How to actually make that degree worthwhile, from someone who didn’t.


If your father tells you to get a communications degree instead of English literature or – shudder – philosophy, listen to him. But if you feel in your gut that the journalism career you’re aiming for is not right for you (all those cold calls? and constant deadlines? Ugh) then don’t be afraid to consider other options, even if this means taking an extra year to complete your degree. That year is worth it, okay? Otherwise, when you roll out of uni with a vague communications degree and no plans to go into journalism, you are making things much harder than they need to be.

If it’s your dream to travel the world, get out there. Seriously, do it now before you discover why your mother insists on taking her pillow with her on those rare occasions when she goes away. They pay good money for English teachers in Asia, and they’ll hire you no matter what it says on your degree, as long as you have one. Use this money to drift around South America for a year or backpack through Europe for a couple months. You will develop self-reliance and learn things you never imagined. But if you discover you’re good at teaching, don’t take the easy option and start teaching English back home unless it is your dream career. Because once you’ve got five years of English teaching on your CV, it gets pretty tough to transition.

If you did talk yourself into getting that communications degree (why? why? you were so interested in criminal justice studies!), make sure to take every opportunity to put it to good use. Your boss needs someone to write a radio commercial script? Step up. Someone needs to edit the new website text? You again. You’re offered the opportunity to draft an employee handbook? Looks like you won’t have any weekends for the foreseeable future. These are all important experiences that demonstrate your versatile skills, and will help you when you finally do decide what it actually is you want to do with the remaining 30 (or 40) years of your working life.

The worst thing you can do is sign up for a postgraduate degree that you select based mainly on the title. Sure, ‘Master of Cultural Studies’ sounds like an area in which you can apply all the international experiences you’re so proud of – but who’s going to hire you? Have you met anyone with a master of cultural studies who does not live in a shack constructed from Foucault texts?

Make a plan. Find actual careers – specific job titles – you’re interested in, get advice on your studies from people in those careers, and do not be afraid to take extra time to get the degree that is right for you. If not, you’ll end up 31, stuck teaching English part-time, and still talking about writing that novel someday.

Ashley is 31 and teaches English part-time. She has a really good idea for a novel.   


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