Here We Go Again: The Worst College Majors
Kiplinger’s Financial Magazine has once again trotted out their list of the “worst” college majors, based (they say) on reports of median incomes and employment opportunities. Since they feature such a list periodically I’m not sure if they recycle the same list over and over or if they tweak it occasionally by adding breaking factoids. Either way, the info is fundamentally flawed in my opinion:
Worst college majors list from Kiplinger’s
Anthropology Graphic Design
Drama & Theatre arts Liberal Arts
English Philosophy and Religion
Film & Photography Sociology
Fine Arts Studio Art
What majors such as these share in common is that 1) they are among typical liberal arts-type majors, and, 2) unlike other more applied programs of study such as nursing, engineering, or accounting, they are not directly linked to clearly identifiable occupational outcomes. We can reliably assume that nursing grads will likely work as nurses, that engineering majors will probably be employed as engineers, and that accountants will manage accounts somewhere. There are very few job ads where a sociologist is specifically sought, unless it is for a teaching sociology position, where the baseline credential is a Ph.D. However, this emphatically does not mean that these majors are a waste of time, for several reasons:
First, I personally believe that students should study and pursue what they are passionate about and good at rather than trying to squeeze into a box thought to lead to secure employment later. Not everyone would make a good engineer, nurse, or accountant.
Second, I know too many graduates in precisely these majors who are doing just fine–in fact, often more than fine. Here is just one example:
My friend B graduated two years behind me from Ohio State with a BFA in Photography. While B is widely recognized for the excellence of her photographic work, she hasn’t made her living primarily in her field. For a time she was the director of a photographic gallery in California; for a number of years she was the co-owner of a historic inn on Cape Cod; and more recently, she has been a dynamic events promoter on the east coast.
In my opinion, what has enabled my friend to be so successful with one of the “worst” degrees is her ability to marry her artistic sensibilities with a flair for entrepreneurship. These are things she cultivated in the course of her studies at OSU and after. B is doing quite well, drives a BMW and owns a home in one of the priciest resort towns in America. She did NOT grow up with privilege, and has made her own way on her own terms. Her story is typical of liberal arts grads that strive and are willing to identify and utilize all of their talents.
Third, there is definitely a way to get these degrees to pay off, through careful planning and enhancement. By doing things like carefully choosing a complementary minor, taking courses that add marketable skills to a degree program, and seeking internships that provide real world experience, students can produce powerful outcomes for themselves with liberal arts-bachelors’ degrees. Here are some examples of what I mean:
Graphic design major/business minor/internship with an online-based company that utilizes creative advertising and visual effects;
Sociology major/health & wellness minor/internship with a health oriented non-profit organization or state agency;
Drama major/teaching certificate/volunteer work with an organization that boosts the self-esteem of troubled young people through theatrical productions;
English major/Environmental studies minor/internship with a green company looking for help with the generation of compelling prose that clearly states their objectives to the public.
Some of the kinds of courses that can add valuable skills to a degree program, whether in the form of a minor or not include things like foreign language proficiency, computer technology, research skills, etc. By uniting your liberal arts major with a secondary specialization in something that is clearly and obviously marketable, you have increased the value of your degree. Another avenue of course is to head for graduate or professional school, where liberal arts degrees have a very good reputation.