A new report based on two years of census data from Georgetown University entitled College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal (PDF) offers depressing news for any undergraduate majoring in anything in the humanities — for any college student whose major is not in a pre-professional area, such as business or nursing or computer science. Anthropology, Fine Arts, Journalism, History: These majors are among the “most useless.”
Indeed, The Daily Beast has drawn on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a list of “13 more useless majors,” as determined by recent graduate employment, experienced graduate employment, recent graduate earnings, experienced graduate earnings and projected growth in total number of jobs, 2010–2020.
At a time when student loan debt exceeds $1 trillion and when the job market is just not too rosy, the message seems clear and simple. Forget about those artistic inclinations or any thought of “studying for the sake of studying”: major in such and you can look forward to being a fast-food clerk or chain retail store minion upon graduation. A recent Associated Press analysis indeed found that half of college graduates are underemployed in such jobs or are not employed at all. Those who do have jobs have majored in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math).
As a college professor who advises students about graduate school and post-college plans, the Georgetown study has been on my mind all week. I teach ancient Greek and Latin languages and culture, subjects quite divorced from practical applications or careers. Most of the students at my school are the first in their families to attend college and must think practically about their education so very few can focus on Classics. Students (very few) major or minor (a few more) in Classics because they want to learn about the ancient world and because they like ancient Greek and/or Latin.
That said, I think we too often don’t see the forest for the trees and assume that only practical, pre-professional majors can teach practical, pre-professional skills. There are some kinds of experiences that some majors can provide; an education major enables one to complete certain courses in pedagogy and to get field experience. What follows are some observations about why “useless” college majors may not lead directly to a job in a certain area of expertise, but are more useful than meets the eye.
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