Why does a Liberal Arts Education still make sense these days?
1. Nobody outside of the US understands your major
More than once I have received looks of concern about my major. Why on earth would anyone go to the United States to study English? More than a few Vietnamese people have taken this to mean I was studying English as a secondry language. I suppose I needed to improve my familiarity with prepositions and stuff. My parents often says that my only career option is teaching. And people know that I have none of the placidity or empathy that is required of the job. Even my parents didn't know I majored in English until graduation. I hated having to explain to my family and acquaintances that my school is a liberal arts college and I do not receive any vocational training there.
Even in Europe, no one understands the value of an English degree outside of the relevant industries. During my finance internship there, the other interns were doing master's degree in either engineering or math. I was surprised they got the guts to hire me in the first place.
2. Few people in the US understand your major
Everyone has talked about the uselessness of a liberal arts degree in these years of economic uncertainty. Science majors think of you as fluffy, lacking substance, lazy, stupid, especially in math, and are only able to bullshit our way through life.
3. The job market is tough
The publishing industry is struggling. There are few jobs, even fewer well-paying jobs with good long-term career prospect, for aspiring writers and editors. Many of my friends, brilliant writers, can only get internships after graduation. You probably are going to have a hard time finding a way to make ends meet after graduation.
There are jobs in finance/consulting, but as public sentiment increasingly turns against liberal arts. Again, you, the only liberal arts kid at every job interview, are perceived as full of fluff, lacking substance, and lacking any direction in life.
4. For international students, you've got a shot in hell at a work visa
There are a very limited number of work visas for people with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts, so good luck getting one. The truth is that if your post-college goals involve working in the US, better switch into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) now. Especially now that they have extended the OPT duration for STEM majors has been extended to 17 months!
You need a lot of willpower and extremely thick skin to persist in your liberal arts education and your job search after graduation. But in my experience, after having to fight against so many things and doing some major soul searching questioning whether to dump, I become a lot more mature and assured that my education would, in the long run, make me a better human being.
I would pick English again if I could. I loved the education I've gotten at my school, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I learned to communicate and comprehend. I became more sympathetic and socially aware. I refuse to believe that if I had picked a STEM major, it would have better prepared me for whatever career I choose. I wouldn't have become more analytical, or more quantitative, and I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the humanities as fluffy or easy. Maybe I would have done well as a STEM major, maybe not, but I would have been so much more miserable shutting myself in a lab, without my Hemingway.
But I could afford to be an English major without any intention of being a full-time writer because I am privileged. My test scores and high school record prove that I'm able at quantitative subjects. My family had never forced me into finding a job right after graduation, thus I could be free from job prospect concerns for a while. I could choose to study whatever I like. Finally, going to graduate schools was my plan from the start, so a more "fluffy" undergraduate specialization was acceptable. Now that I had to sit down with my sister, who is less inclined towards the quantitative subjects and graduate schools, and carefully plan her college years, to make her as good a candidate for employment as possible, I realize even more how privileged I have been.
I would confess that in more desperate times, I had held ill will at the endorsement for STEM majors. I find it rather unfair indeed. While many STEM majors do turn out to be excellent scientists, many do not, and the career of many brilliant writers could be spoiled just because they were forced into thinking that science is better for them. Imagine how dull a world it would be if there were only scientists and mathematicians! I am not convinced that STEM is the superior choice for anyone unless the person is genuinely interested in STEM, or plans to pursue a career in research or academia.
After all, I would never reject the importance of STEM, despite having not choosen it for myself. All I'm saying is that those of you who want to pursue the humanities should not be discouraged from doing so due to "practical" reasons. Despite the many challenges, what you get in return is well worth it. The things that I have learned, and no doubt you will too, are inestimable to your progress not only as a future member of the workforce, but also as a human being.
In Defense of Liberal Art Education
Written By: Liz Vu, United States (A Vietnamese)
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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )