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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Harvard chapter.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that students in the humanities bear a certain curse. It is not the curse of watching friends in Economics sign offers for six-figure jobs before their senior year even begins. It is not the curse of having to write four twenty-page papers in the span of a single finals period. It is not the curse of hearing that non-humanities grad schools do rolling admission. These are things we merely accept as our lot, if not happily then calmly and without much rancor. The curse we bear is that of being asked the eternal question, in varying tones of pity and disdain: “What can you even do with a degree in literature?”

Well, first and foremost, the answer is… a lot. Unlike fields that lead directly to a set path (doctor, finance hedge fund person (I know so little about that life that I was not even entirely certain how to phrase the title), etc.), people who graduate in the humanities go on, to be sure, to jobs in academia, travel, and art, but also have the skills necessary to venture into politics, law, and yes, even consulting, regardless of whether their undergrad courses taught them anything directly applicable to those fields. Which brings us to the main point: the “value” of one form of education cannot be measured in post-graduate application.  I thought I learned this a long time ago, but it wasn’t until this, my final semester of my senior year, that I truly understood and internalized my long-standing, blind, conviction of what I knew to be true.

I have spent a lot of my life, including outside and beyond Harvard, with the study of language. I grew up bilingual, occasionally bursting into German in my kindergarten class when I got flustered before I learned how to compartmentalize my two sets of vocabulary. In sixth grade I began studying Latin, to the joy of my parents and to the confusion of my friends merrily skipping to French courses where they learned the word for “baguette” (it’s “baguette”) and then ate said baguette (public schools in my town left a little something to be desired). I continued studying Latin when I switched schools, and eventually added French. In college I read Dante’s Inferno and loved it so much that I realized I hated not being able to read it in the original, so I moved to Italy for three months to become fluent. My friends, both in and out of the humanities, have watched this progression with bemusement as they enjoyed learning only one other language and spending their summers at internships instead of in classrooms. For a long time, I thought of my language ability like an applicable skill, something to have on my resume that showed future employers I was versatile and something to have in my back pocket if someone horrible wins the U.S. election and I want to default to my EU citizenship.

But studying language, as with studying any form of humanities, has a value that supersedes LinkedIn bonus points. When I started studying T.S. Eliot this semester, I had no prior experience with extensively studying poetry besides a single survey course I took my sophomore year. I was intimidated by my classmates’ ability to parse structure and rhythm, and felt as though no matter how often I read and studied and recited the poems, I was missing something. That is, until the first time it became useful for someone making a (typically awe-inspiring – I won’t name names, but that class was chock full of people who make me feel incredibly proud and lucky to be a Harvard student, for the sort of intellectual peers that luxury affords) point that I knew Latin and could quickly translate the epigram. As he went on to analyze the specific timber in one of Eliot’s phrases, I realized that my ready access to the Latin allowed me to approach the poem with a deep knowledge of why precisely the poet might want to include references to specific ancient characters. In that moment, and in every class since then, I have come to completely understand the value of an education: studying literature and language has taught me how to think in a way other forms of study do not. This opens up a vast world just below the surface of the every day. I didn’t know that as well as I thought I did until this semester.


Goodbye, Harv, and thanks for all the swai.


Zoë is a senior at Harvard studying English, French, and Classics. She is an active member of the theatre community as one of the few specialized stage makeup designers and artists on campus. When not in the dressing rooms and at the makeup tables of the various stages available at Harvard, she is reading anything she can get her hands on, drinking endless cups of tea, and exploring new restaurants in the Boston area.