strip: Every major's terrible.
    Alt Text: Someday I'll be the first to get a Ph.D. in Undeclared.
  • In The Dragon Doctors, Elka reveals that the reason she became an assassin was to pay off the abnormally large debts she accumulated when she got four useless degrees, one after another, and realized none of them could pay the bills.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • A minor character apparently studied "comparative Gal-West lit, with an emphasis on memetic Terranism" before she started working fast food. Thanks to a complicated series of events she eventually becomes cook's assistant in the protagonists' mercenary company, which is probably a step up. Much later it was subverted; the brass realized that her mix of knowledge from several Liberal Arts fields (and more importantly how the different fields overlap) actually made her an incredibly valuable asset, so they made her an officer. So valuable, in fact, that her attempt to attend a conference saw Schlock assigned as a personal bodyguard— the only way to get more firepower into the same volume would have been to take a tank. By the end of the conference she was in charge of organizing a new galactic university.
    • One of the mercenaries has a degree in "Xenokillology" he made in a custom major program, bringing in all sorts of biology and anthropology courses. He realized after he got his job that all he really needed to know was "shoot it a lot." Though he does put it to use, sort of, when the company desperately needs a xenobiologist and he's the closest they have.
  • Deconstructed in this Nip and Tuck strip, where the punchline is that "every degree is a useless degree if your timing is bad".
  • Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures: The Succubus and Incubus Academy has several courses that seem to specifically teach useless skills. Such courses mainly serve as excuses for the succubi and incubi to stay in school for as long as they want, since they're mostly immortal. Abel is a prime example and gets called out on it, to which he replies that grass-growing is "a rewarding and therapeutic activity."
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • When the Order first gets horses, Roy Greenhilt is forced to admit that he studied goat herding instead of horseback riding because "It seemed like an easy A." He also gets ribbed for having studied architecture and engineering in Fighter College, though he does use that knowledge to win a fight.
    • Belkar's training as a gourmet chef is of little use to him as an adventurer — not even as Team Chef, since he lacks the ingredients or facilities necessary for gourmet cuisine and refuses to cut corners. This may actually be a joke on 3.5 having penalties for 'improper ingredients'...which would wipe out his skill training.
  • Kevin & Kell: Discussed in the October 4, 2009 strip, where a random bird moves back in with his parents after an unsuccessful job search; one of them says "What did you expect with a B.A. in Philosophy?"
  • In the NSFW comic Moon Over June, Greenbird University specializes in these kind of degrees, with departments such as astrology, cryptozoology, paranormal investigation, and Nostradamus Studies on offer. The only 'normal' degrees are for arts and mathematics. Hatsuki would later start offering a degree in Erotic Studies in order to keep herself from being fired for working in porn.

    Web Original 
  • The Onion: jokingly inverted in "Company Immediately Calls Job Applicant Upon Seeing 'B.A. In Communications' On Résumé."
  • Cracked
    • The article "4 Important Lessons You Learn as a Birthday Party Mascot", which begins with the assumption that being a birthday party mascot is one of the few plausible choices that Liberal Arts graduates who took Creative Writing as their major could take.
      There comes a time in every man's life when he finds he's lost his way, or maybe he just never had much of a grasp on it in the first place, because he is a 22-year-old liberal arts graduate and no one is immediately handing him a job for some reason.
    • One of the entries in "6 Half-Assed Ways Scientists Made Mind Blowing Discoveries" is about a newly discovered jellyfish that "can't swim, they can't sting, and their anus is wrapped around their brain. Genetically it's a jellyfish, but physically it's a disappointment, so it's possible that they were simply hiding out of shame." The caption underneath a picture of said jellyfish?
      "Above: the liberal arts major of the sea."
  • In the Unshaved Mouse's review of Hercules, he notes that this is the only time his degree in Folklore will actually come in useful (explaining the character's background in Greek mythology).
  • The description for the Gaia Online item Tomi the Lucky Cat jokingly states that said porcelain cat figurine is "about as valuable as your degree in philosophy".

    Web Videos 
  • In Bite Me!, Greg's marketing degree has gotten him a job spinning signs on the street.
  • To cement the difference between The Nostalgia Chick and Lindsay (her smarter and nicer actress), the former obliviously holds up a certificate that actually says "Extortion University awards you a useless degree in film".
  • In Season 2 Episode 4 of Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, J has an Imagine Spot about if she accepts a job offer to be a sales associate at Walmart. In the fantasy, an old college friends sees her and tells her child, "This is where people who major in African-American studies end up."
  • IISuperwomanII: Lilly considers her psychology degree to be this (it's the third most common major in the United States, right after business administration and nursing). She wasn't able to get a job in psychology that paid enough, so she wound up becoming a full-time YouTuber instead. Funny how things work out.
  • Solid jj: "Duel Academy is for Suckers" has Jaden and Syrus on the verge of graduation but having second thoughts since all that Duel Academy prepared them for is professional dueling. Dr. Crowler told them that they can teach it instead, and this is the only place that does it. Initially subverted with Dr. Sheppard who went through Duel Academy then became a chancellor at an Ivy League institution, before being double subverted when he mentioned that he got kicked out for doctoring his credentials and that his only career choices were either McDonald's or Duel Academy.
  • Watch Ross: Ross frequently laments the four years (and £15,000!) he spent at drama school. He however draws a distinction because he assumed drama school was necessary for an acting career — only to find it focused mainly on classical theatre, when he wanted to work in television. His course gave him only two weeks of screen acting training, and he often stresses that actors don't always have to go to drama school to make it in the industry.
  • Girlfriend Reviews: Any character stuck in a dead-end, Burger Fool type job will inevitably be labelled "Philosophy Major".

