My girlfriend of two years just graduated college in a humanities field with a master’s degree (history).
Every day for weeks now she’s really sad about the disappointing job opportunities in her future. She looked up the average salary for her field and it’s not what she expected. Apparently, she was told by her parents and teachers growing up that if you had a master’s degree in anything, you’d have a lucrative career.
I’m really struggling to be sympathetic. I’ve offered all the condolences about salary that I can offer, but she’s starting to take it out on me. I was a STEM major (chemical engineering) and she says that I’ll “never understand” how she feels and that I can at least have self-worth knowing society finds my career “valuable enough to live on.”
Not sure what to do. The sympathy I offer hasn’t worked and she keeps on repeating the same conversation. Any advice?
This makes no sense to me. Glass Door launched in 2008. We’ve been able to accurately predict salaries in under sixty seconds in pretty much every field for over twelve years.
I’m what you’d call a “builder.” I rarely take classes or read non-fiction for fun, entertainment, passion, or self-satisfaction. I learn things to build: build a business, build a book, build a knowledgebase around what I’m working on, etc. This is normal operating practice for us builder-types.
My niece just graduated with her teaching degree. She posted on social media how shocking and appalling teachers’ salaries are. I think we can all agree on this, but personally, I can’t reconcile why one would get a degree in something they’ll only be mad and frustrated about later. Perhaps she feels that the profession she chose to pursue is noble and important enough to weather the crappy salaries and numerous other associated challenges. I do understand that.
But it appears your girlfriend did this on accident. There is nothing—not one thing—wrong with getting a degree in the humanities, or a teaching degree, or what have you. There are, however, many issues with not doing any research ahead of time on your proposed degree’s job market and whining about said job market once you’ve gotten said degree.
It sounds like you might be a builder type, too. You likely took your interests, skills, economic concerns, and the supply and demand of employment opportunities under consideration when you went for your degree. She didn’t. This might be because she took her classes for the sheer love of learning a fascinating set of topics. Or maybe she simply followed her family’s advice blindly, thinking she was doing the right thing. Maybe she panicked and registered for history because she wasn’t sure what else to do. We don’t know her initial motivations, but we do know she needs to pivot.
So, what do you do? Here’s your challenge: Have a direct and kind conversation with her. It’s likely to not be easy for either of you, but ultimately, it’s needed to move this thing forward. I’ll give you the conversation I’d have with her, and you can revise it to fit for the two of you.
Ready? Here we go:
“Love, I’m sorry you’re disappointed in your career options. And I’m sorry you got terrible advice, that sucks. I’m sure they meant well, but yeah, I feel you. The situation sucks!
Now, I need you to hear this next part: You listening? You are a master’s degree graduate. You are not a victim here.
You chose to earn a history degree, and you did it. That’s a huge achievement, and I’m proud of you.
Now that you know what’s offered to you, you have choices. It may not seem like you do, but that’s not true. Here are the top three choices I see:
- You can choose a job in your field that will make you happy to go to work every day. If it doesn’t pay what you need, you might have to open up an Etsy store and craft something on the weekends, or do some online data entry.
- You can get a flexible, part-time job and go back to school. This time, train for something that pays you what you expect and that has better job prospects.
- You can look for a job outside your field that you think you would still love, or at least enjoy. You might have to take more of an entry-level position and work your way up, but your master’s will help make that process go faster.
You might be able to come up with something different than these ideas if you think about what you want your work-life to look like. Your family and counselors were right about one thing: People with master’s degrees get more opportunities than people without master’s degrees.
You’re still young. You get to choose. You have the opportunity to find your dream path. But whatever you choose, your self-worth will always come from you, not from me, or your parents, nor from strangers or society. And certainly not from a salary scale.
I will support you as best as I can to achieve your goals, but you can’t take your frustrations and disappointment about this out on me anymore. You not fully understanding what you were getting into is not my burden to carry. I love you.”
Good luck there, friend.
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