Banerjee: Why I’m happy with my useless majors

Impracticality matters much less than you’d think when the alternative is a practical field of study that’ll lead to lackluster and underwhelming performances and interests.

Anna Banerjee, Opinion Columnist

I have a useless major — two of them if you ask some people. As a cinema and political-science major, with a creative-writing interest, I feel as if I’ve heard every disparaging remark concerning the plausibility of my future. From parents to fellow students to concerned passersby, it seems as though everyone has an opinion on liberal-arts majors.

The argument against so-called useless humanities majors is based on a mixture of misinformation and misplaced elitism. For one, it requires an actual understanding of the term “useless” and what exactly someone means by it. Are my majors useless if I plan to pursue a lab-based job in which applicants need to have an intimate knowledge of higher-level calculus? Absolutely. But, in no way do I plan on pursuing said jobs. It wouldn’t be “practical” — a word many have taunted humanities majors with — to study something that wouldn’t apply to what I wish to do in the first place.

Before the idea of practicality was established as the baseline goal, the studies of classics, law, and philosophy were the foundation of higher education. Now, the commonly held assumption is that the purpose of higher education is almost singularly to find a job. In turn, the job of college-bound students is to choose the most appropriate major in order to secure the bag, rather than looking for subjects that will fulfill them and lead to genuine passionate involvement. These practical majors lead to a sense of superiority among some as if devoting time to a subject they’re only somewhat interested in is better.

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Thankfully, some wayward University of Iowa undergraduates failed to get the memo that liberal-arts degrees are entirely useless to their future prospects

This job-focused mentality isn’t entirely useless to consider. It would be inane to ignore the real necessity of finding manners of providing for oneself in the future, outside the relative protection that even the university life provides most students. So, yes, your ability to secure a job post-university matters very much. But, thankfully, the dead-end humanities path is not as hopeless as your extended family would like to persuade you it is.

An American Academy of Arts & Science study from earlier this year reported that, while humanities graduates, granted, earn less on average than their peers in the sciences, they are both employed and earning. In fact, almost 87 percent of those who graduated with an undergraduate humanities degree reported job satisfaction.

While humanities majors are more likely to be in jobs without a direct link to their choice of major, their ability to solve problems, extrapolate information, and communicate their thoughts can be attributed to subjects highly linked to these core skills in business, politics, and other related fields. Humanities majors are not a dead end, or even close to a roadblock. The purpose of these majors is, in part, to create a holistic educational experience that makes students better prepared for a host of different jobs. In larger fields, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and politicians have come with degrees in all types of liberal-arts studies, including philosophy, English, and history.

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Success can be quantified at an infinite number of levels. Whether you’re looking for major business CEO and CFO positions, wishing to take on a role as a professor, or searching for something entirely different, success is not a metric that can be determined by your major, your career path, or your interests. You don’t need a study proving that humanities majors don’t end up in a hopeless, jobless future to validate your choices.

Humanities majors are a crucial part of developing a sense of global empathy and intellectualism that the world seems to desperately need — now more than ever. Yes, I have two useless majors and no, I will not change them to more practical options.