Most useless college majors

by Henry Farrell on April 24, 2012 · 11 comments

in Education,Political Science and Journalism

Via Catherynne Valente (novelist – and also the daughter of a political scientist) on teh Twitter, US News and World Report comes up with a new linkbaiting exercise (yes – it worked, sort of), describing “political science and government” as the thirteenth most useless major. Me, if I were trying to categorize the “thirteen most useless professionals in the media industry,” I’d rank the person who did the research for this one, and identified “political scientis” [sic] as the occupation most plausibly related to a political science degree as number 13. Number 12 would be the sub-editor who let the spelling of political scientis slip by. The coveted first to the eleventh most useless professionals slots would, of course, be reserved for individuals associated with the steaming methodological turdfest (I use the term here in its narrow technical sense) that is the US News and World Report annual college survey.

{ 11 comments }

soclosetobeingdonewithmyphditskillingme April 24, 2012 at 11:28 am

to be perfectly fair, political science, history, etc, don’t teach any real skills, unless you’re in a program that emphasizes methods at an undergraduate level.

but, architecture and hospitality management. are you joking? few programs would teach you so much about the real world.

the reason “architecture” is useless is because people aren’t building right now.

alsosoclosetobeingdone April 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm

So right. Analyzing, understanding, and developing knowledge about government processes, institutions, and political behavior are pretty outdated skill sets. What kind of discipline develops skills such as “thinking” at a college level. Not useful ones, that’s for sure…

soclosetobeingdonewithmyphditskillingme April 24, 2012 at 7:27 pm

if either my MA or BA in political science had taught me those skills, i would be pretty psyched. thinking is not really a skill that’s of value to anyone past young aristocrats in the 18th century and future phDs. getting a job on a political campaign is not something you need a BA for (aren’t all those guys english majors), and anything else you would probably need a public policy or law degree in, in this day and age.

I think we’re defining “useful” in different ways. becoming a more well-round person, maybe. building a bridge or putting together an ikea table. nope.

alsosoclosetobeingdone April 27, 2012 at 2:35 pm

You’re right. We do define what is “useful” in different ways. But if you think an economics grad is ready to lead a business, you’re wrong. They’re only a step closer to becoming an economist. If you think an engineering grad is ready to build a bridge, you’re mistaken. If you think a pre-med student is ready to be a doctor, then I hope we go to different doctors. Virtually the entirety college experience is not about transferring practical knowledge. It’s about learning how to think about a problem; whether that be dispersion of weight across a structure, or business cycles and inflation, or how government structures shape policy implentation.

You’re right, college isn’t practical. Skills are developed through experience and you definitely don’t get hands on experience, in basically anything, through an undergraduate degree. And the idea that “thinking” somehow doesn’t apply to people building rockets, cars, or the newest ikea design is so laughable its not even funny (irony intended). So what are you left with? Thinking.

Dave Algoso April 24, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Haha. I think “steaming methodological turdfest” might be my new favorite phrase.

Napp Nazworth April 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Great post! Your point about misspelling “scientist” was diminished, though, when you misspelled “the”. ;-)

Sextus Empiricus April 24, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Spelling “the” as “teh” is “leetspeak,” a standard Internet counterculture way of misspelling things.

anon April 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Ah yes, when one doesn’t like a report, attack the grammar.

Wouldn’t want to acknowledge that BA’s in political science are having a much tougher time on the job market than their peers, would we?

@anon April 24, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Ah yes, when one doesn’t understand the true purpose of an education, look to how well a degree does in the job market.
Wouldn’t want to acknowledge that there is much to be gained through education beyond a job, would we?

anon April 24, 2012 at 10:43 pm

I think the question is this: in a hypothetical situation in which you were to advise an 18 year old from a working class or middle class background, who will be taking on thousands in debt, could you live with yourself telling that kid to major in political science?

bob May 1, 2012 at 12:19 am

i am a month away from graduation. as the time gets near i find my self regretting that i took polysci. fairly worthless UG degree. so far the only jobs that seem to be willing to hire me are ones i could have gotten without a degree (ratail, warehouse, construction).

ill be taking the LSAT in June and will likely be in a t30 school come fall 2013 (hoping for university of Washington). iam ok with being a lawyer. i think it might be interesting. i just really wanted a decent paying job. not a lot of money, just 40-60k would be nice.

should have acted like an adult an taken the required math courses to get in to the engineering program. but i must say, i did enjoy most of my pslysci courses. even if they are turning out to be useless.

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