“Worthless” majors do have worth

As a journalism major, I’ve learned to anticipate the predictable reaction I get when I tell people what I’m studying.

From adults, I can expect a pitiful look followed by words of discouragement. They’ll say, “But you’re so smart,” or “Is that practical?” From my more cynical peers, I’ll usually hear some joke about my degree’s worthlessness.

Those pursuing history degrees know what I’m talking about. Political science majors, too. Psychology, English, art, communications and geography — the list goes on.

They’ve all become educational taboos, which can be found atop many most worthless majors lists. These lists usually use unemployment rates, earnings and field growth to determine worth: The most worthless majors are categorized by high unemployment and low earnings.

I know what you’re thinking: No one takes those degrees seriously because they’re easy to obtain. They don’t prepare students for careers after graduation, especially not ones that pay well.

Everyone thinks we just take a few 100-level math and science courses, and then we spend the rest of our academic years taking easy classes that only require us to read books and write papers. And apparently, our minimal workloads leave us plenty of time to party, while we’re still able to skid by with acceptable GPAs.

People think we chose these majors because we’re not smart enough to handle the intricacies of more technological studies. Or maybe that we’re lazy and want to boast an impressive GPA.

Sure, the information aerospace engineering majors are expected to know is probably more difficult than the material political science or English majors have to learn, but everyone has their strengths.

What’s simple to one person may be difficult to another. Understanding the science behind rocket propulsion is important, but so is creating policy and writing coherently. Regulations for those rockets have to be created by someone. They have to be articulated clearly, too.

And I’ll give you that I have to do less studying. I don’t have to memorize anything about amino acid metabolism, but that doesn’t mean my assignments aren’t time consuming. Weekly, I’m expected to read hundreds of pages and write thousands of words.

I can even admit that liberal arts majors are more likely to be unemployed.

Earlier this year, a study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce revealed the unemployment rates of recent college graduates aged 22 through 26, showing that psychology and social work graduates have an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent, while those qualified in non-technical majors have a rate of 9.8 percent. Engineers weighed in with an unemployment rate of 7.0 percent, while those with health and science degrees at an even lower 4.8 percent.

I’m no math major, but I realize the implications of these numbers. Because the unemployment rate for my major is higher than others, finding a job will be more difficult than it would be if my degree was in nursing or computer science. Regardless, I don’t think finding a job will be impossible.

But what I do disagree with is that students pursue liberal arts majors simply because the classes are easy or that they lack the intelligence necessary to pursue anything else. That might be true in the cases of a few students, but it’s not universal.

We’re just as capable of being successful as those studying anything else.

President Obama and Anderson Cooper majored in political science. Peter Thiel studied philosophy and became the co-founder and CEO of PayPal. Robin Roberts studied communications before working for ABC.

Similarly, liberal arts majors aren’t doomed to make menial salaries. On average, according to Forbes Magazine, those with liberal arts degrees usually have salaries that meet or succeed the national median. And a recent PayScale Inc. study found that history and business majors both working as business consultants make comparable earnings.

But I didn’t choose to major in journalism because I care about money or because I’m bad at math or science. I chose it because I enjoy it and I’m good at it. For me and other liberal arts majors, I think that’s enough reason.

We might not make hundreds of thousands of dollars or have as great job security, but liberal arts majors are the future teachers, journalists, social workers, psychologists, researchers, historians and librarians of the world. 

We’re the next generation of public servants, and we have worth.

Bailey is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]