Debt of the Humanities: Why I am scared to death of getting my degree

I am terrified of graduating and not being able to find a job. Or of finding a job that pays so little that I will struggle to live in safe areas, to buy groceries, to turn on the AC in the summer. I am scared to death of the debt that going to school brings on to me, to my friends, to my generation, to all students.

I have seen a lot of articles talking about how the number of highly educated people are living on food stamps, even after graduating and gaining jobs. Adjuncts don’t (for the most part) make enough to pay back their loans, to pay rent or to even buy food. So these doctoral graduates must go to the Welfare offices and ask for help.

Now, most of the comments on these articles break my heart. Accusations that these PhD students are idiots for getting a ‘useless’ degree in history, english, or art. “How could they have ever expected to get a job with that degree?” they ask, “There are no jobs there. It’s a useless field.”

That’s what really scares me. I don’t see these focuses as useless. How can you say that learning English, learning how to communicate, is something useless? If someone hadn’t learned English and then taught it to you, how would you have even been able to write your comment calling these people idiots? If we didn’t know about history, how would we know about where we have come from, about issues still lingering in the world.

The fact that these ‘humanity’ degrees are being beaten down scares me. Yes, America is falling behind in technology and science and yes these things are important. But, despite what budget cuts reflect, I still see that we need the humanities. If the name applied to these things isn’t a clue as to why… the HUMANities.

I left a great, full-time job as an administrative assistant to pursue a Master’s degree. I stare at the ceiling many nights and wonder why in the world I did that. How stupid could I be to leave a great job in this economy? But other nights, I curl up and sleep soundly, dreaming of all that I’ve learned, smiling because I know I’m where I’m suppose to be. I’ve just put in my notice at a great job where I made an hourly wage that let me live simply, but without having to worry if I could afford to buy that 50 cent candy bar once or twice a month. I’m moving to a job where I will get a flat stipend that will, if I’m lucky, cover my rent and utilities… but it will give me a tuition waiver and let me utilize my skills and learn some new ones. And I’m incredibly grateful, and consider myself very lucky and blessed to even be able to say I have a job. I know way too many people who either have no job or are terribly underemployed, waiting and struggiling for a new, better job.  And, some of these people have degrees in hard sciences like engineering, biology, or chemistry.

I’m scared. But I’m doing what I know I need to do. I know it’s not going to be an easy path, but words are where my heart is and it would have been silly for me to pursue something else for the sole point of ‘a job,’ but for something more, something that I am good at, something that I love, and something that I want to share with the world.

People seem to think that I know what I’m doing, that I have some grand plan of what to do with my life. Truth of the matter is, I’m just as lost and scared as I was when I started school and asked, ‘What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’ For me, it’s been a development over time, and a realization that I’m no closer to knowing the answer to that question. More than that, it’s a realization that there isn’t a set answer to that question.

I think more, I’ve become worried about what am I going to do with my life? What am I going to create, to change, to inspire?

For me, my trying to get my degree, my struggle and terror of debt, and of ‘wasting my time with an English degree’ can be soothed by the thought that I am preparing to do something besides simply work for the rest of my life.

And maybe that thought will help me finally be able to sleep at night again.



  1. Very, very true! You must do what you are being called to do and what you feel is right. 🙂 I have faith that you can do it!!!! 🙂

  2. Jeroen Steenbeeke Said:

    I know it’s hard to be in your position, and I sympathize, even if I can’t speak from experience. My Bachelor and Master’s degree were mostly state-funded (which is more or less the norm here in the Netherlands), so my debt is negligable.

    But don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re wasting your time in getting your degree. The purpose of a degree is to expand your knowledge is it not? If you let your choices in this matter be dictated by whatever is considered most useful you are forever trying to hit moving targets.

    For example: I have a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. I started this program in 2002, right around the time the .com bubble burst. For years I had to endure people who hadn’t the foggiest clue about Computer Science telling me I had no prospective on the job market. I signed my first job contract in early 2008, four months before I actually go the degree! I had posted my resume on a few job sites and had to shut it down after two days because my mailbox was getting swamped with offers.

    Which jobs are in demand changes from day to day. Some of them have a higher demand by default, and some of them are less needed (for example: a person who studied Celtic Culture would be hard-pressed to find a relevant job in Australia), but regardless of this, every degree has value, even if only because getting the degree expanded your knowledge.

    And yes, if I were in your position I’d be terrified of the debt too. But still, you can’t predict the future. You know what you’re getting into if things don’t turn out for the best. But knowing what *can* happen doesn’t mean it will happen, it just means you’re prepared.

  3. janetharriett Said:

    As a financial investment, graduate degrees in humanities leave something to be desired. Humanities degrees aren’t about vocational training, though. If you’re learning and doing what you love, you’ll find or carve a niche for yourself.

  4. D. A. Adams Said:

    You’re a writer. Just write.

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