Oh, the humanities: How much does your major, or school choice, really matter?
"Plato's Symposium," by Anselm Feuerbach, 1873
Humanities degrees are black holes where unsuspecting students trade in their parents' hard-earned money for some useless knowledge on how to contextualize the writings of Gabriel García Márquez.
Or at least, that seems to be the pervasive message out there for incoming college students looking to choose a major. But according to a report by Brigham Young University, those who choose to major in philosophy or comparative literature have more diverse career options than one might expect.
“According to our data, a significant number of humanities graduates are hired in business, communications, technology and fields other than 'conventional' careers for humanities graduates such as teaching or law,” the overview of the study says.
The study, which shows the results of numerous surveys conducted between 2001 and 2012, finds that humanities major graduates are not as pigeonholed as the perception lets out, and “for English majors alone, education/research makes up only about 25 percent of careers.” The study then goes on to say “the percentages are even lower for other majors.”
Not only is the major one chooses not necessarily indicative of a specific job track, but new research suggests that “prestigious” colleges aren’t all their cracked up to be either.
“When you ask college graduates whether they're ‘engaged’ with their work or ‘thriving’ in all aspects of their lives, their responses don't vary one bit whether they went to a prestigious college or not,” NPR’s Anya Kamenetz wrote on May 6, citing a new Gallup poll study that explores perceptions of education in America.
“No opinion poll can fully capture the impact — or allure — of attending a world-famous institution,” Kamenetz wrote. “But this isn't the first time studies have documented no edge for highly selective schools.”
Happiness and prosperity, it seems, tend to have less to do with the perfect major and the perfect college, and more to do with why one seeks learning in the first place, according to The American Conservative’s Gracy Olmstead.
“The pursuit of meaning and knowledge — the desire for 'experiential and deep learning,' as the Gallup survey put it: these motivations used to be primary passions for college students,” Olmstead wrote in response to the Gallup study. “It was an adventure, not merely a pathway to prosperity.”
But prosperous it remains.
Beyond the debates over which majors or colleges are best to pursue and how to achieve maximal satisfaction in higher education, studies continue to show that college is still worth the money.
In fact, as Quartz reports, it’s worth about $831,000 in the long run.