“You’re a history major? What are you going to do with THAT?”
As any liberal arts major can tell you, this is a dreaded question.
It’s inevitably asked at every social event, family gathering and job interview. You can’t escape it.
We live in a practical and rapidly-evolving technological world which is great, but sometimes it feels like there isn’t room for much else. Pursuing things like creative writing, art or philosophy just don’t seem practical anymore.
I have to disagree.
I’ve never been mathematically or scientifically-inclined (AP Bio was the death of me in high school). I’ve always had an appreciation, but it’s never been my strong suit.
I love to create. Stories, music, art, anything. So I always wanted to pursue a creative career and hoped my college major would prepare me for that.
Freshmen year, I got accepted as an English major with the intent of pursing a writing career. Perfect fit, right?
I quickly found out it wasn’t at all.
I took mostly GE’s freshmen year, starting major requirements sophomore year. I had only taken an intro creative writing class which I absolutely loved. This was going to be great, right?
Until I enrolled in the Ten Series. The name of these introductory courses are different at every school, but the idea is the same—a set of pre-reqs for the major that are writing-intensive and meant to weed out anyone not cut out for the major.
I was one of those.
10A- Literature in English to 1700 was the worst experience of my life. We covered just about every topic I hated. Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Old English, everything and anything medieval. Old English is essentially like another language. It’s different than modern English and my aptitude for it was far lesser than that of my classmates. It felt like I was taking a class in a foreign language.
Also, I have to admit I was a bit scarred from high school. For my sophomore year English class we had to write a song about the Canterbury Tales and sing it in the tune of a Christmas song. I still cringe thinking about it to this day.
Now, I’m not a quitter. I’ll complain, but I won’t quit. After getting numerous opinions from my parents, academic advisors and friends the resounding answer was to suck it up and stick with it.
So I did. It was the worst final exams week of my college career. All of my final projects and papers had coalesced into a single deadline that I was struggling to meet. And of course, I left 10A for last.
It was the worst thing I ever submitted. Not even being dramatic, it truly was. So much so that I sent my TA an apology email. God bless her because two weeks later I got my grades back and miraculously passed.
Against my better judgment, I enrolled in 10B. All my friends swore up and down that this class was going to be way better than 10A.
Sadly, by Week 3 I knew I was one of the weeds this class was pulling out.
After debating and worrying, I finally decided I didn’t want to waste my time or money hating my major. It just didn’t seem justifiable to me.
So I decided to switch majors.
I always liked history. To me, it’s just one big story of mankind with millions of mini-stories that all affect each other in some way or another. I would still be reading and writing, the essentials for becoming a writer.
I went one day to the History department. Maybe it was the “grass is greener on the other side” effect but it already felt more welcoming. Everyone I met couldn’t be more excited I was considering switching. The advisors told me all the requirements, all of which sparked my interest. Within the hour, I had made the cross-over from English to History.
Now I know what you’re thinking—aren’t they equally as useless?
To which, I say yes. No, I’m kidding. I really don’t think that. Why? Because after meeting people from all walks of life in all different majors, with different dreams and passions, I’ve come to realize that it really doesn’t matter what you major in. (Except maybe if you want to be a neurosurgeon…you should probably go to med school then, but that’s a whole other story.)
There’s a lot of reasons I believe that, but here are my main ones. I think they’d be useful, too, in easing some of the anxiety when it comes to picking a major.
1. You’re going to learn something.
No matter what you pick, you’re going to take away something valuable. Whether that’s a hard skill like engineering or a soft skill like reading comprehension, your major will help you build up marketable and useful skills. Since I can talk from experience, liberal arts majors like history, English or philosophy provide soft skills. These are equally as valuable in the real-world.
2. Your major doesn’t define your career.
All those soft skills aren’t vague, they’re flexible. You can apply them to almost any field of work. Law, government, politics, teaching, entertainment, business, non-profits, medicine, journalism. The list goes on. Your skills don’t focus on one single area in liberal arts.
3. It’s all about experience.
Maybe you’re like me and you can’t find a major that aligns with your career interest. Or maybe you aren’t sure at all what you want to do. That’s totally ok (fun fact- no one really knows what they want to do. They’re lying if they say they do). Take your college classes as trial runs. Pick a GE that sounds interesting and see how you like it. Trust me, you’ll know right away if it isn’t for you.
Also, branch out from your classes. If you can, take a job on campus and apply for internships that interest you. It’s great hands-on experience if you’re seriously thinking about pursuing a certain career in the future. Last, reach out to professors or anyone else who is in a field you want to learn more about. Even if it’s a friend who’s in a major you’re thinking about, ask them out to coffee to see if it’s the right fit for you.