On humanities degrees: Personal experience for wayward undergrads

In the 4 years since my undergraduate degree, I’ve held down 13 different jobs, most of them part-time. The 2 full-time jobs that I’ve had were so batsh*t crazy that I quit on principle.

I don’t regret majoring in English, but my choice has had consequences. Employers want good communication, writing, and critical thinking skills without having to pay anything for them. Ideally, all who hold a BA can read and write with good grammar and clear language.

Did I choose poorly by majoring in English?

I have always been a reader, and when I look back into childhood, I see that writing has always been important as well, even though I perceive my more dedicated approach to writing as a recent phenomenon. It’s actually not recent; I’ve always written for fun or for contemplation. In undergrad, they forced me to choose a major. I had been interested in math, science, and engineering as a kid, but I hadn’t liked calculus as a freshman, and I loved my ENG101 class, so I went for English.

 

I liked how intellectually stimulating it is, not because I wanted to teach. I felt that the skills of thorough critical thinking, specific argumentation, research, good style and form, and precise language were all skills that would serve me well in employment or in further academic pursuits. I assumed that I would go to grad school in something, but I just didn’t know what at the time: English is a good degree for law school; seminary focuses heavily on reading and writing in elevated language; and medical schools want people who have academic backgrounds other than pre-med, so they are on the lookout for humanities majors. Some grad programs don’t require a specific major, and some employers don’t care what you studied as long as you hold a bachelors. For the future that I envisioned (which wasn’t very well planned), English was a good choice.

My decision to go backwards in academia and get an AA in IT comes from a long story of very many twists and turns. For brevity’s sake, let’s say I dropped out of seminary and spent a lot of time in depression. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could get a hands-on, practical degree in a very highly-demanded field for very little money via my local community college. Not only would my AA be valuable, but my English degree would go from not-very-valuable to very-valuable because of how I can combine the byte with the word (no, I’m not talking about hex). Employers wouldn’t have to pay solely for my BA in English. They will pay for someone who has an AA in IT, but they will pay more for an IT person who can provide clear documentation for his colleagues.

If I had it to do over again, I would major in Computer Science, or CIT, and minor in English, History, or Philosophy. That diverse humanities/tech combination intrigues employers because it gives them  flexibility and proves that an employee can not only troubleshoot, but can also think through broader issues and communicate those observations, opinions, and actions with clarity and precision. The broader the mind, the better for the employee will be for the employer, and the better off the employee will be in this globally-competitive job market. Humanities broaden the mind, but they do not provide practical, hands-on skills that tech degrees do–and the same is true in reverse.

So my advice is, if you don’t know what to do, go into computers, but also learn about literary theory, or theories of ontology, or key turning points in WWII, or issues with race and gender. The more you broaden yourself, the more flexible and attractive you will be to employers, but even more importantly, the more you will feel like you have the perspective you need to ask good questions and make good decisions.

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