Every day on TV, on buses, and even all over Facebook, I’m bombarded with adds for colleges, constantly parading around their degree programs for people who want to better themselves. “Stuck at a dead-end job? We have a degree for you!” “Need to commute from home? We have a degree for you!” “Can’t count your fingers and toes? We have a degree for YOU!!!” While having the right degree can sound appealing and make your resume look prettier, I have news for you: a degree isn’t a guaratee that you’ll land the job of your dreams. On top of that, it’s so easy to get suckered into a college program where their four-year degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
The first degree I ever earned was a two-year degree in multimedia development when was only 20. I thought I’d be landing a big job, using my photoshop and illustrator skills for top dollar, editing videos for big companies in Manhattan. Boy, was I wrong. The only company I worked for that used my skills in graphic arts was a sign business in Elmsford for 1 week. Eventually, I went back to school and found a niche that was for me in the field of Therapeutic Recreation. (Never heard of it? Think schoolyard recess as a profession.) I also picked up a few nifty hobbies on the side, including writing, photography, and computer repair. Yeah, I fix laptops for fun. Ha Ha.
Why am I sharing this little piece of experience with you? Because chances are, if you’re part of my generation, you’re either considering college, or you’ve already went that route. With most of the fields of study that don’t involve medical studies, accounting, or some form of software design, you’re not likely to land that “ideal job” that you’ve been studying for. Even worse, there are college degrees for fields that don’t require a degree, especially when it comes to creative arts. There’s an old saying, “A sucker’s born every minute.” When it comes to college majors, that saying couldn’t be more on point. With that in mind, here are 5 degrees that people don’t need.
Okay. Off the top of your head, name a philosopher that has or had acually made money. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Waiting…..still waiting…..waiting some more…nothing at all? Oh, and if you’re naming ancient Roman philosophers, they definiely don’t count. Name a philosopher from the 20th century to now who’s made money in philosophy who isn’t a professor at an ivy league college. If you’re thinking Sigmund Freud, that’s psychology, not philosophy. Okay, you can stop now.
Let’s face it. Unless you’re a top-tier historian on philosophers with a grant from some society or organization for historical preservation, there’s little to no chance on making money on philosophy unless you have the patience to write a book on it and a publisher willing to put it out. An employer’s not going to hire you because you can sum up Aristotle’s stance on ethics. If you’re going to aim for a degree, it should be something that can be used in the work field, not something that can be summed up as a dinner table discussion.
When you get right down to it, philosophy is all about thinking and ideas. Why should someone need a degree to share their thoughts and ideas on a matter? Philosophers don’t need a degree to decide for themselves if a tree in a forest makes noise if it falls if there’s no one around to hear it. It’s about viewpoints and perspectives, which we all have. It’s all a matter of articulation, selling your viewpoint and wrapping it in a nice little bow for the world to see. At best, philosophy should be an elective to spark a student’s interest in perspectives of ancient scholars, not the foundaion for a career. Unless you know someone who’s looking for some professors in philosophy, don’t choose this as a major, unless you’re looking forward to being the only burger flipper in town who can quote Socrates.
Now, before I go any further, let me break things down a bit. Architecture? A good degree to have if you know the field. New buildings are being designed and built everyday. Graphic Design? Again, if you know how to play the field, a decent degree to have under your belt. Big companies look for people who can work their magic in Photoshop and Illustrator, but be warned, this is mostly a freelance field, so if you’re not into working a gig here and a gig there with no steady salary flow, this isn’t for you. Animation? Same as graphic design, but if you’re creative enough, you can build your own character and develop a nice following. (Remember Happy Tree Friends?) Painting? Sculpting? Now THIS is where I draw the line. Take a few classes here and there when it comes to art, but don’t, and I repeat, DON’T, devote a college major to it.
Art is like philosophy, in the sense that it’s about expressing thought. The main difference is that art is about visual expression. You don’t need a college degree to express yourself. Oil paintings, sculptures, pencil sketches, drawings, these things are just expressions of a person’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. The best artists I know were born with the gift to draw or paint. It wasn’t programmed into them at a school. If school did anything, it helped them sharpen their gift. And the smart artists didn’t make art their only form of income. For them, it’s a passionate side gig that they dedicate their free time to. And for those who do make a career with their artwork, it’s usually in forms where they can sell their work in mass, such as t-shirts and posters. The ones who get their work in galleries have to network and work their way up, getting their work recognized from the bottom up. The process of getting your work into an art gallery isn’t unlike a job interview. You have to sell the idea to the gallery owner that your art is worth being shown in an exhibit.
As for comic book artists trying to get into the industry, that’s all about networking and getting your name and your work seen. Rob Liefeld, the man who, among other things, created our favorite “merc with a mouth”, Deadpool, was a self-taught artist. While critics and fans have been divided through the years over his quality of work, he managed to not only score high profile gigs at Marvel Comics (where he not only created characters like Deadpool and Cable, but brought a slew of mutant superheroes into the 90’s era by creating X-Force), but also became a co-founder of Image Comics, where he continued to make his mark by creating the superhero team Youngblood. You don’t need a degree to get ahead in the world of art, no matter what the medium. Just hone your talent, and be ready to do a LOT of networking and portfolio building.
3. Game Testers (aka “Quality Assurance”)
Okay, this one is a VERY controversial one in the gaming community. I think the turning point was when a little movie called Grandma’s Boy made its debut in theaters. In it, the lead character makes a living as a game tester. That statement alone is an oxymoron, but we’ll get to that in a second. Back to the movie, the whole portrayal of game testers is so Hollywood, it’s sickening. They have their own cubicles, office meetings, and they have humorous dialogue with their supervisors. It’s basically an episode of The Office, but produced by Adam Sandler. With video games. And weed.
In reality, game testers (also known by the politically correct term, “quality assurance”) are put through hell when it comes to testing games. Having to play through epic games like God of War and Grand Theft Auto may seem like a dream come true, but here’s the nitty gritty: Game testing is all about finding flaws, glitches, and other things that can mess up a game and documenting every glitch. If the collision detection is off, it has to be documented. If the 3D models aren’t moving right, it has to be documented. If the audio is out of synch, it has to be documented. So yeah, it’s not that dream job of playing video games and saying how fun it is. It’s a nightmare job of playing the same video game again and again, looking for glitches hour after hour. Not convinced on how bad it is? I just described a game tester testing a good game. Imagine testing a BAD game. Ever play a game so bad, it made you want to throw your controller at the screen? Imagine if testing that game was your JOB. It’d make an episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd look like an episode of Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood.
Now, with that image in your head, imagine some run-of-the-mill school offering you a degree in game testing. Keep that image of a game tester in gaming hell in your head. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD WANT A DEGREE IN THAT???? In fact, WHY DO YOU NEED A DEGREE TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES?????? I know, there are some kids out there who would love to go to college and play video games, but the cold hard truth is that you’d be spending at least $10,000 on tuition alone for a degree in a field that pays only $20,000 annually, before taxes and deductions. Not so wonderful now, is it, kiddies? If you’re going to join the world of “quality assurance”, lots of luck to you, but just remember: don’t get a degree in it.
And now, we return to a field of art. It may not require any drawing or painting, but photography is an art of visual self-expression. The idea of photography is to let the world look through your eyes. If that summary’s too romantic for you, I’ll put it in blunt terms for you: you’re taking pictures, end of story. And now, back to the less blunt imagery: Photography is about images and perception, how a person sees something in front of them. Take a traffic jam, for example. The average person will only see a bunch of cars stuck on an expressway and say, “Ugh, I hate traffic.” A photographer will think to himself, “Hmmmm, look at the symmetry of the cars lined up, right under that highway sign. And the way the sun is setting gives the backdrop such a glow. Let me get my camera!” Something that would be just an everyday occurence to the average person is a prime chance for a great photo to an artistic photographer.
That’s just an example of artisic photography. Now, let’s get to the photographer on a daily grind. When it comes to things like Kmart portraits and school photos, you don’t need a degree for that. That’s basically just getting the right lighting, positioning, and taking a picture. Then, you have the photographers who make a living taking photos for special purposes. They specialize in doing glamour shots and head shots for aspiring actors and models, doing special occasions such as weddings, and special interest shoots such as maternity shoots. These photographers make every day people into works of art. They focus on getting the right lighting, scenery, and angles to make your next door neighbor look like a model for a brochure. Oh, and the good ones do a lot of work for brochures, too. Further up the food chain, you have photo journalists. They’re the ones snapping shots for newspapers and news stations. If a photo journalist has a degree under his belt, it’s most likely in journalism, not photography. Photo journalists are basically field reporters with cameras. They’re the ones who get their pictures on the front page of your local newspaper or on your favorite news website. And of course, you have papparazzi. The ones always snapping celebrity photos for the tabloids. They’re like the scavengers of photojournalism, hunting down pictures of your favorite celebrities for a quick paycheck. No skill needed here, just a camera with a good flash and zoom lens. I actually knew someone in high school who made money after school as a tabloid photographer. It was like knowing the TMZ equivalent of Peter Parker, without the spider powers.
