Avoiding the snake oil salesmen, the leech of your financial independence.

My friend’s daughter has stumbled around since her 2010 BA in Art and English from a University of dubious merit. She has graduated around £20,000 in debt. She is struggling to get work so she is talking about doing a Masters. My friend is worried about this because he is funding her existence at the moment and doesn’t foresee supporting her much longer.

The problem may well be that his daughter just can’t to get a job and so she is turning back to the education teat for security. It’s a risky move because she could end up 27 years old, £30,000 in debt and with two degrees that employers aren’t very interested in.

Not only would she be £30k in debt, she has lost 10 years of compounding returns. This is not a good position to be in. Not for her or any of us. People with no financial security always seem to end up relying on the state. That means working people have to pay taxes to support them. That’s money they don’t spend elsewhere. Bailing out someone who makes mistakes means you don’t spend that money in some hard working shop keeper’s store.

I sense no small cynicism on the part of the Universities, for peddling snake oil. What else though are these lecturers going to do a living? The only people who get paid for simply knowing about esoteric things are academics. Everyone else is paid to make something.

Does the responsibility lie on the shoulders of the daughter? She signed the agreements after all, so she needs to have done her due diligence. What about the father? What disastrous advice and poor guidance has led to this situation where they have wandered into the clutches of chancers who have taken them for £30,000.

You have to build yourself a skill set that enables you to produce something that people want. If you learn video game design then there’s an obvious market for what you can do. The more clearly you can define your skills the better.

Science is often a good choice. I have witnessed people with a degree in Computer Science earning piles of cash after only a year. He had three job offers before he even left University. He was on almost £100k a year before he was even 25.

The usual retort is when they tell you ‘I measure my success by fulfilment and my ability to think critically and analytically, read widely and write well.’ Just think about these things for a moment. The assumption we are supposed to accept, without evidence, is that only humanities degrees will enable you to achieve these things to a suitable level and also that these things are of absolutely crucial importance to be exercised at the very highest level.

These are all also things that are quite hard to measure. We’re asked to just accept that an English degree is superior to a science degree because the holder is ‘an analytical thinker who is able to write really well’. Is that not also a scientist? There is no proof that an English degree brings these benefits, merely it is a claim, one that is made over and over again. Life is full of these such claims. Renting is dead money, that’s another one. Say it often enough and no evidence is needed, it’s taken as accepted fact.

The next argument is ‘doing it in your spare time isn’t good enough; you don’t get to ‘immerse’ yourself.’ The problem I have with this defence is that I don’t think someone needs to dedicate years learning things that won’t get them a job. It really is a dangerous indulgence because if you can’t do something with it, you’re leaving yourself with a hell of a lot to pay back down the line when you could have just taken a class or two or read a book. With a good degree you are able to teach yourself humanities in your free time.

I have learnt far more in the last five years reading politics, economics and philosophy in my spare time than I ever did at college and University.

Liberal arts degrees are nice and fuzzy, but the value they offer is dubious and hard to prove. That’s why we often hear cloudy phrases like ‘well rounded’ and ‘depth of learning’, ‘think critically’ and ‘immerse one-self’. Again this is the language of snake oil salesmen.

When there is no benefit that can be clearly defined or proven, we need to resort to cloudy language.

If you can afford to throw away money then do whatever you like with it, but for most people a degree is an investment, the biggest single investment they will ever make and it is significantly damaging to not protect yourself from snake oil salesmen who propose difficult-to-market disciplines.

I hope to hell these kids who waste their money years studying woolly subjects in the humanities have all the creativity and depth of knowledge they say they have, because they’re really gonna need it.

Just as a footnote:

I know of someone with a Humanities degree who earns a lot of money. Me. I got my job after working up the ladder for many years and putting my career first. This all had nothing to do with my degree. I have worked my way into this position DESPITE my degree.

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