Are There Any Safe Bets?

Today’s NYT has a discussion forum for college bound students, tackling the question: is there a safe major that will guarantee career success?

You’ll hear the typical arguments: “Study science and technology…. English and philosophy are a waste of time…” “No, study the liberal arts… value is not defined by return on investment, but by civic engagement,” and so on. Both of these positions make some sense. But only by ignoring certain underlying realities. Science and technology can be useful for getting first jobs, but can also be self-limiting without other soft skills. Good jobs in these areas also require graduate training. And, true, English and philosophy degrees are the not the most obvious ticket to entry into the labor market.Yet evidence shows that many students in these majors thrive in the marketplace, especially when judged over the lifetime of a career. They are also excellent preparation for all professional schools, including medicine.

The response most aligned with our hybrid approach of Humanities+/+Humanities is the one by William Pannapacker. He encapsulates his position with the statement: “Don’t be the English major who says, ‘I’m scared of math and computers.’
Don’t be a chemistry major who says, ‘I never read books.” As we have argued repeatedly: humanities and liberal arts degrees are still viable and highly valued; the trick for gaining a toehold in the market, though, is to supplement such degrees with undergraduate research, a foreign language, some training in hard
skills and/or internships.

Today’s rapidly-changing global economy makes the path to long-term career success highly unpredictable. The market places a premium on flexibility, curiosity, drive and the ability to innovate. What single discipline in college prepares students for such conditions? It’s not clear. The best strategy is to combine disciplines and experiences in imaginative ways in order to create your own career pathways.


Speak up! Let us know what you think.