“Are you really paying all that tuition to get a degree in that?”
“So, you’re basically just majoring in reading?”
“I can do that without a degree!”
“You’re never going to make any money.”
These are just some common reactions you’re likely to receive from your family and friends whenever the topic of college majors comes up. Welcome to humanities! Buckle in because you’re about to spend four years justifying your interests to a lot of people. Luckily for you and me, all of the above are simple misconceptions from people who have little understanding of what “humanities” even entails.
In recent years, we have witnessed a huge push toward the STEM fields. With fast-paced innovations in the tech industry, many people have become convinced that the only way to earn a good living is to study engineering, business, or computer science. Many high school counselors perpetuate that idea by directing high-achieving students toward STEM subjects.
While all those disciplines are incredibly useful and important, and while STEM majors do earn more on average, you should by no means despair and give up on your passion for history, political science, or literature. From a fellow humanities major whose favorite comment about her major was “who cares about history, it’s just the past,” here are 4 reasons why majoring in humanities may just be the greatest idea you’ve ever had:
Humanities does not equal unemployment
Take history, for example. The American Community Survey (ACS) found that between 2010 and 2014, 4.6 percent of history majors aged 25 to 64 were unemployed, while the national unemployment average was 7.7 percent.
Yes, history majors may be underpaid when compared to median salaries across the U.S., but that is due to the types of jobs that they gravitate towards. Many history majors choose to work as secondary or high school educators, social workers, or public servants, all of which are essential careers that are simply undervalued in our society.
When comparing humanities and STEM fields in the long run, we actually find that the difference between the employment rates of STEM and non-STEM majors is insignificant. In 2012, it was approximately one percentage point. On top of that, U.S. universities are churning out more STEM graduates than there are jobs available in the STEM job market. In short, majoring in STEM does not guarantee you higher chances of landing a job.
What does? Going to college and getting any degree. The average unemployment rate for holders of bachelor’s degrees over 25 is currently 1.8 percent, while the unemployment rate for those with only a high school degree is 3.9 percent.
The bottom line is, if you want to guarantee your employability, go to college and major in whatever your heart desires. Choosing engineering over English, particularly if you’re a talented writer and a lousy mathematician, will not protect you from the volatility of the modern job market and will make you miserable in the process.
Flexibility, not a lack of direction
Just because many students studying humanities choose to pursue a low-paying but fulfilling career doesn’t mean you have to. Thanks to a wide range of transferable skills you will acquire in your studies, you will have a wider range of career options when graduating with a humanities degree.
To go back to history for a moment: although 18% of history majors do pursue careers in education and library sciences, 20% go on to work in business management and operations, 11% build a career in legal services, and 4% will find themselves working in the entertainment industry. And those are just a few examples of a variety of careers you can pursue.
One criticism of humanities that you often hear is that a humanities degree lacks direction. While engineering majors immediately choose a specific and very narrow path towards a specific subfield of engineering, humanities offer no set path.
However, that’s an advantage, not a crutch! The flexibility that a humanities degree provides allows you to alter your career trajectory at any point without worrying about whether your skills will apply in your new field. And it lets you explore various career paths without being boxed into a field from the age of 18!
“Soft” skills are essential skills
The kinds of skills you are taught as a humanities major–communication, critical thinking, and empathy–are often referred to as “soft” skills. That title implies an inferiority to the “hard” skills required to solve an equation, conduct a chemical experiment, or build an electrical grid. And yet those same “soft” skills enable you to interact with other people, function well on a team, or serve as a leader.
In a study examining Canada’s job market and offering an employment outlook for the 2020s, RBC Royal Bank pointed out two important trends:
- An increasing demand for critical thinking, social perceptiveness, active listening, and problem-solving skills;
- A growing value of global competencies, which include language skills, cultural awareness, and adaptability.
Rather than learning to memorize and regurgitate information, you will fare a lot better being able to work with and understand other people. Even Steve Jobs, the poster-child for technology and innovation, praised a marriage between technology and liberal arts as a crucial component of Apple’s DNA.
Yes, we can argue that learning historical facts has become obsolete in the age of Google. But as a student of humanities, it is not so much the content of a specific book or article that matters. It is your ability to gather information efficiently, analyze it for crucial trends, and construct an effective argument that is the end goal of a solid humanities education.
Robots are taking our (technical) jobs!
Last but not least, robots. President Trump may be worried about the manufacturing jobs that American companies are exporting overseas, but what we should really be worrying about is robots.
Mark Cuban, a big-time American investor and owner of NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, argued that the employment market will soon demand fewer hard skills, as they will be increasingly performed by computers. Many STEM jobs that are currently in high demand such as coding will soon become automated, leaving many computer science degree-holders seeking new careers.
Of course, STEM fields will not become obsolete, but employers will be looking to hire more individuals with–you guessed it–critical literacy and social awareness skills, skills that robots cannot replicate because they require a human touch. Majoring in humanities will help you develop emotional intelligence, tolerance for ambiguity, and empathy and give you a leg up on artificial intelligence (looking at you, Siri)!
So, don’t let anyone dissuade you from pursuing your passion, be it in English literature, political science, or psychology. With the constantly shifting job market and the rise of technological automation, the transferable, “soft” skills you’ll learn as a humanities major will open many doors for you. And if your aunt Susan still doesn’t seem convinced, consider showing her this article.
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