STEM vs non-STEM degrees from a European perspective

If you follow US bloggers in the wider “manosphere”, you will notice that some have very strong opinions on what you are supposed to study, or whether you should go to college at all. Considering that college costs an inordinate amount of money in the US, no matter how elite or crappy the school, or how in-demand your degree is, you better think long and hard whether to study. Learning a trade may be a better alternative. The worst aspect, from the perspective of a prospective student, is that student loans will be tied to you until you pay them off or until you die, whichever comes first. Declaring personal bankruptcy is no longer a way to get rid of six figures of educational debt.

Across the pond, in good ol’ Europe, you should likewise be wary before enrolling into the kind of degree libtards claim they make you “an educated man (or woman)”, but conveniently ignore questionable employment prospects. In fact, if you don’t get a scholarship, or enjoy the financial backing and generosity of your family, then studying a subject you find rather interesting but won’t help you paying your future bills is an incredibly poor choice. No, pointing out that you can become professor of Bullshit isn’t a good counter-argument, and neither is it that some guy who became an eminent politician or businessman studied History at Princeton or PPE at Oxford.

There are, however, three significant systemic differences why studying a bullshit subject doesn’t wreck your life in Europe, or at the least not at the same extent as in the US. Note that, I am talking about people who are reasonably smart, probably even smart enough for a “real” degree. However, if you’re a dumbass, you’re infinitely better off in Europe anyway, because our politicians have a hard-on for “distributive justice”.

Now, onto the list:

1) Education is largely free in Europe. The UK is the big exception. Sure, the opportunity cost is quite significant, but if you want to get a decent education and develop your personality, you could do a lot worse than getting a Bachelor’s in BS, as long as you actually learn something. Go get that degree in Sociology, study rhetoric, learn a foreign language, go abroad, enjoy yourself. At the very least there will be no debt that is crippling you. Besides, I don’t mind that there is a good chance that my cab driver or the bar tender pouring my drinks can hold his own in a conversation, so go get that BS degree!

2) The salary range on the Continent is rather narrow. While you may have a harder time finding a decent job with your BS Bachelor’s, it’s not impossible that you’ll get a decent gig eventually. You may need to waste some time on lowly-paid or even unpaid internship, but with a bit of luck you will make enough to live comfortably enough. Sure, those other guys with their fancy engineering degrees may make a bit more, but due to your colorful personality, they won’t be the ones banging chicks in bathroom stalls in your favorite clubs, and you’re smart enough not to blow money one expensive dates anyway.

In all seriousness, though, the equalizing effect of progressive taxation is quite startling. To pick two data points: Peter studied Communications because he isn’t “good with numbers”, did two six-months internships after finishing his degrees, but was then offered a contract as an entry-level Spin Doctor for 2.500 EUR/month. Meanwhile, Bertram was offered 3.000 EUR/month right after graduation. He focussed on theoretical computer science in college, but now he’s doing web development. After taxes, their disposable income differs by only about 250 EUR. Of course, Peter is worse off than Bertram, but as long as he manages to get a job, he won’t be completely fucked, and that’s largely because he doesn’t have to pay back $150k in student loans.

3) You can easily get a second Bachelor’s degree. As I was told, it is not at all uncommon that universities in the US won’t allow students to return for a second Bachelor’s degree. Thus, if you made a poor choice the first time around, you would have to look for a university that takes you. You probably wouldn’t qualify for student loans, but even if: it would be an utter travesty to add another six-figures of debt to an already very sizable amount of debt from your first degree. You’d have to work for well over a decade, due to the power of compound interest, to pay back all your loans. And that’s the best-case scenario.

Meanwhile, in Europe you just enroll for a second degree. You only need to find a way to cover cost of living. In some countries you would still qualify for subsidies and low-interest loans, meaning that you would have the chance to turn your life around. That’s not necessarily a given. For instance, some years ago I met a woman who was in the process of acquiring her third (!) Master’s degree, all of which did not qualify her for a job. In the US, you would have to be super-rich to do that. Here in Europe it’s enough to be incredibly stupid. But, hey, it’s another vote for the libtards, so all is good, right?

One could easily find further differences, but those three are, in my opinion, the most significant ones. That is not to say that the situation in Europe is necessarily great, particularly once you compare life after college. To me it almost seems that everybody with decent skills and just a modicum of ambition wants to get out, largely because the financial rewards aren’t really there. I recently researched cost of living in a select few US cities in states with low taxes and liberal gun laws, which is the kind of liberalism I like. A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation showed that with a typical salary in my profession (no, not “blogger”, “author” or “chick magnet”), I would have almost as much left over after all expenses are paid as I currently make after taxes. Sure, education and health care are free or very cheap in Europe, so the comparison is off. If I got cancer, I could always dig up my European passport and move back anyway.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below, but keep the comment policy in mind.
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29 thoughts on “STEM vs non-STEM degrees from a European perspective

  1. Just a clarification, since the terminology might confuse some readers… when you mean “liberal” gun laws, do you mean more or less gun control. The word “liberal” will be interpreted differently depending on where you are from.

    1. “low taxes and liberal gun laws”
      Stay in Europe, mate.

      Switzerland, if having guns at at home (practically impossible to obtain a concealed or open carry permit) is enough for you. Initially you’ll get a B-Permit as a German, for which you have to provide more documents. Once you have a C-Permit, you are equal to Swiss citizens with regards to gun purchase.

      Czech Republic if you want to carry concealed. Low taxes, too.

      Rather anti-immigrant, both.

  2. Lol, this is an interesting analysis, but you’re not being realistic. You want to know the truth?

    No employer will ever consider you if you don’t have that master’s degree (whatever the major) here in Europe. If you don’t have it, your CV goes right in the garbage, they don’t care how you self-taught yourself in IT or how many languages you’ve mastered on your free time. What they want to see is:

    “Master in ‘whatever’ with a minor in English literature and German as second language.”

    Then your skills become real, you’ll get that call and they’ll allow you to show your skills in those languages, and they’ll trust you because you’re capable of thinking critically (yes, no matter what you think about university) since you’ve been able to acquire that master’s degree.

    In my country, you’ll find that many administrative jobs require, what am I saying, demand a master’s degree. That’s just how it is.

    When I was interview for my current job, I had no competition, they told me I was the only person who was qualified, in the sense that I had a master’s degree (not in hard science), that I spoke the three required languages, and that my IT skills were more than reasonable.

    But without that master’s degree, I would have gotten nowhere. I was averaging 20 interviews a month at a point. For all the interviews, a master’s degree was required. No master’s degree, no interview.

    So please, stop snobbing university and giving young people terrible advice. It will be hard on the job market no matter what you do. I know engineers who have been struggling for years, and who had to move to the Azores because they desperately needed a job.

    But you know when it gets especially tough and even impossible to find a job? When you don’t have any university degree, good luck then. No employer is ever going to take you seriously, why should they?

    1. The public sector pushes credentialism. In the private sector your skills matter, though. I know quite a few people who ended up in IT and make fantastic salaries nowadays. Some of them spent a few semesters at university, and then dropped out due to a job offer, or because their side gig took off. Others were in unrelated degrees, self-taught them programming, did an internship, and got their foot in this way. By the way, jerk-off, I received an offer for a full-time job in IT, for what you would nowadays call DevOps, while I was in the second-to-last year in high school. It was a “friend of a friend” thing, but I was offered a “real” job, with market-rate salary.

      Also, if you get 20 interviews and they tell you during the interview that you needed a certain qualification, they are bullshitting and trying to lower your salary expectations. If they weren’t interested in you, they wouldn’t have invited you. You shouldn’t take the HR wish list too seriously. They just put in everything they would like a candidate to have, and then they need to make a pick from those who actually apply. Of course, in a technical field you can assess technical skills, while there are no real skills to be assessed for a bullshit job, so they ask you to come with a bucketload of bullshit credentials. (Your English is pretty mediocre, by the way, so your German is presumably even worse.)

    2. I guess I struck a nerve since the ad hominems are already flying. Feel free to point out my grammar and spelling mistakes. Just know that my mother tongue is French, that’s a bigger leap than you from German to English. Not only that, but I posted under another alias (Mr Balding, if you remember) here before and you said this about me:

      “Then, we have to observe that he is able to express himself in the English very well. Mastering a second language is no small feat either. I know, I know, everybody and his dog claims to be fluent in English, but it’s quite rare, even among educated people, to find someone who is able to express himself well in another language on a non-trivial level. ”

      Just lol! You’re just a fraud who gets his panties in a bunch when someones points out his inconsistencies. Your opinions change with your mood swings it seems. One day, I have a good level of English, and then when you get pissed off, it’s not good anymore.

      Look, there are jobs for guys like me, whether you want it or not, or are you going to tell me that all these ‘event planner’, ‘communication officer’, ‘marketing assistant’ jobs are fake, that they’re worthless, and that no one ends up filling those positions?

      All I see here is bitterness and jealousy, you can’t stand those lazy humanities majors because they have an easier life than you. Same with women who use their looks to get head, what’s wrong with that? They should just take the hardest path because then they would get admiration from STEM nerds like you?! Just lol!

      Why don’t you just let these people be? At least they’re working, what I can’t stand is people who live off welfare, that I can’t stand, but here you’re stigmatizing people actually doing an effort. There’s a huge gap between being a welfare leech and working a normal job after getting a master’s degree in humanities.

      I guess complaining is a great strategy for your blog, it will surely attract way more visitors than doing some introspection and writing more balanced articles. Because who wants to read that?

      You’ll say looks matter, and then you’ll say that baldness, the biggest aesthetic offense doesn’t. Something that can completely destroy a guy’s looks. You’ll then say that money will allow you to bang more women, which we all know is nonsense. Women are not attracted to money. I could go on. You’ll end up drowning in your own contradictions if you go on like this.

    3. See, when you make an effort, your English markedly improves. Someone as smart as you — take this as a backhanded compliment if you want — should realize that statements tends to be contextual. Thus, it is no contradiction that X expresses himself very well in English, compared to the average ESL speaker, albeit his language skills may be mediocre compared to an educated native speaker, particularly when he phones it in and doesn’t proofread before posting.

      Dude, for guys with a superior IQ, what you assume to be “hard work” in engineering is actually fun and engaging. Basically, you are getting paid to solve puzzles. For a genuinely smart person, STEM is clearly the superior choice, compared to something like Communications.

      Thanks for confirming my suspicion that some of the trolls I have encountered over the years hide behind changing pseudonyms. My stance on balding hasn’t changed. Shave your head, get down to 10 to 15 % body fat, bulk up a little bit. Then use some of the money you make at your bullshit job to improve your appearance. Even if you don’t want to directly pay for sex, you’ll learn that you’ll always pay indirectly, but if you don’t want to spend any of your hard-earned money, then just keep whacking it.

    4. I’m not a troll, I think I raise interesting points as you say, which often motivate you to write articles about it.

      Your advice on balding is not realistic. We have plenty of bodybuilders on our hair loss support forum who were already muscular and well-dressed before they started balding.

      All the attention they got from women still almost completely disappeared once they had reached the dreaded ‘bald’ stage.

      So yeah, that advice clearly does not work. As I’ve said before, the only right advice here is: get a hair transplant AND work on other aspects of your looks.

      A guy is fat? Lose weight!
      A guy is badly dressed? Dress better!
      A guy is nearly broke? Get a better job and find new sources of income!

      A guy is bald(ing)? Oh yeah, don’t do anything about it and try to improve everything that is unrelated to the problem in question!

    5. “In my country, you’ll find that many administrative jobs require, what am I saying, demand a master’s degree. That’s just how it is.”

      Since you said that French is your mother tongue I assume you are either from Canada, Switzerland or France.

      If it’s the latter, I am not surprised AT ALL, that such requirements exist, since the bureaucratic mind-fuck this country produces goes hand in hand with overvalued degrees in soft skills.

      If you really happen to live in France, let me tell you what got you the job: Your English.
      I have yet to encounter a French person who at least writes at such a level.
      The French suck at English hardcore. 8 Years of studies and all they can tell you is that “Brian is in the kitchen”

      Pardon me if you live somewhere else.

    6. “So yeah, that advice clearly does not work. As I’ve said before, the only right advice here is: get a hair transplant AND work on other aspects of your looks.”

      Aaron has covered that in plenty of his posts here and on his forum: Looks alone wont get you laid, there is also an aspect of your personality. Yes it has been confusing and most so called pick up artist thought “its all about game, looks dont matter” and focused only on game. Currently it has been reversed and the majority talks about “looks, looks, looks…and just be good looking, fuck game” but taking a hard look at reality, yes looks get you attention and maybe get you laid, but women overall want a confident and attractive man and not some insecure wimp who has nothing but looks.

      I dont know how old are you, but what the fuck is wrong with you if everything you focus on are being successfull with women? Its ok for a few years in your 20ies, but one day you should realize that most of them are not worth the effort and there are a lot of things in life that give you more than linear satisfaction based on your input.

    1. To the kids who are stupid enough to follow this piece of advice, I hope they’ll enjoy being turned down by every serious employer out there.

      Don’t think for a second that you’ll get hired by Microsoft without a real university degree. No one gives a fuck about what you learned in your basement Will Hunting.

      What you can hope with that mentality is to get on board with a sinking BS start-up where you’ll work your ass off for little reward.

