There’s one thing that never fails to provoke an argument between myself and my sweetie. And that’s the idea that I USED to hold, which was that college prepares you for a job. We’re both in agreement about this. What the Best Beloved maintains, however, is that I’m to blame for having believed it. Naive? Sure. Reprehensible? No way.

The idea that college prepares one for the job market at large is NOT novel. I refuse to apologize for ONCE having believed it. Of course I no longer believe it; I have an English degree from a liberal arts university and work as a receptionist. QED. There’s no need to spew facts, figures, and charts about the decoupling of education with better jobs. No point in talking about the fact that the price of US college tuition’s gone up 900 percent since the late ’70s. I personally suspect that the growing economic disparity has a lot in common with the trends; if the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and there’s a lot more of the latter than the former, it makes sense that fewer people are getting good jobs out of college.

This is all beside the point, though. When I whinge about not having a proper job that uses my big, beautiful brains, my boyfriend says, quite rightly, that I need to teach myself marketable skills. It’s not enough, these days, to be good at writing. I freelance for Southern Neighbor, but that’s the only place I get to write. (Or use my brain.) Of course, that’s only an article per month or so, and so naturally it’s on the side. What I keep hoping for is a full-time writing gig. This is what gets me: I have extensive experience with almost every type of writing you can think of (what’s more, except for the creative writing, it’s entirely self-taught): biotechnical, journalism, creative, blogging, instructional– and it’s not enough. What the all-knowing market wants, O my brothers, is a jack of all trades. Take a look at this representative list of qualifications demanded for a job which likely pays 12/hr.

  • Considerable knowledge of the principals and practices of public relations and related tools and techniques for building a positive public image
  • Considerable knowledge and experience writing and editing in AP style
  • Considerable knowledge of web design, HTML coding or working with website Content Management Systems
  • Considerable knowledge of and practical experience both using and administering key social media tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube)
  • Considerable knowledge of email marketing principals and strategies for engagement
  • Considerable knowledge of resources for writing, editing and producing publications and social media in Adobe Creative Suite programs (particularly Adobe Photoshop and InDesign) Knowledge of Microsoft Office (particularly PowerPoint and Excel)
  • Knowledge of legislative and political process
  • Skill in managing web/vendor relationships
  • Skill in public speaking and making presentations
  • Skill in writing publications and articles for websites and social media
  • Skill in photography
  • Skill utilizing photo editing software
  • Skill in videography
  • Skill utilizing video editing software
  • Skill in utilizing PC and MACs including word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, webpage and video editing software.
  • Ability to become familiar with SEANCs Content Management System and utilization of it to edit web pages and post new content to SEANCs website
  • Ability to multitask and perform work under deadlines
  • Ability to communicate effectively in oral and written forms, with special writing and editing abilities for print articles, marketing collateral and the web Ability to analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of online communications vehicles
  • Ability to edit and analyze informational material prepared by others
  • Ability to function effectively as part of a team make it happen’ work environment and be a team player who can be self-directed when needed
  • Ability to review, edit and correct the work of others as part of a publication review process
  • Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with technical vendors, particularly involving the associations online presence, district chairpersons, members and media contacts


As I said, this is typical. I fully agree with Frank that I need to teach myself more tools. MS Visio is next on my list, and the Chapel Hill Library is finally open again. I slogged through morasses of online tutorials to learn shareware for PhotoShop. I’m not afraid of hard work– at all– that doesn’t frustrate me. What kills me is that my degree isn’t even a foot in the door. A BA is the new GED. Some say to go get a master’s. BUT WHY?? What is the POINT? I refuse to go into more debt when the first degree hasn’t done jack. No, unless you follow a course of study that involves hard science, I think you’re SOL. Unfortunately, I learned that post-matriculation. Experience, Oscar Wilde said, is the name men give to their mistakes.

The crux of our argument, then, is not whether or not a lib arts college degree will land you a job (it won’t); the point is, how could I possibly have known, when everyone around me said it was so? My teachers, the guidance counselors, my parents, the deans? Who, precisely, I asked Frank, would have told me otherwise? It’s only insult to injury to have to shoulder the blame for belief in a screwy system that ultimately failed you.

What used to happen was apprenticing. You wanted to learn a trade, you were apprenticed. The master enjoyed ten years of free labor, you enjoyed ten years of tutelage and experience. AFTERWARD, you had a skill. You were immediately viable. In the 21st century, college has replaced apprenticeships. In theory you exit your alma mater and are immediately viable in the big bad doggie-dog world. Knowing the basic tools, you are prepared to enter a profession in which you will be taught minor specifics peculiar to that employer. THAT is what is supposed to happen. There is no equivalent to an apprenticeship in this culture. And no, internships aren’t the same either. Free labor is one thing, but the poor drudge who’s working for free isn’t getting room and board, like in the old days. If that were the case, I’d take the first apprenticeship that came my way. I don’t need to make loads of money; I need to pay bills. That’s all. I wish someone could use my big, beautiful brains. They come so cheap, so, so cheap.


  • Katy Bales wrote:

    I was completely in the same boat. That’s why I ended up going back to undergrad for some prerequisites before I went for my doctorate in physical therapy. I’ve always said that we should bring back apprenticeship, but healthcare pays the bills better than journalism ever could. That’s where the jobs are these days. ‘m sure you’ve seen Avenue Q, but when these topics come up, I’m continually reminded of “What do you do with a BA in English? What is my life going to be? Four years of college and plenty of knowledge have earned me this useless degree…” I thought you were a great writer when we were in class together, so I hope you find your writing dream job, but in the meantime, healthcare needs good communicators, too. (Especially if the current state of it is any indication.)I want to write for medical journals or health magazines once I’m settled.

  • Write a novel. You’ll be famous!

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *