Can Some Degrees Make You Unemployable?

Can Some Degrees Make You Unemployable?

I always wanted to be a university English professor but by my senior year of college, the unemployment rate in the field was 99%. The words a Dean said to me a few years before came back to haunt me. It was at a freshman “Meet Your Professors” event where I introduced myself to the Dean of Arts and Sciences. I told him my major and he replied laughingly that I would be “Highly unemployable!” I thought he was rude and impertinent yet I had no idea how unemployable I’d be. By the end of my senior year, I realized I needed to change career tracks. My undergraduate degree made me unemployable.

graduationIn fact, most English majors I knew were either working at a video store or managing a copy store for minimum wage. Those jobs certainly wouldn’t help me pay down my student loan debt. Disappointed with my lack of career prospects, I got a Master’s degree in Teaching. After finishing my master’s degree, I became a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. Once my children were in elementary school, I decided to re-enter the workforce. I applied to teaching, writing, administrative and clerical jobs to no avail.  The lack of job prospects was disheartening. I’m lucky though, I do have a fall back; substitute teaching. And, I’m fortunate that I can still pursue jobs while teaching part-time.

I had assumed that I’d sub for a few years and land a full-time teaching job. However, I am in my fifth year of substituting.  While the positions are rare and competitive in our small, Midwestern town, I didn’t realize how my master’s degree would prevent me from landing a full-time job. I’ve heard the term “over qualified” too many times to count. Well-meaning friends suggested that I omit my master’s degree from my resume hoping that would secure me a job in my field. On interviews in fields outside of teaching, employers (after looking at my resume) would ask me if I had ever considered a teaching? A polite way of saying I needed to look elsewhere for a job.

A teacher friend, on the hiring committee at her school, noted that when they receive teacher applications they immediately discard those from applicants with advanced degrees. In fact, in the school districts where I’ve applied the average pay for a teacher with a master’s degree is $6,000-8,000 more than that of a teacher with only an undergraduate degree. Most districts have tight budgets and they end up hiring candidates with only an undergraduate degree. It’s cheaper. It makes sense. Somehow getting a master’s degree further cemented my lack of job prospects.

What my degrees have employed in me is a knack for looking at differing perspectives and a keen ability to problem solve. I’ve found other ways to supplement my income by freelance writing, consigning no longer used household items, taking surveys online, and returning pop cans for the deposit.  It’s not ideal but it works. Maybe my degrees are useful after all.

Jami Demuth is a Midwest based freelance writer. She spends her days with her husband, three children and two dogs. She enjoys reading and traveling and has spent time living abroad. Her time abroad has made her passionate about combating ethnocentrism and promoting cooperation and understanding. You can follow her blog at:

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