    2. The company that offered me that job, which I mentioned in a comment further up, is still in business and doing well. Looking back, the economically smartest way would have been taking that job and getting some credentials on the side. For instance, Germany has the “Fernuni Hagen”, which allows you to do that. By the way, from my time spent at “serious employers” I learnt that it is not at all uncommon that people get in without a degree, just based on their skills. In fact, the progression “internship/freelancing -> startup -> small, established company -> big company” is not uncommon, because experience trumps a piece of paper every time. Of course, this doesn’t apply to bullshit public administration jobs.

    3. I work for a pretty well-known private company. And they would never hire someone who has not at least a bachelor’s degree.

      You’re talking about exceptions here, of course sometimes it happens, one guy out of a thousand gets hired because he has great skills and despite not having a proper degree.

      People win the lottery sometimes too.

      What’s next? You’re going to tell us there’s no point improving one’s appearance because you know a friend of a friend who is butt-ugly and dating a supermodel? Exceptions. It’s never smart to base oneself on them to make a major life decisions.

      So kids, don’t listen to the people here. If you want to struggle ten times less to get a job, make sure there’s a line on your resume that says: Master in *** – University of ***. Without that, no real employer is going to take you seriously, unless your rich uncle who’s part of a big firm can vouch for you.

    4. We’re talking past each other. In a field where actual skills are required you have a genuine chance without a degree. This works out well for plenty of people in IT. Besides, I don’t quite get why you come to the conclusion that I’m against people getting degrees. If you’re smart, get a STEM degree, particularly if you live in Europe, due to the widespread lack of tuition fees. The second best choice is learning a trade. In fact, what you promote (getting a bullshit degree and working for government) is a lot more questionable. Again, we have more non-STEM than STEM graduates. Which group do you think is doing better? Please look up “expected value”, which is a concept from probability theory, before replying.

    5. I agree with you, if you have what it takes, by all means, get a STEM degree.

      You’re talking to a guy who had to retake math/chemistry/physics every year in high school. I also almost failed my bachelor’s degree because of a math course that was part of my cursus.

      On the other hand, I was always top of my class in language courses. I was smart enough in that area and I capitalized on it. I challenge you to find native French speakers who can speak fluent English. It’s extremely rare. STEM nerds on the other hand are a dime in a dozen.

      My question here is, what do you suggest to people who are NOT smart enough to get a STEM degree? What about people who have other abilities or aspirations? Are they all morons and parasites by default because they don’t conform to your definition of what is a valuable and hard-working person?

    6. “STEM nerds” aren’t a dime a dozen.

      In the end it boils down to the marketability of your skills. Let’s say someone isn’t smart enough for introductory maths courses, which precludes him from pursuing any kind of engineering degree. On the other hand, he knows some foreign language very well. He could either double down and get a related degree, or learn a trade. Maybe he could find a niche. For instance, some people make a very good living as field service technicians, traveling around the globe. It’s not glorious work, but it’s a good job to have, with a pretty decent salary. Being fluent in a foreign language would make you stand out quite considerably.

  3. Of course skill matters more. I don’t understand the discussion. As a self-taught programmer, I broke into IT without out any formal credentials in the respective field. Heck, I even got invited to interviews by just sending them a link to my GitHub repo as my application. As long as you can show what value you bring to the table there is no need for a prestigious degree anymore.

    This even holds true for communications. For the anecdotal value of it: I have a friend who jumped from one job to the next after leaving high school in a variety of industries. Then he applied for an entry level
    position in Germany’s biggest advertising agency. During the application process, candidates had to work a small branding case. He got invited to the job interview and eventually got hired. Today he is a leading brand strategist in that agency. He had no formal degree in communication. So what was his value proposition? Well, that guy is a natural marketing maven. Puking creativity 24/7. My point is that skill cures all.

    @Greg – You had me on some points. I disagree with most of your posts, though. I can’t be bothered to go through all of them like Aaron. Just one remark – “You’ll say looks matter, and then you’ll say that baldness, the biggest aesthetic offense doesn’t. Something that can completely destroy a guy’s looks. You’ll then say that money will allow you to bang more women, which we all know is nonsense. Women are not attracted to money.” – Stop the drugs. You Trippin, bro. Big time. It also seems like you have some issues with baldness?! Dude, if you start losing hair in a significant way, you either get hair transplants (expensive), or you shave. Some girls like it some might not. Those two options are the only ones compared to holding onto your last few straws and rocking it like Homer Simpson.

    @Aaron – I agree that STEM degrees are a better pick. What are your thoughts on the advances in artificial intelligence regarding the job market? But wouldn’t also affect IT itself in a major way. Programs that program themselves are not really a thing of the future. What are your projections?

    1. As a software developer you will be save for the rest of your working life. Have compilers destroyed the job market for programmers? Did the existence of libraries like Boost lead to a wave of unemployment? Machine Learning is quite interesting, but it’s just the next hype after Big Data. If you are so inclined, have a look at, for instance, this paper, which deflates the hype behind Deep Learning for image recognition:

    2. I was completely bald in my third year of university.

      Sexual and social death sentence. No other way to look at it.

      I had a hair transplant, and the women came back instantly.

      Let me guess, you have a full head of hair. So like Aaron, you just can’t understand.

      I really hope for your sake that non of you go bald. Otherwise you’d see articles from Aaron:

      “Why is it OK for women to mock bald men while we cannot mock fat women?!”

      Balding is the biggest destroyer of a man’s looks.

      Exhibit A:

      From pedophile-looking bald loser to good-looking guy.

      But keep spreading the fullhead lies, better keep the bald men bald to have less competition!

      Some issues cannot be discussed here, because they make people like you uncomfortable. The reality is that your hair is 50% of your attractiveness as a male. There are exceptions of course, but for one Bruce Willis, there are 100 George Costanza.

      Most of you would be sexless for life if you went bald. And you’d kill yourselves in a matter of weeks.

    3. Very Interesting read. Seems neural nets aren’t entirely superior to machine learning based on manually designed features. Although I think their “fooling images” are extremely unlikely to appear in the wild they are proof nonetheless that software still can’t be as reliable as human operator.

      I’m pleasantly surprised to find this link on your blog.
      Is your profession related to computer vision or data science by any chance?

    4. Well, let’s say it’s a lot more likely that I work in one of those fields than at McDonald’s as a burger flipper.

  4. Hey Aaron, you mentioned that Big Data is “just hype”. Could you elaborate a little more on that? I’ve been reading a little around the topic and it seems to me that way too.

    This is coming from a guy who is completing a PhD in maths, but doesn’t have any programming experience (staring at a monitor destroying my eyesight while attempting to write code has never been my thing.)

    1. No, I did not state that Big Data was “just hype”. Instead, I wrote that ML has replaced it as the most-hyped field in technology. Good luck out there with non-applied maths!

    2. You are doing a PhD in maths, and have not done any form of programming…either it is not a very good course or it is bullshit.

      Even me when I did maths degree at a Red Brick uni in uk, I did programming or basic programming. Especially if studying numerical methods, which involves using mathematical/programming programs like matlab/mathematica/macsyma.

      If you are doing any sort of stats, then you have to use some programming.

    3. It could be pure mathematics. You can get through computer science virtually without any programming as well at some places if you heavily focus on theory.

  5. Cani, I don’t consider basic, or even intermediate, knowledge of Mathematica or Matlab as “programming”, as these packages are very much used for numerical / symbolic manipulation, and are a far cry from something like C++ (although they of course can be used in conjunction). In any straight maths degree, one can essentially avoid programming courses, except a (usually) compulsory first year course on numerical methods. This is especially the case at top universities where you have a vast range of options in analysis, algebra and geometry to choose from in later years.

    My PhD research is actually closer to applied, rather than pure maths (it is certainly motivated by some research in physics) but it is still very abstract, and of little, if any, direct application in real life.

  6. While it is just a truth of life that most STEM degrees will lead you to a well-paid job, not all degrees in Humanities or “Social Sciences” can be called bullshit. The challenge for those who follow these degrees is the demand has plummeted after the financial crisis in 2008. Classical humanities such as History cannot be called bullshit, despite the fact that its relevance in modern world is rather limited and indirect. Those who graduated from these majors struggle to find a good job because their skills are not widely used and not very relevant to the modern economy.

    After all, you cannot call a historical work such as “The decline and fall of the Roman Empire.” written by a famous historian such as Edward Gibbon to be bullshit.

    I recently finished reading Kulat Bumekov’s The Kimak State of the IX-XI centuries, according to Arabic sources ( Государство кимаков IX—X вв. по арабским источникам) in Russian and cannot help to marvel at the fact that the historian could reconstruct an entire vanished political entity from obscure Arabic sources to archaelogical evidences that barely any scholar paid attention to. The sheer footnotes he left makes me feel startled. I also come to believe that scholars who lived and worked in the former Soviet Union still prove themselves to be the master of Central Asian studies (especially Turkology).

    I have a friend who makes a rather unconventional transition in search of a good job. He graduated in History and Philosophy Major. After having to work multiple part-timed jobs in completely unrelated fields, he finally chose to pursue a degree in database management. Brilliant choice I must say, as it suits him. The guy is not at all unfamiliar with rigorous thinking, and now with more technical knowledge in the field of computers and data management, he has earned a rather well-paid job this last summer.

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