Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

So you're considering a liberal arts degree

As usual I get a ton of mail on subjects that are controversial. One of the more painful ones was the fact that the Dropping out is probably not for you post gave people the impression that I’m against studying the arts, literature or any other non-hard science.

I guess it was to be expected the way I phrased things there so let me take a moment to correct this perception. The offending lines are right at the start in:

“a) useful

b) a marketable skill”

I’m pro-education, of any sort, be it scientific or otherwise. There is nothing wrong with studying history, literature, art history or any one of a large number of other ‘soft’ subjects.

They’re a great way to expand your knowledge and to expand your perspective on life in general and on our society.

In fact there is nothing wrong with any kind of learning.

Where I draw the line is where people go hip-deep in debt to get a degree in one of these subjects and then later find that it is not possible to find employment using the knowledge that they studied for.

If you take out a loan in order to achieve knowledge or a skill then you should get value for your dearly (future) earned money. And if you go into debt you should focus even more on that. After all, a debt is a future obligation that the lender expects you to repay. And if the thing you buy with the debt has no utility to you other than to make you a more well rounded person then you have to ask yourself the question if that knowledge could not have been gained through some other means.

So that’s why I propose that if you go through four years of university and you intend to either pay your way with money you’ve earned already or you intend to pay with money you earn after you get your degree that you stick to subjects that will make it easier to make some money.

Spending tens of thousands of ‘credits’ (Euros, Dollars, Yen, take your pick) on a liberal arts degree seems wasteful to me. The library is open and so is Wikipedia. You can study those subjects to your heart’s content, and there are lots of places online where you can discuss them until the cows come home. There is literally no limit to what you can learn on your own time given an internet connection and dedication.

If you invest large sums of money, you should expect a return on that investment. And that goes for investing in your education as well.

So the distinction is not hard/soft, the distinction is whether or not your study will help you to be gainfully employed or not and whether or not you can afford to spend the money that it costs you to get yourself educated.

I hope that clears up any misunderstandings. If you’re wealthy enough or you already have earning power enough that you can decide to pursue a degree or advanced education in something that will not help you earn a living then more power to you, but I suspect that that is a very minor fraction of the population.

edit: Fixed some grammar and spelling errors, thanks to George Fox.