“Useless degree.” A contentious little couplet, that. Two words capable of causing all sorts of family drama during your college Thanksgiving break. Even though I’ve since graduated, the phrase still brings up innumerable feelings of indignation, irritation, anxiety, defensiveness, shame, anger… any emotion conceptually tied to ‘negative’, really.
To all my kindred spirits out there, I’m one of you: I have a degree in Latin Language and Literature. As useless a degree as any, I assure you. Maybe even more so, since people are quick to (erroneously) point out that Latin is a dead language†.
If you’re currently struggling to reconcile your shame about a ‘useless degree’ and following your passions and interests, then perhaps take comfort: I survived, and I don’t regret my degree one bit.
College was a f**king good time
Before we get into the real world applications of a useless degree, let’s talk about the college experience. In my public high school of 150 students, I studied Latin via an online course – I was literally the only one in my entire school taking the subject. It was a shame, too, because I was as in love with it as I could be, and I would frequently try to engage anyone in etymological discussions: “Hey! Did you know this word comes from the Latin for…” My friends were patient and polite, but I had no one to truly nerd out with.
But then college happened. Suddenly, I was surrounded by dozens of people who loved Latin as much as, if not more than, me. We nerded out hardcore: putting on a production of an ancient Roman play, entirely in Latin. Traveling four states over for a Latin immersion weekend. Studying with Pope John Paul II’s Latinist. My brain always felt funny and fuzzy and warm, but in a good way. There’s something intoxicating being around like-minded people, building a community based on the thing you love, and feeling like you belong. If I hadn’t been studying for my useless degree, I wouldn’t have met and made amazing memories with amazing people.
Even if I didn’t have the experiences I had, I’d like to think at least I would have been happy to have my nose in a Latin text for four years straight.
Oh, yeah. Sex and underage drinking, too. Those were neat.
A useless degree doesn’t hold you back from a job
While I don’t subscribe to the Baby-Boomer Work Theory†† of needing to settle down with a respectable company, putting your thirty years in, and then peacing out with your pension, I do think you’ll probably have to do time in ‘not your dream’ job. Such is life.
When I graduated with my useless degree, I didn’t pursue teaching, even though I was certified. Student teaching was a special sort of hell, and I was happy to run far away from it. Additionally, I was very tired of living at home, so I made getting a full-time job my full-time job.
For five months straight, I hustled. I perfected my resumes and cover letters, I cleaned up my LinkedIn profile, I went to job fairs, and most importantly, I networked. I’m sorry to reiterate how true it is that, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The college degree was certainly necessary, but the networking got my foot in the door, an interview, and ultimately, a job.
The gig was in communications at a healthcare facility. They were interested in my choice to pursue Latin, and they liked that I was comfortable with medical and anatomical terminology. Also, since I had language teaching certification, they figured I would be good with editing, proofreading, writing, and presentations. While all of this was true, these are all connections and conclusions that I pitched to them. Don’t assume that they’ll just assume your skills are transferable.
Not my dream job, but hey—I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life (still don’t!), so what did it matter if it wasn’t my dream job? I was doing all right: I was supporting myself, meeting new people, starting my side hustles, and saving money. I worked there for three years, bought a house, and then quit everything to go work on a cruise ship.†††
Life has no guarantees. As with most things, the effort you put in is directly proportional to the rewards you receive. Your useless degree is only as useless as you believe it to be. Maybe there’s no job posting for a full-time with benefits ‘Latin Language Expert’ position (but if there is, email me ASAP please), but that doesn’t mean I’ve hit a brick wall.
I’m all right, and you will be, too.
- †Not dead, just old. Ancient, even.
- ††By this, I just mean what my parents like to tell me after they remind me how I’m not that young anymore.
- †††which, the cruise line required a college degree and made me prove my diploma wasn’t fake. So, if nothing else, my useless degree paid off this way.
Some additional reading on why Latin is neat:
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