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Why do people choose (semi) useless majors in college?


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  • Added on: December 7th, 2005
Perhaps easy is the wrong word to use, because, Tracy, as you said, things that are perceived as easy depend on what you make them.

All majors can be as easy as you make them. And all can be difficult. I can no more solve a engineering problem than an engineer could write a 20 page paper on one thesis while trying to interpret 3 other 300+ page books. It's all perception, and I think everyone would do well to stop generalizing.


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  • Added on: December 7th, 2005
Wow, there are alot of people on this one.

I think you should study what you enjoy. I got a degree in accounting ,as sick as this sounds, I actually enjoy it. I also got a minor in British History (from a college that specializes in Native American studies, go figure) because I like that as well. I have many friends that got LA degrees so I think you should go after what you enjoy.

I didn't decide on accounting until my 3rd year of college. I think asking freshman what they want to major in is just asking for trouble.


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  • Added on: December 14th, 2005
I saw this article today, which I found really relevant to this discussion:

Interesting that some of the most powerful people majored in the likes of history, English, and communications. (of the people detailed, 5 were "useless" LA majors and 5 were business/engineering) Several folks are not college educated at all!

Just thought it was interesting.


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Holds PhD in Packing
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  • Added on: December 17th, 2005
You'll find a job in any profession only if you are doing very well. (Experience due to high unemployment in my country.)
You won't do very well in your profession if you don't love it.
So choose a profession you LOVE - whatever it is.

I got my Magister Artium (German university degree, which is similar to but not exactly the same as Master of Arts) and afterwards my Dr. phil. in art history. My father, who is a scientist, used to consider that subject just a nice hobby.Mad And I'm quite used to silly comments from other people.

If somebody asks me: "Oh my, are you able to earn your living..." etc., my usual answer is: "Don't I look like a person who has got enough to eat?" (I'm, in fact, a bit fat.)
Stupid answer for an annoying question.

Anyway, I'm making my living with the kind of work I'm best at, and I love what I'm doing. I've put up my own business, working as a freelancer for museums, exhibitions, churches and other cultural institutions. So far I'm getting along well and enjoying a lot of freedom. The money even lasted for a 4-week trip to Australia this year.
I'd never have become a good, successful lawyer or business manager, as I find law or economy horribly boring.

By the way, Dad has obviously learned to take me seriously in the meantime. He wouldn't tell ME, but I heard from my step-mother that he is boasting about his amazing, hard-working, successful daughter when talking to his mates... Cool


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  • Added on: January 20th, 2006
So I'm late to the party, but my majors are Philosophy, English, and Scandinavian Studies. I (lovingly) refer to it as the 'trifecta of uselessness.' This should give you some idea of my perspective on higher education.

I am majoring in things that I'm interested in and that make me happy. I have absolutely no concerns about being able to find a job, because you know what they say: a college degree is the new high school diploma; as many have already said, a lot of employers just want to know you have one. I also dream of a life working in academia.

I can't imagine studying something I'd find uninteresting for the sake of working in a field I find uninteresting. If I'm going to have a horrible job either way, I'd at least like to have a few years of enjoyable learning before serving my sentence.

One issue, I think, is that a lot of people just don't really have a passion for anything (at least, not anything a college or university offers), or that's my impression. My brother is a very intelligent guy, and I think content with his life, and is finishing up graduate school in a business field. It's not that he really likes business or is coldly pragmatic or anything, he was just never captured by any field that inspired him. I see a lot of these people at school–they're plenty smart, and it's not that they're so driven to make a bunch of money at a 9-5 job, they just never really found an alluring alternative. As someone who finds any esoteric field of knowledge irresistible, I don't really understand this.

Oh, and at least at my school, us liberal art kids talk a ton of shit about the business students... I think it's just a defensive thing in response to always getting stereotyped as lazy kids who just want to hang out, read Beowulf, smoke pot, and listen to String Cheese Incident (when, really, that's only 50% of us, tops). Hostility is probably natural, though, as we're seeing even here on BnA there is a divide in the people who see college as an opportunity to pursue something they love or that interests them, and those who see it as an opportunity to learn something they perceive as useful or valuable in the marketplace.

