I’m a sophomore majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies (lovingly known as PLS) with the intention of going to law school. If you don’t know what that is, don’t feel bad; it’s a “great books” program at the University of Notre Dame. I mention law school because after the initial “what’s that?” response, “what are you going to do with that?” almost always follows. I have the next several questions memorized and prepared too, but I won’t bore you with them.
The point is, this isn’t a new conversation.
Having an obscure major, especially a liberal arts one, can be frustrating. Even if you ignore the scrunched up expressions and disbelief to your insistence that you will be able to find employment somewhere, people often make assumptions about how easy they think your course load is.
Even though I only have thirteen credit-hours this semester (compared to having nineteen freshman year), I have a dozen formal essays to write before Christmas. That’s not including the several shorter assignments I have most weeks or (literally) the hundreds of pages I have to read and analyze each week to prepare for my discussion-based classes.
And yet, my hard-science friends still insist my major is somehow vastly inferior to their neuroscience or biology or whatever they’re studying but seem to hate. They insist that papers aren’t hard to write, even as they hand me their own articles, essays or proposals to edit. With their huge lecture classes, they don’t fully understand the pressure of having only small discussion classes: There is no back row for you to sleep in, no laptop screen to hide behind and no way to fake it when your grade is dependent on your contributions to the discussion.
There tends to be a perception amongst science and engineering students that those who choose liberal arts have elected to take an easier major-route. Don’t allow them to convince you that your passions are inferior to theirs. Especially if you go to a “highly selective” school like Notre Dame, where everyone did extremely well in all their classes in high school. Often, choosing a major is about enthusiasm for the subject, not aptitude.
People seem to assume that those electing to study liberal arts are delusional in thinking it will help them get a job, but if we’re being perfectly honest (except engineering and maybe business students) most people are deluding themselves, liberal arts or not. The job market for someone with a bachelor’s degree in biology isn’t much better than that of someone with a degree in English.
My friends majoring in neuroscience are doing so to prepare themselves for medical school; I am majoring in PLS because I believe it will prepare me for law school. Contrary to popular belief, my PLS degree on its own is no more useless than neuroscience. Lots of jobs only require a bachelor’s degree, but–unfortunately for many science students–they also require you to have strong writing skills.
I’m not going to insist that all majors are the same, because clearly they aren’t. But it’s hard to compare majors that are so different from each other because they are challenging in unique ways. I will never have another science lab again, but many of my friends won’t be developing their writing skills very much over the next three years. And neither of us will develop the speaking and presentation skills that business students will master.
Never stop defending your major choice. For a while, I succumbed to people’s jibes and eluded them by calling PLS my “fake major” to deflect comments before they even started. Apparently, by presenting myself as someone who was supposedly self-aware enough to realize their major was “worthless” (which it isn’t), I became more palatable for them. But this was wrong of me to do. If liberal arts students want to be respected for the difficult work they do, they have to present themselves as they truly are: passionate, intelligent and confident in their ability to succeed in their field.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a paper on the relationships between common metaphors and themes in Shakespearean sonnets I really should be working on.