Last week, a Globe and Mail education editor posted about how bachelor of arts degrees don’t really mean much anymore. And, collectively, the world sighed. Well, duh. Is there anyone out there in the workforce who didn’t know that?
You’d certainly not find many people who would disagree with that finding in my generation. Gen Y is filled with some of the most over-educated people you’ve ever met – many of whom now work at Gap.
I don’t mean to sound anti-education, and I shouldn’t, because I’m currently a student. I’m pursuing my PhD in an area that I’m madly passionate about, but I can’t say that this was ever the plan growing up. It wasn’t even the plan when I got my BA. Or my MA. I’m where I am today because of the twists and turns my life has taken. Many of these turns have come because of underemployment or unemployment.
I received an honors BA in political science in 2007 (from Western University, then named the University of Western Ontario). By the time my second year rolled around, I already had plans to pursue a graduate degree in journalism. I applied mostly to American schools, and I ended up choosing my third-choice school because I was rejected from my first, and my second was too expensive and too far from home. So, my BA was great for helping me get into grad school.
But that’s probably the most it has done for me. Never once have I written about politics. Never once have I worked on a campaign. I did work for Change.org, a social action website, but I scored that gig through a job call that went out to my journalism school’s career development e-mail list. I think I got it because of my experience writing for and about LGBT people, as well as my writing experience, but not my political background. I’m sure my BA didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t a deciding factor.
Every other job I’ve had has been because of my journalism degree, or because of my natural skills and personality. My BA has never gotten my foot in the door, and no one has ever asked about it in an interview. And that’s great, because I honestly don’t remember much of what I learned. It was a means to an end, with the end being my acceptance to a post-grad program. It’s almost like I was filling a requirement.
It’s funny that the conversation is still about the usefulness and effectiveness of a BA. Even with an MA, I spent a year and eight months working jobs that I could have worked in high school. I had a freelance job on the side, but it still didn’t feel good to work as a barista or as an administrator at a Pilates studio. It’s not what I had trained for, I was vastly overqualified, and I was not happy or challenged. I was good at it, but it felt like I had wasted years in school.
Eventually, I found a job that combined social action and communications. I’m sure that my BA was helpful here, though probably not as much as it should have been. A lot of the screening process focused on the writing I had done, the jobs I had secured post-university, and the community-based work I had engaged in. I needed to have a BA to get the job, but I don’t know that it mattered what type of degree I had in hand.
After I left that job, I had trouble finding a new one. I decided to take some time to work for myself, as I had freelance work that could cover the bills. At the same time, I decided to go back to school. It was something I had been thinking about for a couple of years, and it felt like the time was right.
If I had gotten a great job in politics (yes, I’ve applied to a couple out of desperation – mostly communication-based roles) or corporate communications or journalism straight out of school, I probably wouldn’t have pursued doctoral studies. But the longer I worked contracts, the longer I toiled away in jobs for which I felt overqualified, and the longer I felt unhappy at work, the more strongly I began to feel about making a drastic change.
I’ve heard many horror stories about people not finding jobs with PhDs. I have a brilliant friend with a doctoral degree in history, and he’s had a tough go of it. I’m hoping my experience will be different, since media’s a newer and more evolving field than history. But I know that I can’t count on it being easy.
I might have to wait a year to find a teaching job, and it might not be my ideal engagement. But I should be used to that by now. I’m a social scientist. If you get a BA – or even a PhD – in the social sciences or humanities and you think that you’re going to have an effortless time finding a job, you’re delusional.
Post-graduate certificates, second degrees, and internships are almost mandatory today. I know very few people who just have a BA. They either have some sort of additional educational or industry qualifications, or they work retail. Or they have rich parents. I did say that I went to Western, after all.