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Majoring in the College of Humanities—The Most Useful “Useless” Thing You’ll Ever Do MAG
Imagine yourself in this scenario: you just graduated high school and are talking with your friends, when suddenly someone asks, “What are you going to major in?” You feel a sense of dread filling your body as everyone shares what they plan on doing. Business management, nursing, marketing, biology, engineering. Then it’s your turn. Clearing your throat nervously, you quietly squeak out, “Art history.” Everyone pauses for a moment, then someone asks, “What is that?” “Well,” you reply, “it’s a major in the College of Humanities and–” “Oh cool,” interrupts a friend, and then the conversation turns back to how Johnny wants to become a successful CEO, Patricia hopes to be a news anchor, and all the while you are thinking, How am I ever going to get a successful career with my major?
Does this situation sound familiar? I know the feeling of wanting to major in something you are truly passionate about, but seems abstract, “out there,” or just plain fake to other people; not knowing what career options are open to you through this major; feeling inferior to your peers because they have their lives planned out and are majoring in things that people have actually heard of … the list goes on and on.
When I graduated high school, I wanted to major in comparative literature. (I know, what is that?) Reading, writing, analyzing, and, yes, comparing literature were things I loved to do. But once I found out my friends were going into “real” majors like the ones mentioned above, I figured I needed to do the same. So I changed my major and started telling everyone I wanted to major in business management. (Fancy, right?) I forced myself to believe that I would enjoy it and thought about how “successful” I would be in the business world, but overall I exhausted myself trying to change my passion for reading and writing into those of understanding the economy and trying new marketing techniques. In other words, I was trying to change myself. Coming out of this experience, I now realize that it is okay to be different from your peers. It is okay to want to study things like English, classics, art history, comparative literature, foreign languages, creative writing, and any other major offered in the College of Humanities!
Choosing a major within the College of Humanities will not leave you with limited or “unsuccessful” career options because you define success for yourself! Additionally, studying the humanities will help you become proficient at a versatile, sought-after skill set including writing, speaking, a broader understanding of different cultures, and strong interpersonal skills. It was only after realizing these things that I decided to pursue my initial dream of majoring in comparative literature. I hope you will chase after your dream major as well, no matter what other people think.
So what makes a job successful? Turns out, it all depends on you! Success is subjective. How do you define success in your personal life? In what situations do you find yourself feeling the most successful? Some people define success as being truly happy with what they are doing. Others feel more successful when they are raking in the cash, or when they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, or when they set and meet a specific goal. Don’t make decisions about your major and future career options based on what other people perceive as successful. Find out what makes you feel accomplished – victorious, even – and then you can make decisions for you and you alone.
Going back to my own experience, after I had defined things that made me feel successful – being satisfied with my job, feeling like I was making a difference, and being able to maintain that job while supporting my future family – I was able to choose the major I really desired and narrow down what I wanted in a future career.
The three fears people most commonly have about a Humanities degree and finding a career afterwards are that the majors are too abstract, one will not obtain any applicable skills, and Humanities majors will either have to become a teacher of their art or settle for a low paying job. All of these are addressed in an article by Steven Waechter titled, “Why Liberal Arts Degrees are Useless.” Steven claims that “almost all kids who are chasing their dumb dreams in college would be better majoring in accounting and IT,” and those who don’t are “hiding away in the collegiate land of Humanities make-believe.” These stereotypes make majoring in the Humanities seem pointless and unattractive, but I am here to tell you that none of those things is true.
When people accuse a major of being too abstract, they are often criticizing the ideas brought up in class discussions. Waechter claims that “the course matter [is] conspiracy theories … dripping with post-modernist … nonsense.” I am going to be honest with you; occasionally ideas discussed in class do not coincide with what most people have been taught to believe. But this is all part of gaining a broad perspective. How could one effectively be an unbiased writer with only a knowledge of the popular opinion? How could one speak persuasively without an understanding of what is behind closed minds and one-sided opinions? Only seeing the world through a single perspective leads to missed learning, missed friendships, and missed growth. In the words of Siri Hustvedt, a popular novelist and poet, “Each person does see the world in a different way. There is not a single, unifying, objective truth. We’re all limited by our perspective.” If we gain a broader perspective, we will be more free, more open-minded, less limited in what we can think. A major in the College of Humanities provides us with an advantage of insight. Is being aware of, and open to, the different perspectives of the literal world we live in too abstract?
Waechter continues to criticize the Humanities, saying, “STEM graduates, as well as those from Accounting programs, learned actual skills in their studies. Humanities majors learned only ‘soft skills’ like writing, and ‘critical thinking.’ All useless majors teach the same ‘soft skills.’” How does that statement make you feel? Attacked? Me too. I have never completely understood any concept in the STEM field; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics don’t make sense in my head. What I love and what I am proficient at are those “soft skills,” and they are useful, despite what the majority of the world thinks.
I am currently taking a class that teaches three main categories of soft skills, why they are applicable in the real world, and how I can personally take advantage of their applicability with my major. Some of them include communicating effectively through writing critically and speaking persuasively; synthesizing ideas through gathering and interpreting information; and navigating cultures by developing cultural literacy and language proficiency. Do any one of those soft skills sound useless and inapplicable to you? How often are you going to use advanced math in your everyday life? Adversely, how often do you communicate with others? Produce ideas? Encounter people from other cultures? Every day. There is never a time when you are not doing at least one of these things. So why not master these skills?
Quick – off the top of your head, think of a potential career you can have as a graduate from the College of Humanities. Was the first career you thought of a teacher? While you may be right, there are countless other career opportunities available for a Humanities graduate. George Anders, an American business journalist who graduated from Stanford, recently wrote a book titled You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education. In this book, he addresses how the fast-paced business world needs more people with soft skills when he says: “Curiosity, creativity, and empathy aren’t unruly traits that must be reined in to ensure success. Just the opposite. The human touch has never been more essential in the workplace than it is today. You don’t have to mask your true identity to get paid for your strengths. You don’t need to apologize for the supposedly impractical classes you took in college or the so-called soft skills you have acquired. The job market is quietly creating thousands of openings a week for people who can bring a humanist’s grace to our rapidly evolving high-tech future.” If you choose a major in the College of Humanities, you will be needed. Your skills will be invaluable to any workplace you aspire to be in.
With your personal definition of success and the knowledge that a major in the College of Humanities is not abstract and will provide you with applicable skills you can use in any career you want, I challenge you to look past your doubts about majoring in the Humanities. Instead, chase after your desired major with all the energy you can muster. And if you do happen to fail along the way, remember these words from Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Be courageous. Be yourself. Nothing will be able to stop you.
Highland Park, IL