Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

No college degree is useless

Sharon Chang

As a student in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, I sometimes receive mixed reactions when I discuss my major. 

While we assume that we can compare the relative value of majors through objective categories like “usefulness,” deciding what makes a major valuable is difficult. We must question what makes a major important and how our individual work within a field defines its profitability. 

The assumption that certain fields are easier than others goes beyond social work. Sawyer Tedder, LGBTQ studies senior administrative program coordinator, explained the inaccurate assessments that surround their major. 

“I think that that’s often a biased opinion that people have within the idea that critically writing and analyzing powerlessness, text or theory is easy … to do scholarly work, no matter what their field, is a difficult task,” Tedder said. 

Society’s considerations of a field’s professional value is often informed by history. For LGBTQ studies and other similar fields, Tedder acknowledges the relationship between power and professional recognition.

“Historic institutions where power is stored get threatened and try to portray all fields like women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies as negative because they are scared about the strong potential of what our field presents,” Tedder said. 

The argument that degrees are more or less easy than others falls apart when we question what we see as important work. 

Still, the conversation around a degree’s perceived value often considers not only historical and social conditions but also financial prospects. However, pursuing a profitable major does not always guarantee more money.  

A common assumption is that STEM-focused students outearn other majors, but this is not always the case. Although liberal arts and social science majors may make less immediately out of college, their careers tend to grow more steadily over time. 

Tedder discussed how students may burn out when they study something they aren’t passionate about.  

“I had a bunch of students who  started in engineering … I think a lot of these students chose engineering because they were told that it would allow them to make more money,” Tedder said. “But because they weren’t passionate, (they would end up) leaving the field, sometimes leaving UT outright and maybe higher education.”

While passion is not everything when choosing a major, it can ensure one’s continued resolve to pursue their education. 

Ashley Berry, senior administrative program coordinator at the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, explained her advice to students who are unsure about what to study. 

“UT just has a plethora of departments and new subject matter,” Berry said. “If you have an interest, just go take a class and sit in it to see if it’s something that you’re going to enjoy because you never know when it will spark in you.”

Pursuing something for financial prospects alone can be harmful. While someone’s choice of college major is a complex decision, our success is dependent on more than the generalizations of a field. 

UT has a number of options for professional development in every field, giving students the resources to make the most of their major and find success where they chose to. For example, the Practical Magic lecture series is designed to help women’s and gender studies students apply their field to the professional world.  

Ultimately, we must question the notion that non-STEM majors lack practicality. Rather than questioning the inherent “usefulness” of a major, we should question how we value different professions and what you can do with your degree on an individual basis. You might be surprised by what you discover.  

Wood is a social work junior from Austin, Texas.

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