Stop Hating On Liberal Arts Majors

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As a senior in college, I’m scared to graduate. I’m terrified of turning my tassel because it’ll mean I’m leaving a world of overly caffeinated morning classes, Greek life costume parties and, apparently, the opportunity to play competitive Quidditch. And like most of my generation, I might possibly find myself (not) contributing to the nation’s economy by suddenly joining the unemployment rate.

If that were to happen, then I would take responsibility for it. I would acknowledge that it was my fault for wanting to be at the top of the beer pong tournament bracket instead of at the head of my class curve, and for being too anxious/lazy/[insert excuse here] to apply for graduate school programs. My socioeconomic failure would not be simply boiled down to the fact that I didn’t major in some form of engineering.

But Dori Jones Yang over at The Huffington Post disagrees. According to her, studying anything that does not directly lead to a future career in technology will “speed up our own decline as a society.” These supposedly impractical majors include literature, theater, art, politics, creative writing, psychology, English—fields of study that Yang categorizes as “all the fun stuff.” Apparently, we liberal arts kids live in a “dream world” that is lit by Hollywood stars and concert spotlights, and we inevitably aspire for contentment after graduation on Mom and Dad’s couch. We drop our calculus classes when they start to get difficult because we don’t like a challenge. Because we can’t handle it.

Well, Yang, I’m not sure what the history program was like at Princeton in your day, but the typical college environment has evolved just a little bit over the past few decades. With more high school graduates and less funding for education (from both state governments and anyone’s personal paycheck) than ever before, grabbing a seat at a university is a rat race in itself. Yet even then, undergraduate degrees in any field can no longer score a job alone these days and must be perfectly paired with impressive work experience, noted networking skills and, majority of the time, a second degree—psychologists and engineers alike!

But let’s imagine—no, dream—that every impressionable set of eyes that scans through Yang’s article then makes the personal commitment to convince their (future) kids to join the already cut-throat field of technology. The mathematical probability of finding a job, let alone a high-paying job like that of Yang’s daughter, will most likely drop due to higher amount of prospective candidates for a certain amount of jobs; though students may be educated “to innovate in a high-tech world,” it’s somewhat difficult to statistically stimulate the economy while still finding themselves unemployed. But it’s not as if they’d even reach college in this new dream world anyway, since there’d be such a shortage of teachers, novelists, artists, musicians, and journalists that the elementary school system wouldn’t be able to provide enough primary lesson plans or extracurricular activities to churn out well-rounded students fit for any kind of secondary education. No ecosystem works if every member aims to serve the same function—didn’t we all learn that back in biology class?

Honestly, explaining our non-engineering major is hard enough to just our friends and family—more like to family friends and snobby strangers—but the last thing we supposedly useless liberal arts majors need is someone hiding behind their computer screen to shout that our hard work, creativity and tuition dollars are of no value in this new world. Especially when such a person majored in history and turned out just fine. Come on!

To my fellow non-technical majors: when digesting the wise words of TIME Magazine’s Fareed Zakaria on restoring the American dream economy and employment rate, realize that you too play an important role in our nation’s society. David Letterman makes us laugh with a degree in radio & TV broadcasting, and James Cameron makes us cry after majoring in English. President Ronald Reagan studied sociology, President John F. Kennedy majored in history and President Barack Obama graduated with a degree in political science. These job titles may not be spearheading the forefront of technology, but the paychecks they provide still need to be written out to somebody. And it’s okay if your career path doesn’t perfectly align with what’s printed on a diploma—Steve Wynn has redesigned the Las Vegas skyline with dancing fountains and explosive volcanoes since studying English in college. Besides, who is to say that a few engineers won’t have a career change somewhere down the line as well? Oh, so you didn’t actually dream of working toward that retirement plan in a technical field?

With academic achievement, industry experience and the often undervalued yet extremely necessary attribute that is social skills, you will forge forward on your own path, no matter what your major is. However, if you find yourself having to move back home and work at a restaurant for a while, or leave everything behind and travel passionately around the world, keep your head up high. Because I’m sure those successful types like Yang don’t criticize anyone’s professional choices while being served delicious dinners at their favorite Seattle eateries.

Continue to work hard. Drink that Red Bull and study for one more hour, keep sending out resumés like it’s candy on Halloween, and push past that first awkward conversation with the professor who will end up writing your strongest letter of recommendation. Just don’t forget to relax every once in a while on that rough, lonely, yellow brick road towards your commendable dreams.

And for the record, I passed calculus. With flying colors.

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