There is more than a grain of truth in the old joke that goes something like this:
The engineering graduate asks, “How will it work?”
The physics grad wants to know, “Why does it work?”
And the liberal arts graduate asks, “Do you want fries with that?”
A recent study by Bloomberg Businessweek evaluated over 500 American universities and colleges. Here are the top 15 that provided the best net annualized returns on investment:
1. Georgia Institute of Technology
2. University of Virginia
3. Brigham Young University
4. Colorado School of Mines
5. College of William and Mary
6. University of California – Berkeley
7. University of California – Los Angeles
8. University of Michigan
9. Virginia Polytechnic Institute
10. University of Florida
11. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
12. California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo
13. Texas A&M
14. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
15. California Institute of Technology
Now take a look at those top 15 schools. What do you see that stands out?
Yep. There is exactly one liberal arts college on the list: William and Mary.
The reason for this is simple. Fewer people get technical degrees, which keeps demand for engineers and scientists high, which in turn keeps their salaries high in relation to most other professions.
Obviously, the trick for you folks in college who aren’t interested in pursuing a technical degree – or becoming a lawyer or doctor – is to make sure you don’t get caught spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for a degree that ends up being a complete waste of your hard-earned money.
Okay, Len. So how do I do that?
Well, consider the following list of 22 real-life college courses:
1. The Joy of Garbage (University of California – Berkeley)
2. Oprah Winfrey: The Tycoon (University of Illinois)
3. The Beatles (University of California – Los Angeles)
4. Surfing* (The University of Plymouth)
5. Arguing with Judge Judy (University of California – Berkeley)
6. David Beckham Studies (Staffordshire University)
7. Circus Stunts (Triton College)
8. UFOs In American Society (Temple University)
9. Philosophy and Star Trek (Georgetown University)
10. Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond (Univ. of Texas – Austin)
11. Stupidity (Occidental College)
12. Bob Dylan and America (Alfred University)
13. How to Watch Television (Montclair State University)
14. Whitewater Skills (West Virginia University)
15. The Art of Walking (Centre College)
16. Animal Cognition (University of California – Berkeley)
17. Underwater Basket Weaving (Rutgers University)
18. Learning from YouTube (Pitzer College)
19. Cyberporn and Society (State University of New York – Buffalo)
20. Ghostbusting* (Coventry University)
21. The American Vacation (University of Iowa)
22. The Phallus (Occidental College)
Now take a look at the highlighted classes above. (In this case, that would be all of them.) What common characteristic do you see that stands out?
Yep. None of them require any math skills. But more importantly, unless you plan on making a career out of teaching people how to walk properly, speak Klingon, argue with Judge Judy, or identify phallic images from random cloud formations, all of these courses add very little toward making you more competitive in the marketplace.
Think about it. Are there really employers out there looking for graduates who can juggle five balls in the air, and moonlight as a second-rate dog whisperer? Or knows that the Walrus was Paul? Of course. But there aren’t many.
It’s true; there aren’t many bosses out there pounding on their desks and demanding their high-paid headhunters find them a guy that knows — I mean really, really knows — how to watch the boob tube. But you can bet your bottom dollar that they are absolutely begging for people who have taken numerous courses in mathematics, engineering, chemistry and/or physics.
So before you go off and spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on an expensive college education, you’d be wise to select a degree that requires you to take courses that are always in high demand by employers — if you plan on getting a reasonably quick and decent return on your college investment worthy of an Ivy League portfolio, that is.
And if your college degree of choice requires you to take any of the aforementioned 22 real-life classes, you may want to think about finding yourself a new major — or a great job without a college degree. Stat.
Unless you plan on getting a job after you graduate asking customers if they want to super-size their value meal.
* Actually an entire degree program.