How Much Is Your Degree Worth? Whatever You Make It To Be

By Zachary Waldorf
Bachelor of Arts
Psychology and Organizational Sciences
May 2018 (expected)

I used to do Mock Trial in middle school. I was good at it then, but we often change as we move into young adulthood. I wanted to be a lawyer. When I got to GW, I decided to major in psychology; my mom did the same when she went to Denison, going to law school thereafter.

I soon came to face the stress of a liberal arts education. There’s this looming pressure for non-STEM majors to be taken seriously in the professional world. Where computer science majors were prepping to enter the bustling world of startups and biochemistry majors were working on their latest discovery about turning human waste into biofuel, I was taking a social psychology course, adding to my disjointed understanding of the mind, or so the critics thought. “Psychology classes are hardly integrated into each other” “You’re going to have to go to grad school if you want to make any money.” “Wouldn’t psychology be better as a minor?”

I believed these questions had some merit at the time. With almost no interest in the law, the increasing costs of graduate school, and news stories about law school graduates not getting jobs, I decided to change course, albeit haphazardly. I played it safe and hastened to add an Organizational Sciences major to my belt. Akin to a business degree, it focuses more on the systems approach to businesses and I thought it would pair perfectly with applied psychology. It was this decision that made me look for jobs and internships in business.

I was living with my sister in Brooklyn, NY, last summer, and decided to take a shot in the dark. I applied for a brand ambassador position for a home cleaning company on craigslist, having no knowledge of, Indeed, or even LinkedIn for that matter. It was a difficult job; I worked with a team of two other ambassadors, and we would go out in Manhattan with iPads and sell home cleaning vouchers. I was similar to one of those Greenpeace advocates, with most college millennials believing in their cause, but still not wanting to talk to them. Although we were a team, there was this veiled sense of competition between us, and it was exhausting; we were motivated by primal desires to jump on a sale. Looking back, it was great money. A shot in the dark happened to hit the target. I gained valuable communication skills, and it was how I discovered my passion for human resources. One of my duties had been to train new brand ambassadors, and I absolutely loved it. Training and development are still two of my main professional interests today. To seek new roles, I had to think about my past experiences and how they related to certain aspects of human resource management. I related my past position as an ice-cream scooper to onboarding and talent management. I used my volunteer experiences to highlight my communication and organization skills.

Entering my sophomore year of college, I applied to a Career Ambassador position at GW’s Center for Career Services and accepted the position after receiving an offer. It was a blessing, by far my best professional decision yet. I broadened my knowledge of human resource management, learned about resumes and helped students overcome career hurdles. All the while, I had access to wonderful career coaches who mentored me along the way.

With these two experiences under my belt, I was able to connect them to my coursework and apply for more related internships this summer. I’m currently in two internships with a consulting firm and a public relations firm, handling talent management. I have a lot of business-related experience, and I’m not even in the GW School of Business.

The central question today seems to be: “How much is your degree worth?” Given the rising costs of education, it makes sense to view STEM majors as if they are playing this elusive game very strategically. Despite this, being a STEM major does not guarantee a high-paying job that you’ll love. In college, playing this game correctly involves seeking out multiple experiences, narrowing and defining your passion. It involves honing in on your strengths and seeking positions where they can flourish. Put yourself out there; do something different, and gain a variety of skills. Show that you are a good communicator, show that you are a team player, show that you are willing to learn, grow, and develop with a company. Emphasize these strengths in cover letters, be smart and do not apologize for skills you don’t have. The reality of it is: skills often build on each other.

On that note, don’t be ashamed of your history, English, or sociocultural anthropology major. You can critically think about the past and how it applies to the present. You know how to communicate via written word (something a lot of students cannot even do in college), and you understand the evolution of cultures. You provide a unique perspective and would be incredibly valuable in a variety of different positions. You just have to show it and be proud of it.

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