CM’s Guide to the American Studies Major

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America is all about freedom, and nothing screams “freedom” more than an interdisciplinary major like American studies. Even the President of the United States was an American studies major. Well, Jed Bartlett from The West Wing was at least. American studies majors learn how to connect with every culture, religion and social group within American society—beyond the old white guys we always see on the news. You get to break free from the bonds of traditional education and go beyond the study of just one subject. What’s more patriotic than that?

What You’ll Be Doing

As an American studies major, you’ll be studying what it means to be an American. You’ll analyze the constant changes in society and how they affect the country. You’ll be able to take classes on subjects like American conspiracies, popular music, and the perception of masculinity in modern film and television. In the growing number of departments and programs throughout the country, you can find unique courses wherever you look. If you don’t exactly have a firm grasp on what subject you want to study, you’ll be able to explore different topics. It’ll almost feel like you’re creating your own personalized “major” with the opportunities available.

Upsides

“It allowed me to focus on a single subject (in my case the history of literary tourism) in a way that allowed me to test disciplinary boundaries—working on a literary subject with a historian’s tools in the archive, and a film studies and material culture approach to what I found in literary house museums.” —Hilary Lowe, PhD, Class of 2010, University of Kansas

“We struggled through intense conversations about the values of different theories and methods relative to our research and we were encouraged to do so.”—Milton Wendland, PhD, Class of 2011, University of Kansas

“Most importantly, the classes within the major are fascinating. How else can you take a class on conspiracy theories or the culture of media fandom? Also, you get to be an actual student instead of just learning job skills.”—Claire Kramer, Sophomore, University of Notre Dame

Downsides

“Like any interdisciplinary field, it requires that you be very self-directed.  If you have a number of academic interests, it can be extremely rewarding.”—Dr. Lowe

“A lot of the time, people assume that American studies is just a different word for American history. There’s also individual and institutional suspicion about those of us who have degrees in interdisciplinary fields, as we somehow know ‘a little bit of everything’ and ‘nothing much about anything’.”—Dr. Wendland

“The biggest downside is trying to explain what American studies actually is to family members and friends. People don’t know really much about it because it’s a newer department at most universities, and naturally, people are skeptical.”—Claire Kramer

Career Opportunities

Professor

It’s going to require you to stay in school for a few more years, but if you truly love what you’re studying, then it won’t seem like much time at all. With an undergrad degree in American studies, you have the opportunity to apply to many different PhD and graduate programs. Because culture changes quickly, American studies professors have the unique opportunity to perform significant original research on subjects that are continuously changing.

Lawyer

You can choose to go into law school with just about any major, but being an American studies major will put you ahead of the LSAT competition. You’ll have the critical thinking and cultural reasoning skills that are essential to surviving the three-year gauntlet that is law school. Developing these skills will help you study cases with new perspectives and create new standards for how a law is applied to certain situations. If you do that well, you’ll be a partner at a law firm in no time.

Journalist

Nobody is more connected to society than journalists and American studies majors. Similar to the core of the American studies major, being a journalist is a self-directed pursuit that you can align with your interests and lifestyle. The journalism industry is no longer simply regurgitating facts, but rather reporting information in a creative way and adding new perspectives. With a growing range of publications and platforms, American studies majors are the perfect candidates for not just reporting the news, but telling a unique (and sometimes controversial) story.

Marketing

Fun fact: marketing and business careers are not limited to marketing and business majors. Who knew? As an American studies major, you’ll know how to market to the diversifying American population because you studied everything about the various cultures for the past four years. You’ll be able to spot social trends before they even come up on the radar of mainstream marketing analysis. All companies, big and small, are interested in workers who are self-directed and creative.

Public Relations

Much like journalism and marketing, this career is going to require you to be very culturally aware and connected. Huge companies are often the focus of social movements and protests, and they need all the help they can get in maintaining a positive image. As an American studies major, you’ll know everything there is to know about cultural trends, and you’ll have an instinct for calculating exactly what companies or political candidates need to do to keep their approval ratings high.

I am a freshman at the University of Notre Dame majoring in American studies. I love Ohio, coffee, music and everything ND.

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