Okay, that's enough, this post already long enough to satisfy the English major in me...


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  • Added on: January 26th, 2006
I'm just going to jump in and add my 2 cents.

I got my B.A. in History and Studies of Women and Gender. I waited until the beginning of my junior year of college to declare my majors and took a lot of different classes before I made my decision. I ultimately decided on the two majors I did because I loved them. I was passionate and enthusiastic about both, I loved doing my reading and discussing the issues. My women's studies classes were in a variety of different fields (English, Religion, Psychology, Sociology, etc.) and I learned a lot about the world in general, not just a place I was likely to occupy in the world.

While I am now qualified to be a waitress, a nanny or a secretary, I wouldn't have it any other way. I loved what I studied and I think my classes made me more thoughtful, more analytical, more aware and more informed. Due to my history major, I feel like I know more about current events and the world, because I don't think it's possible to understand the present without fully understanding the past. I'm more likely to be discerning with regards to my news sources and understand the underlying issues behind world problems than I would have been had I studied business or computer science or something trade related. Those are the benefits for me.

As for the useless nature of my degree, I can't do much just with my degree and I am most likely going to have to go back to grad school. However contrary to feeling like I have really limited myself, I feel like I have every option in the world open to me. I am not boxed into anything, I can choose to do whatever I would like. I could go into politics, I could teach, I could go into non-profits, hell I could go into business if I wanted. I even have a cousin who was a history major who was recruited straight out of college to work on Wall Street, because they liked the writing skills of L.A. majors. For now, I'm happy travelling the world, putting my 90 wpm typing speed to work.

I didn't want college to be a trade school for me, I wanted it to be an education, which it was. Although I want a challenging and interesting career, so many people change careers in their lifetimes that I'm not in any rush and I didn't feel like I needed to dedicate my entire education to one career. But different strokes for different folks, as always.


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Holds PhD in Packing
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  • Added on: February 1st, 2006

Seriously, you can study (or not study) whatever the hell you want to in college, and in my experience and observations, it doesn't matter. At all. Most likely you'll end up doing something completely unrelated anyway.

I majored in Math and Computer Science and I'm working in film production, where I try to use as little math as possible. My fiance majored in Chinese and he's doing strategy for a channel, and hasn't spoken Chinese since.


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  • Added on: February 7th, 2006
Very interesting thread!

Why DO young people go to college/university?

Reasons I have heard from young people:
1. I'm expected to.
2. Dad/Mom went there.
3. I don't have anything better to do.
4. Party.
5. Boys.
6. Girls.
7. To be a doctor, lawyer, etc.

As someone in his midfifties, some questions I like to
ask a young person who is college bound are these:

Who was your best teacher? Why?
Who are your heroes?
How do you, how can you emulate them?
Do you wish to emulate them?
Where do you see yourself in 5, 15 and 25 years?

Are you happy?
Why or why not?

How have you served your community and country?
(Yes, I come from a generation where "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can for your country." is hardwired in my DNA).

Would you consider service to your country in the military or Peace Corps?

What are your passions (no, not sex!)?

The reason I like to ask these questions is to try to get a sense of where young folks' heads are. One of the reasons this interests me is that some of these young folks will be tomorrow's leaders and they may raise minimum age to obtain social security to 85! (hope not!).

Sadly, among many young people (not all, thankfully), is a sense of entitlement, of self-absorption. This comes, I believe, from the home where largess is practiced as a lifestyle, where "things come easy", where milk comes out of a jug (not a cow raised by a farmer who now feeds over 100 with his/her work). Kids these days are "amped up" by fax, cell phone, pager, mtv, cable, myspace, etc. I feel sorry for these kids who know not they are deficient in quiet time and quiet places sans "elecontronic influences."

