Why your liberal arts degree won't leave you penniless

by Allison Kowalski and Emily Holland | Culture Editors

Media Credit: Samuel Klein | Photo Editor
Senior Ty Miranda said the first thing people ask her when she says she’s a religion major is, “What are you going to do with that?”

Sophomore Katherine Bradshaw’s friends have joked that she’s “majoring in starvation.”

The classical studies major – studying a field that encompasses language, architecture, art and history – is knee-deep in what many have started to consider a dying field, or one that provides little return on investment from a college degree.

But Bradshaw isn’t concerned – and new studies back her up.

“I think it's one of those studies that will never really run out because we all want to understand the people around us and the world around us and what that means to live, in this world, a good and meaningful life,” Bradshaw said.

The sophomore sees her major as one that can lead to careers in fields including history, archaeology, law and finance. She has interned at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and assisted teaching a Latin class at the School Without Walls.

Bradshaw said she hopes to further blend her classics and Shakespearean interests in graduate school. After that, she wants to teach students the importance and relevance of ancient texts.

Liberal arts majors, from philosophy to American studies, sometimes become the butt of jokes, especially as everyone from parents to the president focus on how degrees prepare students for careers.

But the Association of American Colleges and Universities published a report last week showing that four out of five employers want students to acquire a broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

Particularly, students like Bradshaw who are liberal arts majors and later go to graduate school eventually out-earn their peers with pre-professional majors, like business.

“That’s a myth that somehow if you major in humanities or the liberal arts, you will face lifelong struggles with unemployment,” said Carrie Johnson, one of the association’s directors. “Liberal arts majors are teachers, managers, chief executives, clergy, and marketing and sales managers, among other things.”

Ninety-three percent of employers preferred candidates who demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems – not caring as much about their chosen undergraduate major, according to the report.

That kind of data helps back up students like senior Ty Miranda. She said the first thing people ask her when she says she’s a religion major is, “What are you going to do with that?”

“You know, it started from an interest, to a fascination, to how can I mold religion around my career and my career path. So I really give them my plan and that usually shuts them up,” Miranda said.

Daniel Marschall, an adjunct professor who teaches about the sociology of careers, said the lists that describe his field as the least profitable overlook the fact that the science behind it can be applied to many different fields.

“They've taken statistics, they’ve taken analysis, they’ve studied institutions carefully and they can kind of understand organizations,” Marschall said. “They’ve studied social problems and what solutions may be based on scientific analysis,”

Dameon Alexander, a lecturer whose course focuses on the sociology of education, said business and international affairs majors who take his classes seem to have a better understanding of the communities and social consequences they’ll work with.

Bradshaw was always interested in Greek mythology, but she solidified her decision to become a classical studies major while taking classes exploring Greek and Roman literature in high school.

With the help of her adviser, professor of classics Elizabeth Fisher, Bradshaw was able to assist and teach a Latin class at the School Without Walls, allowing her to explore a teaching path.

“There are many directions a classical studies degree can take a student – Ted Turner, for example, was a classics major as an undergraduate,” Fisher said.

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