As someone who is into photography as a hobby, I can tell you that you don’t need a degree in photography to be a good photographer. I learned everything that was important about photography in one high school semester, and this was back in the days of film photography. In the digial photography era, everything has been made 100 times easier and accessible. You don’t need to find a store that sells black and white film to take black and white photos, you just need a camera with that filter. You don’t even need to limit yourself to 27 photos on a roll, you can take thousands of photos with one memory card. And developing film? Ancient history in the digital age. (Man, writing those last few lines makes me feel old. Ugh.) As for the artistic side of photography, you can always take a weekend class and learn that, or you can subscribe to a good photography magazine or buy some books to learn the tools of the trade. You don’t need a college degree to snap photos, no matter what kind of photo you’re taking.
I know I’m going to get a load of flack for saying this, but you actually don’t need a degree in film to be a good filmmaker. There are so many people going to prestigious schools, getting their BFAs in film. It’s a dream for so many young adults to be the next Scorsese, Spielberg, or Tarantino. And while there are jobs in the film field for graduates who have their degree in film, the field is so cutthroat, a lot of them even wonder why they spent so much tuition money majoring in this, when a communications degree could have done even better?
Let’s put it this way: while everyone wants to be a director, who says you can’t get your foot in the door being a director of photography (D.P.)? A D.P. is basically the man in charge of getting the good shots on film. He’s the guy who helps set up the lighting, camera angles, and positions to make sure a shot comes out right. That’s just a rough summary. Remember Jan De Bont, the director of Speed and Twister? He started as a D.P. for a few 80’s classics you may remember. Die Hard? The Hunt For Red October? De Bont was the D.P. for those movies. He built his reputation up, and eventually got a Hollywood studio to give him a shot at directing, and next thing you know, he’s got Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock on a speeding bus in L.A. Not an easy task, if you know how traffic in L.A. can get.
The point is, so many aspiring filmmakers want to start out on the top, but that’s not how the film industry works. The lucky few who do start off directing usually have a few top-notch indie films under their belt, like Fast & Furious director Justin Lin, who started off with his indie film debut, Better Luck Tomorrow (a damn good movie, btw). The rest of the industry’s top directors usually start off with lesser jobs and work their way up, be it by chance or reputation.
Want a truly inspiring example of a big filmmaker not needing a degree to be a great filmmaker? Quentin Tarantino. His film education came from working in a video store, watching everything from French cinema to Kung Fu flicks. His way of getting into the film industry? Teaming up with a then up-and-coming producer by the name of Lawrence Bender, who managed to get Tarantino’s draft of 1992’s Reservoir Dogs to Harvey Keitel. After some grueling filming on a shoestring budget with a talented and now legendary cast, the film became a cult classic, and paved the way for Tarantino and Bender to work on 1994’s Pulp Fiction, the film that made Tarantino an icon. No film degree, just passion, thinking and learning outside the box, and a LOT of luck.
If you’re looking to make a career in film, you don’t need a degree. There are plenty of jobs that will allow you to get some experience in the field and learn on set how to hone your skills. And while you may not be the next Tarantino, you could easily become the next Bill Pope. (You don’t know who Bill Pope is? He’s a well-known D.P. You probably saw his camera work in The Matrix and V For Vendetta. Cool, right?)
In the end, no matter what field you’re planning into, just remember this: a degree is simply a piece of paper. While you’ve worked your butt off to earn that piece of paper, it shoud never, EVER, be an indicator of what you’re worth. A degree can catch an employer’s eye, but only you as a person can build a career for yourself, wheher it’s a traditional 9-to-5 or breaking new ground. Russell Simmons, the co-founder of Def Jam Records and the founder of Phat Farm clothing said it best: “Some people get those degrees and go on cruise control. But you have to be willing to learn new things every day, every second. You can’t just depend on what you’ve already been taught. That’s why sometimes education can hold you down instead of lift you up.” If you want to build a future for yourself, you have to think outside the box. Learn as much as you can, and decide for yourself whether or not you need a degree. And if you do decide to get a college degree, I beg this of you: Please….PLEASE…don’t get a degree in game testing.