Given all of this:

Colleges and Universities are in a unique business. They are subsidized HEAVILY by the state and federal governments. On top of all this largess, they have "foundations" which fundraise fulltime. Only when their books don't balance do they begin to cut staff and programs, usually starting at the bottom, not the top. They want your tuition, your dorm fees, etc.

Do I think any college president is worth one million/year as many are paid in the larger institutions? No, I don't.
Most (with few exceptions) are many layers removed from their students. They have "more important" issues.

High school graduates should not view "higher education" as the "be all to end all". It is simply a tool to advance oneself but it is only one of many tools.

College is not necessary to be a success in life!!! It certainly helps but it is not necessary.

Example: The two founders of Google dropped out of Stanford, a school which recruits students with high IQs.

Example: Bill Gates, a college dropout.

Example: J K Rowlings. Simply the power of her mind propelled her to worldwide success and admiration. She truly cares about kids and the need for literacy.

Example: My grandfather dropped out of high school at age 16 to become the "mother" in his family when his mother died in the Flu Epidemic of 1918. He was one of the kindest, gentlest and hard working men I have ever met.
Gone over 20 years and I still miss him (and my other grandparents) keenly.

There you go...

For the record, if I had my life to live over again, I would not have gone to college at 18. I was not ready.
"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
President John F. Kennedy

"Some see things as they are and ask, 'Why'? I dream of things that never were and say, 'Why not?'" Robert F. Kennedy


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Lost in Place
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  • Added on: February 22nd, 2006
I heard the same thing about my chosen career. Theatre, I know you all are thinking "oh she's an actor!" but no. Sorry I'm a Scenic Artist and Stage Manager.

I have loved Theatre since I was little, I never EVER wanted to be on stage. My Dad was an actor before I was born, and still does it occasionally but not often. So when I see people from high school and they find out I have a BFA in Theatre emphasis in Stage Management they get a glazed look in their eyes and say "oh". like they are sorry for me because I will be "living in a cardboard box underneath a bridge by the river" and when I make it big I'll have "a two story cardboard box under the bridge lined with carpet". It's a funny mental image, and yes for a few years I'll have a crappy day job...but I get to play make-believe for a living. It's fabulous when people ask me how something worked in a show.

I've had the opportunity to be an assistant manager at retail shops but that would mean no more theatre, becuase of the nights and weekends that would be expected of me.

Yes, I am eventually going to go back to school to become an American Sign Language Translator. That was another direction I have always thought of, and it can work in theatre as well.

Despite the bias "useless" degrees where ever the thought may come from, education is a wonderful thing. Enriching our minds and the people around us, is wonderful. If you don't enjoy your job change it, yes it's scary but if you love your job, if you have passion for your job, it's not really work now is it? Do something you love and challenges you, then you will never be bored.


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  • Added on: February 24th, 2006
This is a very lively topic of discussion and we can go on and on defending our majors. Once someone told me we apply about 10% of what we learn in undergrad at our jobs and even a smaller percentage of our graduate degree at our jobs. Jobs will come and go and most of them aren't enjoyable; they're a means to support our lifestyle. So in the end it doesn't really matter whether you chose a fuzzy major or techy major because you learn skills on the job than at university. School is to learn how to learn, right?

I'm NOT defending myself, but I really LOVED my major (yep, a French Lit *useless* major) and never really used it in any of my jobs, but it sure comes in handy when I travel and not just in French speaking countries.

I became a technical writer and raked in the dough until I got sick of that and I now I spend time working in various places doing a desk job for just enough time to save up for another traveling stint. My writing, computer, and administrative skills are always marketable and I know I'll find a job again after I return from a long journey. I love my life and I think reading and analyzing all that French poetry got me where I am. Smile


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  • Added on: January 30th, 2011
one's major does not define who they are; depending on what they want to do, it may not even be relevant as to what they majored in. unless you want to do something that requires specific knowledge of a certain field (engineering, medicine), it shouldn't matter what your degree is in, because for many jobs, employers just want to know that you're trainable, because throughout your career, most things you'll need to know you would've learned on the job, that is, after you already finished college.

