For some reason, people like to create lists. Whether it is the Top 10 celebrities of the year, the 50 worst foods to eat or the Top 20 most worthless majors, people find comfort in having a numbered directory to guide them in their every day judgments. But the truth is, these lists are ultimately meaningless and often times end up impairing our life decisions rather than aiding us in making them.
Terence Loose of Yahoo! recently posted a list of “useless” college majors, including agriculture, fashion design, theater, animal science and horticulture. Using statistics including projected change in number of jobs and total number of people in that occupation, Loose made the argument that those pursuing these majors were unlikely to land a job after college.
And Yahoo! isn’t alone. In 2011, the Daily Beast posted its own list of 20 college majors to avoid using estimated median starting salaries as indicators that majors including journalism and advertising should be avoided at all costs.
Now, it might just be me, but I’m pretty sure if we weeded out all of the psychology or human resource majors (both made the list), we would have some serious discrepancies in the job market. And on top of that, if students are solely choosing majors in hopes of a lucrative salary, we would find a lot of disengaged doctors and aloof engineers, which is a scary thought in itself.
Dr. Ruth Ost, director of the honors program, who majored in English, said that there are no useless majors or majors that are better than others. Money, she said, shouldn’t be a factor, but instead students should focus on what they’re truly passionate about.
“If you are in a major you love, you’re going to do well,” Ost said. “You’re going to flourish. You’ll get good grades. You’ll have good recommendations for whatever you’re going to do next and that is the key to this whole thing.”
Ost said she has seen plenty of students choose a major they weren’t fanatical about, leading them to unhappiness and poor performance in their required classes.
“If you major in something you don’t love, then you have to welcome the possibility of doing something you don’t want to do,” she said.
With a less than promising job market and a glum economy, it makes sense why students would stray away from majors that top these daunting lists. But what they’re forgetting is that without passion, it becomes increasingly hard to strive in their studies. Plus, what can you look forward to when your degree will be in something you hate?
“The trick is to get yourself in a major that you really actually love,” Ost said. “Where you think ‘this is really interesting,’ and it makes your life fascinating.”
With my major topping the Daily Beast’s “20 Most Useless Degrees” list, I certainly can emphasize with the fear of other students. Before deciding to choose journalism as my major, I was enrolled as a business major. But then I had a long conversation with my mom, who reminded me that I would always regret not chasing my dreams or at least giving myself a fair chance in pursuing them.
I’m not delusional. I realize that the odds of becoming an editor for a national magazine are small. But I also know my major isn’t useless. I’ve acquired writing skills needed in almost every profession, and sometimes knowing how to use your skills creatively and go for jobs you normally wouldn’t think of is more important than the major listed on your degree.
“There’s no such thing as an ignominious job if it’s a job you care about and you do well and you respect the people that are in that job,” Ost said. “There’s no straight career path.”
So before you jump into pre-med when your heart really lies with English and anthropology, picture your life in 10 years. Do you really want to be a jaded pediatrician? Or would you rather have put these worthless lists to shame and created your own dream job? With two semesters left until I earn my B.A. in journalism, I’m pretty happy that I chose the latter.
Cary Carr can be reached at c