Please allow me to start this column by acknowledging that there is a possibility I will someday eat the words you are about to read.
It will probably happen after I graduate this spring and realize how ill-prepared I am for the real world. But let me tell you this story of naïveté first. My dad went to the University of Nevada, Reno back in the 1970s.
Young, naïve and full of creative ambition, he decided to focus his college career on honing his skills as a drummer and chose to be a music major.
Before the last semester of his senior year, though, was making plenty of money playing with various bands, it seemed that a degree in music wasn’t necessary to pursue a career in music.
Then my brother was born, and it seemed that his lifestyle of “working” until 6 a.m. wasn’t conducive to having a family. After several years of life as a professional musician, he went back to UNR and pursued a degree in finance.
Now he’s a successful financial planner who is also a member of a yacht club, owns a condo with a view of San Francisco Bay and the city skyline, and he has developed a complex palate for wine.
More importantly, he’s happy. He developed a mindset sometime during that college hiatus that was more about how he could live most comfortably, which is intrinsically linked to money in this country.
His hard-working and material-focused baby boomer lingering romanticism for the Summer of Love. However, my dad also raised two children who want to be artists — I’m studying writing and my brother went to film school.
He raised us to believe that we can do anything if we work hard and put our minds to it, even something creative. In spite of that, our generation is also struggling with massive student debt, unpaid internships and few job opportunities for which we are apparently only ever over or under qualified.
It’s no wonder then, why it seems so many students choose a major — or are encouraged by their parents to choose one — that is most likely to get them a job out of a college.
When you’re raised during a time when the bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma, it’s hard not to. College is now, more than vocational, and as a place that will lead to more job opportunities.
Certainly, this is true for some degrees, specifically anything in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. And I must say, for every philosophy major I meet who “just smokes a lot of weed,” I meet an engineering major who is “going to make so much money for the rest of [their] lives.” I’m not saying that every engineering major is a money-hungry android; I’m just saying I’ve never met one who isn’t.
So, what of those liberal arts and humanities degrees? I can’t count how many times I’ve had to answer the question “Well, what are you going to do with that?” when I tell people I’m an English major.
And the thing is, I feel like it’s one of the more practical — but also fulfilling — degrees in the humanities. To be honest, I didn’t choose I thought it would increase my likelihood of getting a job after college.
Not that I’m undermining the advice I’ve gotten from professors who told me that English is so broadly applicable in the real world, but that’s not why I chose to study it. (This is especially true after I met someone over the weekend who studied English and disagrees with the broadness of said applicability. Let’s face it: I’m not going to be able to apply all my thoughts on moral fiction to every job I’ll have.)
I chose to do it when I took a certain creative writing workshop about a year ago. My professor said to the class one day, “This could be the last time that your life really matters in any work that you do.”
Or something like that. Her point was that, after college, it’s incredibly difficult to be a successful artist who creates work that people care like my dad and succumb to the clutches of capitalism by choosing to be, I don’t know, a manager of a grocery store instead of a writer. (No offense to all the managers out there. You guys are doing great!)
I chose to use college as a time when I get to study what I’m passionate about instead of preparation for a lucrative career that I might not enjoy. If you happen to get off on engineering or quantitative finance or marketing, even better.
But for all you liberal arts majors out there, don’t let the thought of never making it as an artist or philosopher or writer get you down. You can still be a realist about your future and be a romantic about your education. It just depends on how you look at it.
Stephanie Self studies English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.