Unique majors beneficial
Posted February 21, 2010 at 3:51 pm in Opinion
While studying the fall of ancient civilizations in my environmental studies class we learned that in times of collapse, people with specialized jobs are the first to go because they are poorly equipped to fend for themselves when systems theyâ€™ve learned to rely on fail.
We might not live in ancient civilizations anymore, but economic turmoil and political strife are leading many to play it safe and prepare for the worst. We deliberate over the best possible paths to future security and, with college lasting only four expensive years, our choice of studies canâ€™t be made flippantly.
Is majoring in something specialized too big a risk in these weak economic times? Can we trust traditional majors to sustain us or should we consider those less traditional?
It seems interdisciplinary studies could be the defense against specialization. A degree in interdisciplinary studies is a relatively new concept that has only recently begun to grow; the number of interdisciplinary bachelorâ€™s degrees awarded was only about 6,000 in 1971 compared to 34,000 in 2007, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
While those numbers seem miniscule compared to the highest degree-awarding majors â€” business administration (327,000), social sciences (164,000) and education (105,000) â€” the increase is pretty impressive.
Although interdisciplinary studies allow students to pursue multiple complex fields of academia, most universities are just now beginning to incorporate the system. Many students would prefer to declare a well-established major they might only have a lukewarm interest in for job security reasons, rather than risk pursuing something unique theyâ€™re truly interested in that doesnâ€™t have the same credibility.
However, playing it safe and falling back on traditional options isnâ€™t always the best decision. Interdisciplinary majors offer the opportunity to study something that piques your interest and becomes a compelling conversation starter that shows off how unique you are (hint: job interviews).
Non-traditional majors at USC like narrative studies; philosophy, politics and law; and health and humanity are authorized across multiple departments, while the make-your-own-major Interdisciplinary Studies option exists â€śfor students with a focused interest in a topic which requires study from more than one disciplinary perspective.â€ť These kinds of majors are burgeoning projects in academia, and it isnâ€™t quite certain what futures these degrees hold.
Richard Fliegel, director of Interdisciplinary Studies at USC, is optimistic about the expansive possibilities of interdisciplinary majors. Fliegel asserts that interdisciplinary students are often the most motivated and competitive students, and their focused, original studies often distinguish them from other candidates for jobs and graduate programs.
Rebuffing the idea that pursuing a non-traditional major could be risky in these economic times, Fliegel said, â€śIn times of uncertainty, there are no sure bets … [One that is] safest is choosing something [students] love and excel at.â€ť
Itâ€™s a challenging task to take part in fledgling courses, but the Interdisciplinary Studies program has the possibility of bringing about entire departments, similar to the Â way the American Studies and Ethnicity department began at USC.
Above all, Fliegel emphasizes that â€śinterdisciplinary studies are a demonstration of intellectual flexibility,â€ť which he argues is a crucial aspect in surviving after graduation.
Rachel Horn, a sophomore majoring in narrative studies, said she loves the direction of her major. Fearing the decline of the publishing industry she originally wanted to work in, Horn said the narrative studies major prepares her for new industries invested in storytelling and puts her at the forefront of innovative developments of story-related markets.
â€śI feel like I have an interesting title that employers will be interested in hearing about,â€ť Horn said.
It would be a wonderful world if we could study whatever we wanted with full economic support. CNN recently did a report on some of the most unusual degree programs, ranging from a masterâ€™s program in the music of The Beatles at Liverpool Hope University to a masterâ€™s in fine arts program in puppet arts at the University of Connecticut.
Imagine telling your parents, â€śMom, Dad, Iâ€™ve found my lifeâ€™s calling, and itâ€™s in puppetry.â€ť If it werenâ€™t for the need to have a career that can keep a roof over our heads, many of us might pursue Ph.D.s in such unconventional fields.
Choosing a major, like any decision in life, has its risks no matter what major students choose.
Selecting studies outside the norm could result in something personally meaningful, but todayâ€™s economic climate means more work to make potential employers aware of what new skills unorthodox studies can equip students with.
Although a degree in something like puppetry might not create job security, choosing something non-
traditional that demonstrates a capacity to be passionate just might be that secret weapon to the dogfight that is job searching. College is one of the best times for exploring different fields and some risks are worth taking to find studies that suit us just right.
Victor Luo is a junior majoring in English.