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In episode "Faith Off", Dr. Hibbert tells injured star football player Lubchenko that his playing days are over:
      Hibbert: But you can always fall back on your degree in... [reads chart] Communications?! Oh, dear Lord!
      Lubchenko: I know! Is phony major. Lubchenko learn nothing. Nothing!
    • Kent Brockman:
      Kent Brockman: Things aren't as happy as they used to be down here at the unemployment office. Joblessness is no longer just for Philosophy majors — useful people are starting to feel the pinch.
    • The Comic Book Guy:
      Comic Book Guy: I have a Masters Degree in Folklore and Mythology!note 
    • Barney's field of study is "five years of modern dance, six years of tap."
  • Futurama:
    • In "Crimes of the Hot", When scientists are being called to the global warming conference, this exchange occurs;
    Homeopathic Doctor: I have a degree in homeopathic medicine.
    Civil Defense Van: You've got a degree in baloney! [Hoses down doctor]
    • "Meanwhile" has a mascot in a Goofy Suit make a full-sized balloon animal version of Leela in a matter of seconds. When Fry compliments him, he says "Five years of art school!", and laughs, before subsiding into quiet sobbing.
    • At one point, Bender states that he went to Bending College and majored in Bending. (A later episode reveals this amounted to having the knowledge downloaded into his CPU.) When asked what he minored in, he admits, "Robo-American Studies."
  • Averted in The Critic. Jay Sherman has a Ph.D. in Film, but is a fairly well-respected critic with two Pulitzer Prizes and several broadcasting awards to his name. However, while his work is high-quality, he doesn't rate very highly among the viewers, who dislike his superior tone and caustic treatment of beloved actors and movies.
  • The Venture Bros.
    • Dr. Orpheus has a degree in Communications with a minor in Women's Studies, both from a community college. As for his "doctorate", he claims it was given to him by "a higher power".
    • Dr. O is also set on his daughter, Triana, going to art school. When she brings it up to his master, he outright calls it "The world's most useless diploma".
  • As in the Film example above, Extreme Ghostbusters briefly touches upon this in the first episode — Eduardo thinks it's going to be an easy A.
  • The Fairly OddParents! episode "You Doo" features a guy who majored in French philosophy. This guy happens to be the elementary school's janitor. (He also apparently put a lot of his money into Internet stocks, but that's neither here nor there.)
  • Transformers: Prime uses a mixture of this and Worthless Foreign Degree, Ratchet is the medic and scientist and is extremely talented in treating his fellow Autobots. On occasion he makes mention of potential health concerns for the Autobots, not realizing human don't have to worry about things like rusting. When Raf is injured Ratchet nearly has a breakdown, admitting that despite close contact with the humans he never bothered to study their biology and thus had no idea what to do.
  • Season 3 of Archer has a one-shot character named Noah who appeared in the season premiere two-parter, an anthropology doctorate candidate who has been captured and enslaved by a pirate crew when they hijacked his research vessel, and ends up becoming Archer's interpreter. Both Archer and Riley (the freelance agent Malory hired to find Archer) make fun of him for his degree, with Archer confusing it for Arachnology and Archeology, and Riley pointing out that his only job prospect will be teaching other anthropology students.
  • It's debatable if he has a degree in it or not, but its uselessness can't be debated considering Jerry from Rick and Morty majored in civics and it's gotten him absolutely nowhere.
    Beth: Jerry, majoring in civics was your mistake. Don't punish us for it.
  • Bordertown: J.C (Juan Carlos), Maria's nephew, went to college on the dime of his adopted uncle Ernesto's money, and ended up with several advanced degrees... all of them in humanity subjects of varying levels of uselessness. As a result, he's smart and socially conscious, but has virtually zero practical skills, much to the frustration of Ernesto whose savings he wiped out.
  • Glenn Martin, DDS: Jackie majored in art history and art criticism, but never did anything with either degree. When she gets a job at an art store at the mall, her ability to analyze paintings is useless because the potential customers are just looking for something that looks nice. She eventually resorts to using sex appeal to sell the paintings.
  • Monsters at Work: Tylor had been working at being a Scarer all his life, being a graduate from Monsters University, even beating out Sulley's top scare record. The problem is, he joins Monsters Inc. at the very moment they switch from gathering the energy of screams to laughter, so now he finds himself woefully out of his area of expertise trying to make children laugh, and is instead put into the mechanics group of MIFT, when he hardly even knows anything about mechanics.
  • The "Wattsamatta U" arc of Rocky and Bullwinkle poked fun at the notion of college athletes who go to college purely to be athletes. While Bullwinkle's degree is never explicitly mentioned, once the staff learn he's there to play football, they set him a curriculum involving things like knitting (which he states is his hardest class) and classical literature (meaning books normally means for teaching first graders how to read).


Video Example(s):


Louise's Résumé

Louise attempts to apply for a job in finances, with a resume so blatantly false the work couch sees right through it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / VeryFakeResume

Media sources: