With more college students choosing majors based on success in the job market, so-called “meaningless majors” still carry weight for some students.
Students on the verge of graduating often panic over the inability to support themselves if they can’t find jobs in relation to their majors. Suddenly, majoring in philosophy or American studies seems like it was a mistake because the program didn’t teach specific job-worthy skills.
A recent New York Times article reported a 2009 University of California, Los Angeles survey found 78 percent of freshmen said wealth was essential when choosing a major, while 48 percent preferred studying a subject of personal interest. In 1971, those results were practically reversed.
While being financially stable is a valid concern, one shouldn’t major in business or marketing if his or her true passion lies in studying literature or history.
The majors people often consider “meaningless” – philosophy, women’s studies and history are among those at Temple – are just as capable of making students marketable for jobs.
History at the college level is nothing like the dull task of remembering names and dates in high school history classes. According to the Princeton Review, history teaches you “how to distinguish patterns in information. What [history majors] really study is change: why change occurs at particular times in particular places, why others stay the same and how individuals and groups deal with change.”
Senior history and Russian major Brad Horst said he believes this function of the major is important because “everything that happened in the past shapes the present, and to try and downplay the need for the study of history is asinine.”
“Flexibility with a history degree is one of the things that drew me into the major,” he added. “If you major in accounting, you’re going to be an accountant. If you major in history, your future possibilities are endless.”
While Horst said he wants to become a teacher or professor so he can teach and conduct research, he said that with a history degree, students have career options in politics, writing, nonprofit work, teaching, real estate, government and libraries and museums.
Senior Alec Smith is a philosophy major, and he couldn’t be happier about it, he said.
“For me, an undergraduate degree in philosophy is ideal because it nurtures a self with a certain depth that one could theoretically obtain without college-level education,” he said.
Philosophy, derived from the Greek words for “love of wisdom,” is such an abstract concept that there are many answers to the question, “What is philosophy?” Philosophy majors study the world systematically in an attempt to figure out how everything fits together. It encompasses all sorts of fields – religion, economics, art, mathematics, biology and literature – questioning how each is related to others in a worldview.
A philosophy major can put a student on multiple career paths or fields: teaching, religion, social or community service, work in the government, law, business or writing.
But too often, a student’s ability to secure jobs with a philosophy degree is questioned.
“Asking a point to a major is further entrenching us in an attitude that blunts the effect higher learning can have on exceptional individuals hoping to gain more than a well-worn path,” said Smith, who plans on pursuing law or education.
“Having a source of income is vital, of course, but this attitude toward universities can only put pressure on departments that only make them less effective [and] detrimental to the student.”
If philosophy were pointless, it wouldn’t point in the direction of so many different career opportunities.
“Women’s studies is about understanding that the personal is political, how your personal life is affected by the intersection of race, class and gender, and how these social structures are created,” junior Tessa Corcoran-Sayers said.
Corcoran-Sayers said her major offers a social justice perspective on issues she cares about, such as issues that affect at-risk youth, a population Corcoran-Sayers would like to work with as a teacher or a nonprofit, social justice worker at a setting like the Attic Youth Center, a center for LGBTQ youth in the Philadelphia region.
Women’s studies, sometimes called gender studies at other colleges and universities, examines the three important social structures Corcoran-Sayers mentioned – race, class and gender – but also examines topics such as politics, poverty, media portrayal, violence and sexuality as they relate to gender. The major is good for those who care about social justice and want to delve into social issues to get a better understanding.
In addition to education and social justice activist work, the degree can be a good step toward jobs in business, health, therapy, social work, writing, law and politics.
“Liberal arts doesn’t set you up for a career,” Corcoran-Sayers said. “It sets you up for a mode of radical thinking that will help you [throughout your life].”
Students shouldn’t stress so much about their majors. Students who want to be writers, lawyers or teachers can major in history, English, women’s studies or whatever major suits them.
Liberal arts can take you many directions. The only way to secure a job and be marketable is to do something with the degree you earn. Worry more about internships and work experience and less about being a university-sanctioned business major.
Joshua Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.