I’m a liberal arts student and I’m about to choose a major — I’m interested in humanities but I feel like that would be less useful than a business degree. What should I consider when choosing a major?


Jenny Bristol, Homeschooling Parent, Writer, and Editor

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There are many reasons to go to college. Usually, furthering education or training for a career are the primary reasons.

What major you should choose depends entirely upon what your goals are. If you are looking for a degree that will be a stepping stone to a Master's degree or a PhD, you will want to choose something related to your eventual higher degree. If you're looking to be ready for a career after earning just a Bachelor's degree, consider what career you would like to have, and choose an undergraduate major accordingly.

However, if you are looking for your undergraduate degree to be for personal enrichment, to give you a well-rounded education and solid educational foundation, choose a major that you are passionate about, one that aligns with your personal interests.

Since you are considering a business degree, it sounds like you are looking to be better prepared for a career. Think about how various degrees might help you with your long term goals. Talk with recent Business School graduates and find out how their degrees have helped them (or not). Talk with others who have graduated with other degrees you are considering. They will all help you have a better view of what post-college life will be like with a chosen major.

There are many places online to research your career options and requirements, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Shmoop. In addition, visit the major offices at your college or university. College majors don't determine your life path, but they sure do start you out in a certain direction. Educate yourself as much as possible on your options, and then make your decision. Good luck!

Amanda Morris, College Professor, Writer, Advisor, Writing Coach

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As a writing professor, I also hear this concern quite a bit (as Colleen does). I am fortunate to work with a broad cross-section of majors in the classes that I teach, and many business majors are such wonderful writers that I often advise them to minor in Professional Writing or English because businesses want to hire people who know how to write. Writing is a threshold skill that often determines whether you are hired or promoted. It is important to obtain a specific major for some careers (actuary, medical doctor, engineer, for example), but most jobs just want you to HAVE a degree. And whichever major you choose to follow, you will learn transferable skills (research, writing, critical analysis, group work, presentations, etc.) because you are invested in that major.

This is what I tell students: Just get the degree. Unless you are on a specific career path that requires only certain degrees, then you should pick a major that you will be invested in and that will help to set you up for success in any future career. I once worked at an ad agency whose creative director had a psychology degree, which is my favorite example to show that for many jobs, just having the degree is the essential factor.

College is a time to explore and experience as much as it is to prepare for a career path, which, by the way, will likely change for you within ten years of graduating college. So choose a major that you will love and WANT to do the work for - without that personal drive and investment, your transcript will reflect mediocre effort. And finally, as a former English major, I can say that the skills that you gain in many humanities fields are exactly the skills that employers are looking for. Best of luck to you!

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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As an English professor, I hear this kind of concern all of the time. My advice to students in this situation is as follows: if you are convinced to major in business, minor in a humanities field such as writing or literature. Such critical thinking skills are coveted by businesses looking for good communicators. If your passions lie in the humanities, you can still find excellent work in lucrative fields. Many businesses are seeking out English majors. You can read about this trend here and here. My advice to my students is to follow their passions and the work will follow. I hope this helps!

Stacey Ebert, Educator, Writer, Event Planner, Traveler

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It is definitely a difficult decision - choosing a major. Keep in mind that you can change that major or often add a minor/program or whatever other option your school offers. As others have said, there are many reasons to go to university and to get a degree. A liberal arts degree, regardless of what you choose, will still provide you with a well-rounded education. If there's something you're particularly interested, do not be afraid to press onward.

If business is something in which you're interested, talk to some people who are in business today. You will find, as in many areas, there are those who 'majored' in business and others who did not but are still in that line of work today. Tapping into your advisors and career center for advice is a good idea. It may be helpful to see if you can get an internship in a business area regardless of your major. This way you can have both, if you choose, that 'humanities' major as well as practical business experience.

There is no wrong answer. What you decide to do in life at the age of twenty something does not necessarily determine what you'll be doing at the age of forty or beyond. By having the opportunity to go to university, interact with others who are looking for an education and know the benefits, work with those who are there to guide and assist and help you find your way - you are already a step ahead. Get involved as much as possible and remember, you can always change your direction during the time of university or even after.

Good luck.

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David H. Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD

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While a business degree makes more practical sense for future financial success, a degree in the humanities does not necessarily mean that you will be jobless or that you cannot have a career in a business-related field. No matter whether your major is business or one in the humanities, you should be preparing yourself by gaining practical workplace skills. This means getting part-time jobs and learning skills and knowledge of certain industries. It also means applying for internships at different companies that interest you or that will give you a practical skill set that makes you desirable in the workforce.

You can major in business, yet minor in a humanities. Conversely, you can major in the humanities, yet minor in business or take some business classes. If taking business classes is difficult because there is no room at your school for non-business majors or non-business minors, then consider taking business courses at a local community college or online. For those who major in the humanities, the key to making yourself desirable to the workforce is being able to merge the ability to understand different perspectives and cultures, a skill afforded by studying the humanities, with practical skill sets that are obtained by taking business courses, doing internships, and working part-time jobs.

Ed Catmull, Co-Founder of Pixar Animation Studios, describes art as more than just drawing. Art is the ability to see the world from different perspectives. How an ant sees the world is very different than how a fish sees the world. The ability to see people and situations from different perspectives helps a company understand how to best serve their clientele or to best reach their customers. Thus, according to Catmull, which company wouldn’t want employees and managers who can see different perspectives?!

For a vignette on how we are all still alive today thanks to, not scientists, but people who studied the humanities, see my article entitled “Science Majors Make Bombs, But Humanities Majors Keep The Bombs From Going Off.”

Amy McElroy, SMU Law School graduate, Writer, Editor, and Parent of Two

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There's probably a reason you are interested in the humanities, and you don't have to know what it is just yet. If you "follow your passions," as advised in the answer above, you will likely discover what those reasons are. If, however, you simply choose a business degree or something else because you think it's more practical, you may never realize your full potential. That's what college is all about. Also, graduate programs are looking for much more diversity these days.

I was an English major who went to law school, and hardly anyone does a pre-law major anymore. Likewise, medical schools are looking for people with a wide range of backgrounds, including English majors.

For example, as a social science major, you may discover an interest in poverty and disease that will lead you into nursing or running a non-profit. A business degree may have given you the know-how to run such an operation, but it would not have given you the drive. You can always get your MBA later. Explore your desires now, the way you want to contribute to society, and if you need additional education to carry them out later, find a way to make that happen. Best of luck!

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