with that being said, i did find some of the arguments posted here to be hypocritical, such as the ones who try to defend majors like english by putting down those who major in business, and by thinking that only english majors have skills such as communicating and writing; business programs stress those skills as well, and also, you don't just major in "business" since you usually have to pick a concentration (accounting, finance, marketing), so by just referring to it as "business" makes it seem like you don't understand the nature of such programs very well. also, your "formal" education, or what you learn in school, is only one type of education; keep in mind that people of any major do things outside of just the classes they take in school, so it'd be close minded to think that everything someone knows is limited to what their major consisted of.


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  • Added on: February 8th, 2011
I think some of the recent posts are SO valid. There's a LOT to be said just for finishing a college/university degree. (this is not to say that not having one excludes you from the possibility of getting a lucrative job, plenty of examples of that upthread). Employers do want to know a person has one, because having one says a lot about the person, as getting one involves things like self-discipline, project completion, goal-setting, living on a budget, sticking through on something to the end, etc. etc. Plenty of people are working in occupations that may have less to do with what they chose as a major, just that they finished one.

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. ---St. Augustine


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  • Added on: April 11th, 2011
I tend to think that universities are slacking in their responsibilities to students.

The student handbook outlines that no matter your degree, you have to take classes from different disciplines. Engineers have to take some liberal arts classes and well...liberal arts kids don't take engineering, but they do have to meet math requirements.

My issues is that kids left to their own devices will rarely challenge themselves. An English major taking some advanced philosophy is not a challenge...

The schools need to create a balanced and difficult curriculum that exposes kids to many different disciplines. Yes, that means Calculus, chemistry, theology, physics, in depth history/political science classes, literature, etc.

Then again, I don't think that college is for everyone and too many people are attending. IE wasting their parent's money for a piece of paper.


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  • Added on: April 11th, 2011
MountaineerWV wrote:The schools need to create a balanced and difficult curriculum that exposes kids to many different disciplines.

While mind broadening opportunities are important, the fact is that by the time you get to University, the goal in education is to teach you a lot about an area of specialization that interests you. Yes, you should have some outside courses, too, but undergrad degrees have already gone much too fare down the road of "high school extension." Going further by insisting on more options that aren't core to your specialization isn't going to help.

On the broader topic of choosing "semi-useless majors:"
Some careers are summed up in a degree. If you want to be a doctor or lawyer, you'd better go to school to become one. Most careers, though, are about applying your particular skills to something profitable that probably wasn't foreseen when you were 19, and almost certainly can't be summed up in any one degree. A degree of any kind enhances your thinking skills and allows you to compete better in the open market.

Even if you take a "useful" degree, it's hard to say where you'll end up. I was working out of town this week, and met a girl at my company that has a master's in Urban Planning. My company does urban planning. She's an accountant. Why? Because she likes the art of planning, but doesn't want to the pressure to constantly go find jobs and bring in business, which is a requirement of doing chargeable work.

I'm sure when she went to school, she was applauded for taking a "useful" degree. But it turns out that the degree doesn't really foreshadow what you end up doing with your life.


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Lost in Place
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  • Added on: April 13th, 2011
Rogerio wrote:If you're one of those corporate people whose life IS corporate and you enjoy the house and the car and the family, you think travellers haven't grown up yet.

Oh, that's not fair. Just because someone might want something different out of their life doesn't mean they think badly of or look down on travellers.

In response to the OP; I would say that of course people with 'useless' majors recognise it's not going to do much for their job prospects. But remember that universities were originally not for upskilling for jobs; they were for philosophy, thinking, debating - basically doing stuff just because it interested you. I don't see why that's such a bad use of universities today. I did a 'useless' degree (Bachelor of Journalism) - while having the degree would increase my chances of getting a job in that industry it's not required. (As it turned out, I decided I didn't want to work as a journalist anyway!). But having ANY sort of degree makes you more employable in many cases. It shows that you know how to learn which is important for many employers.


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