The value of a degree in the humanities



“What are you going to do with an English major?”

“English major? I haven’t heard that one in a while.”

“Wow, an English major. That’s a bold choice.”

Any student who is “bold” enough to choose to major in the English language knows the trials and tribulations that these quotes encapsulate. These are the struggles that constantly plague humanities majors, while classmates boast about their future jobs lined up at the accounting office, or how far they know their engineering major will take them in life.

After browsing classes for next semester such as “English Literature Since 1800,” “Writing Narrative and Romanticism in Literature and Language,” I curiously flipped to courses like chemistry, forensics and macroeconomics, debating if those might somehow serve me better in the long run.

The humanities have always been regarded as the “lesser” subjects to some extent, battling in a duel against physics, biochemistry and calculus for the title of most successful career path.

People always see students taking STEM courses walking away with the gold medals around their necks, striding toward their large offices and five-figure salaries, leaving us humanity folks waiting tables at the 24-hour diner, writing screenplays in our spare time.

With the economy more competitive than ever before (yes, even as an English major I am still aware of our country’s current economic status), the need to “get a good job” right out of college has become dire, leading so many students sprinting toward more focused areas like business and engineering.  

English and other arts and sciences majors are often viewed as humanities hippies who can’t tell a polynomial from a Pythagorean function. So many people have the preconceived notion that all you have to do to pass an English course is bullsh*t your way through the words.

But an English major is about close reading, analysis and communication. There is no bullsh*tting involved, my friend.

In my first semester at USC, in course for my English major I have learned more about the world and the human condition than I could ever imagine. I have learned about the alienation in a modernist world from T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” I have learned the suppression of the female voice through texts like “Trifles” and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I have learned the inherent racism ingrained in this country and the unheard voices of a working class through a text like “Christ In Concrete.”

You may be thinking, “That’s all fine and dandy, but what are you going to do what that in the real world? Where is reading poems and writing prose going to take you?” Reading a wide variety of texts has given me a solid grip on the past, an intention to focus on the present and a keen eye towards what the future may hold.

A major in biology may be useful if you want to be a doctor, and business and accounting may make you the big bucks, but the value of communication in this world is irreplaceable. If you’re a businessman who doesn’t know how to communicate with your future enterprise, you just lost a big deal. If you’re a lawyer who doesn’t know how to write a good brief, you’re out of a job.

So for the countless number of random relatives, old teachers and family friends who may be out to criticize your humanities degree, know that we have the power of words on our side. And words have the ability to shape and transform anything within reach. Plus, when are you ever going to need to know the names of the microcells in a plant leaf, or the area, perimeter and volume of a can of soup?

This post has been revised. 

1 reply
  1. b juardo
    b juardo says:

    “People always see students taking STEM courses walking away with the gold medals around their necks, striding toward their large offices and five-figure salaries, leaving us humanity folks with a cushy job at the local Starbucks, writing screenplays in our spare time.”
    -not true. Most STEM students struggle academically. The average engineering GPA is like 2.6 from what I remember. Bad GPA = lesser chance of landing intern or job at some blue chip tech firm; but good GPA isn’t a guarantee either. Not everyone who declares bio-chem (pre med) as a major makes it to med school. It’s not as rosy as you think.

    Succinctly put, STEM and non-STEM majors are screwed in this job market, for the most part. Don’t forget that a lot of tech firms EXPLOIT H1B visa holders, and business/accounting is overly saturated (too few positions for myriad applicants).

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