When Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and TBS, adopted classics as a major, his father wrote to him, “I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on the way home today.”
Some of us in the humanities faced a similar struggle when we announced to our parents that we would spend four years and approximately 60 to 100 grand on a ‘soft’ college major. When I announced my decision to pick up literary journalism and philosophy instead of economics, even my unconventionally supportive Pakistani parents choked on their chicken tikka before regaining composure.
Now, as my four years come to a close, it is time to confront my parents once again. This time the topic of discussion is my post-graduate plan. The way I see it, as a humanities major, I have three options in front of me: apply to some type of professional school (an MBA or JD most logically), apply to graduate school for a masters or PhD in a humanities subject, or get a job. Coming to college, I never thought I would choose the last option. After all, what kind of jobs can you do as a philosophy major? But that is the path I have chosen, and I want to walk through how I arrived at my decision, so that I might shed some light for those at a similar crossroads.
Why did I decide against professional school? When I came to UC Irvine, I intended on attending law school right after earning my bachelor’s degree. Steadily, my plan evolved. I realized I like getting my hands dirty. I am deeply interested in organizational behavior and creative entrepreneurship, and ideas like working for start-ups. Writing and traveling appeal to me far more than sitting in a classroom and analyzing the legal framework of our nation.
Initially, I considered taking a gap year or two, getting the “real world” experience I wanted, and then applying to professional school. But after some cost-benefit analysis, it became clear that professional school, at least law school or medical school in the near future, was not an option for me.
I thought to attend law school, I would be making not only a monetary investment, but I would also be investing three years of my time. I could not see myself as an attorney or in academia after receiving a graduate degree. To invest three years of my time and to take out as much as $300,000 in loans for a legal education I would not actively use did not make sense.
Sure, a legal education provided a foundation for any field. Specifically as a journalist, it would provide a shoe-in as a legal analyst and would set me apart from other candidates. It would also, however, prevent me from earning a living for three years and from gaining valuable experience in writing, interning and creating contacts in the field.
Why did I reject the idea of graduate school? At the very beginning of this year, for over a week, I researched graduate schools in journalism, in philosophy and in psychology. I thought about studying creative writing at the graduate level just for fun. How could it possibly hurt to spend more time in school studying what I love?
Turns out, it does hurt, especially those without any intention of going into academia. Earning a graduate degree would not only place me in more debt and prevent me from using my earning potential, but it would also put me at a disadvantage in the job market in comparison to those without graduate degrees.
For those considering going to graduate school and then pursuing the tenure-track, the degree is certainly more relevant, but it is worth considering that you are entering a pool of highly qualified applicants all vying for highly competitive and steadily diminishing jobs in academia.
If you are at the top of the pack or have deep connections in your chosen field, by all means, go to graduate school. But if you are unsure of how more schooling will benefit you, think twice.
Getting a Job:
For humanities majors, this can be the most uncertain option. We generally have the ability to write well, think critically and solve abstract problems. Unfortunately, however, we often lack hard skills or knowledge within the technical field.
The assumption that a humanities degree, with no outside experience and no additional, current or relevant skills, will not get you a job in this economy is foolish.
Beefing up the resume with computer programming, social media knowledge, experience at start-ups, published material and other applicable skills, however, sets the humanities major apart from the traditional applicant with only expertise in a particular field.
So, if you think you want to hack it out in the job market and get creative with your ‘soft’ degree, do not be afraid. There are options viable options, for you! And, if all else fails, at least you come out of it a well-read thinker and a great conversationalist.