My Humanities Degree Might Be My Superpower: Lessons from UA’s “What Are You Going to Do With That?” Career Panel

The summer before junior year of college, my grandpa thought I was an art major. Here I was, two years into my English degree after spending half of my high-school career convincing my family that I could succeed as an English major, and my grandpa still hadn’t bothered to commit my area-of-study to memory. 

“What are you possibly going to do with that? You can’t make money doing that,” skeptics often said. 

“I can do anything,” I replied, ready to go to battle over my choice to study in the Humanities. 

Clearly, no matter what I answered, it was assumed that I might as well have been an art major. In someone like my grandfather’s eyes, there is nothing worse than an art major. While I whole-heartedly believe education is about far more than monetary success—that it’s also about personal fulfillment, passion, curiosity, “hard-skills” as well as “soft-skills,” a large portion of the American population thinks education is about your wallet. Dishing the dollars out to get more in.

No matter how prepared with English-major apologetics I was, sometimes “I could go into law, marketing, write for anybody anywhere…” felt like a hopeless lie. I mean, what was I gonna do with an English degree? All I can do is write and read. Great, I often caught myself thinking, I’ve got the superior skills of any good 5th grader. 

Now, less than 30 credits away from completing my degree, all the doubts I have about my future have come in swinging. Most recently, I’ve been thinking long and hard about grad school. I want to get an MFA in Creative Writing to hone my craft and grow my chances of teaching at the college level, but my family might not be supportive of me spending two more years at a university.

With all these doubts clouding my brain, I walked into a University of Akron (UA) career panel called “What Are You Going to Do With That?” on November 7th. 

Arranged by the talented and intelligent English Professor and Her Campus Akron faculty advisor Dr. Heather Braun, the panel aimed to help Humanities students cope with that dreadful question. The panel included successful professionals and recent graduates from different backgrounds and careers to discuss how they got to where they are.

The panel kicked off with some hard-hitting advice from Anoo Vyas. Vyas is the Co-Director of the EXL Center for Experiential Learning at the University of Akron who previously served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at UA, and was profiled in Crain’s Cleveland Business “Who to Watch in Law” section.

Vyas’ advised students to reframe failure and success. Maybe success isn’t a 98% on that exam or that paper, maybe it’s just taking the exam in the first place. 

He explained, “My biggest mistake was viewing mistakes as mistakes.” 

Wow, that’s meta, right? But Vyas is doing some serious truth-telling. Like me, many students are far too hard on themselves, and every tiny perceived failure becomes a swelling avalanche of shame and stress. In reality, these things may be teaching us something or sending us on a new and better path. 

Several panelists discussed the core advantages of a degree in the Humanities. Maybe they never used their mad German-skills or philosophizing powers, like Dr. Bashor, who spends most of his time teaching in the medical field—but they still draw on the communication skills they built during their studies. 

Kevin Smith, the director for UA’s Institute for Leadership Advancement, studied English during his undergraduate studies and advises students to never say “just” an English major. We are communicators and empathizers and volunteers and writers. So when talking to employers especially, remember your interests and skills. Remember who you are!

Recent graduate EbaNee Bond reminded students, “Put yourself out there,” before telling stories about the times she wrote her own job description.

Radio personality and Malone Scholarship Founder Jimmy Malone said, “The sooner you learn to say no, the better off you'll be. If there's something you don't want to do, learn to say no.”

This is a vital piece of wisdom I often overlook, and I know I’m not the only one. Many college students get themselves into trouble by spreading themselves too thin. Knowing your limits, discerning what’s worth your time and what isn’t, are important to success. 

Smith shared my most-needed piece of advice from the night. I think it applies to more than just Humanities majors, and more than just education. Whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, maybe you’re like me and you need to hear this: “If you are making decisions based on fear of disappointing people, you won't succeed.” 

His advice was deeply valuable to me, especially as I continue mulling over my post-college plans. Maybe after college, I’ll return for an MFA, or maybe I will be surprised by unknown opportunities. No matter what I do, I know now that I have to make my decision for me.