There are many students in USA taking subjects that interest them. They don’t need these for money. Some of them are retirees. These allows them to stay fulfilled, to pursue their passion, and broaden their horizons. For that reason Id argue that no degree is useless per se. We are not talking about those people. My definition of usefulness in this discussion is therefore marketability. What is your motivation for getting a degree in the first place? This article assumes that you need the credentials to find work.
We are talking about the not-so-new immigrant student who has been camping in his host's living room for the last 23 months. His favorite pass time is raiding the host's fridge every five minutes? His is pursuing a PHD in medieval underwater basket weaving. He has blown up $50K in student loans already. The last drops of his host's patience evaporated last summer. The host is not thrilled with his choices so the student has branded him a dream killer. The host is tempted to be a real killer if things don't change. Both of them have mute buttons activated. The cold war is on between these former childhood friends.
In all seriousness, there are certain careers that no matter how much you love them, it just wont work for you in the short run. This will also depend on your current situation. There are many factors that come into play here. What is on your table now in terms of constraints? Are you living with your parents? How old are you? Let me see. Were you born into privilege? If the answer to the last question is no, then don't give me that crap about passion. That you can do everything you want. That you would rather be a happy pauper than a bitter king. Please! Nobody is saying you should take a career you hate until you get old. But your plan should include a roof over your head, food, clothes, transportation, entertainment, savings for emergencies and retirement to start with.
You can still keep the commitment to your goals, while staying flexible in your approach on how you achieve them. There are a lot of Kenyans in USA who are doing jobs because they makes business sense. That's what their parents did back home to provide for them. You have to approach this like a business issue that it is. The major must have the ability to add value, period! We start talking about return on Investment. In this context you must answer a few questions. Does your dinosaur dancing major provide the skills and competences that the employers are looking for? What are the unemployment rates?
People tend to take whatever interests them, without thinking what the major can really do for them. What are the career prospects? What is the expected salary? What about the underemployment rate? Some majors demand a graduate degree to be effective. You have to justify that extra investment. There are majors that have no practical application outside of academia. It's practically a teaching degree. If you don't want to teach or if you can be perceived as having a heavy accent you are stuck. Off course no school or major will guarantee that you will be hired. But you have to increase your odds. You will need something saleable in a harsh economy. You have to do enough research before pursuing your college education.
It's also your duty to look into the school you are committing to. There are colleges out there that prey on minority and low-income students. They peddle low demand and low earnings degrees. Some of them are not recognized by proper professional organizations. Don't get me long. There are very good degrees out there. There are great schools. Some highly-skilled trades are very marketable even without a four-year degree. America is still a place where a hairdresser, mechanic, plumber, and electrician can make more per hour than some PHD holders. It is a land of opportunity.
There are other things your career counselor will never tell you. It's an open secret. As an immigrant your situation is very unique. You don't even fit in your racial demographic. Your foreign-sounding name, exotic alma mater, accent, race and national origin may come into play even when you are qualified. I am not even going to factor in social class, age, weight, height, attractiveness and a myriad of other factors. Bias in USA is complicated especially when capitalism kicks in. Despite what you see on TV news most bias in USA is embedded in subtle or unconscious preferences. Employers themselves may not necessarily have a bias; instead, they may have customers that don't like your ‘kind’. The college will not tell you that. You will find it out the hard way. It may cost you time and money.
While still at it, leave some room for some cultural adjustments. You should remember that you may not be a Kenyan in the face of some local geniuses. You are probably a Nigerian with Ghanaian accent from the nation of Africa whose president is Mandela and such as that's the market you will sell your degree. Then there are academic pressures, legal hoops and often overwhelming personal financial needs. There are expectations from your host, kids, parents and other dependents. This is you here. But the school adviser over there is just looking at your high school GPA. Never forget that he works for that school. He might recommend Turnip gardening in the middle Ages as the perfect major. You should take his advice with a grain of salt.
I am glad we have come to this amicable conclusion. This is after all a business decision. It is the very survival. I should know, I have whole chapter in my book on this stuff. I hope this increases your self-awareness and possibilities down the line. The most useless university degree is the one that adds no value to your goals. You should look at a major that's is cost -effective, market -competitive and that helps mitigate the risk of bias. Anything less than that and your hard-earned BS degree might turn out to be actually, BS. That is the brutal, ugly truth. Take that to the bank.
By Mahugu Nuthu, Nuthology Analytics, Kansas City, USA | firstname.lastname@example.org