When I entered college, my original major was Medical Humanities. I had no idea what it was, I just knew that it sounded cool–and it was, up until the point people (my parents) asked me to explain what it was. I spouted some nonsense about the intersection of the health sciences and social sciences. My favorite answer became, “It’s about the philosophy of medicine.” But no one really cares about what you’re studying, they just want to know what you’re going to do with it.
I wanted to work in the medical field. I wanted to be a doctor, any doctor. I dealt with a lot of knee issues growing up, so naturally, I told everyone that I was going to be an orthopedic surgeon or a physical therapist or an occupational therapist. Halfway through my freshman year, I switched to Linguistics with a concentration in Language Engineering. Medical Humanities was interesting and insightful, but I didn’t learn anything technical. All of my classes were discussions.
Even now, I still find it hard to express my major to those around me. I thought linguistics was a pretty well-known field, but apparently, it’s not. On the bright side, I convinced myself that I would become a speech pathologist, so everything worked out fine. Until I changed my mind again. I know 100% now that I don’t want to work in the medical field at all. There are those that will tell you college is only worth it if you want to work in medicine, computer science or engineering.
My best friends are STEM majors and what they do goes over my head. Talking about gpas is the worst. My grades are only high because we’re graded on essays and discussion posts. And everyone knows in a liberal arts education, there’s no wrong answer. Even if they did have a terrible academic record, it’s understandable. They have labs, equations and formulas. I thought this way for a long time. Sometimes I still think this way. When threats of cyberattacks are real and the healthcare industry is in need of reform, why would you want to study language, literature and gender?
The truth is a lot of the skills that come from the social sciences/humanities are invisible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there and it doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Generally speaking, you learn critical thinking the same way you would in biology, chemistry and data science, you just have different issues to think about. You improve your written and oral communication skills, argumentation and research methods. You become more detail-oriented. Perhaps the most important skill is becoming more socially aware which sounds super obvious, but it’s true.
People respect those in STEM because they present themselves as objective, sanitized and robotic (no disrespect intended, of course! (I do actually admire those in STEM). Emotion is not highly regarded in our society. In recent years, the popular thing to do is complain about people being too sensitive and having to be “politically correct.” What’s wrong with being sensitive when it comes to respect and human rights?
In his article about the rise of nontechnical jobs at tech companies, George Anders summed this idea up eloquently, “The more that audacious coders dream of changing the world, the more they need to fill their companies with social alchemists who can connect with customers–and make progress seem pleasant.”
This is all to say that your degree isn’t worthless and it’s not a waste of money–especially if you stop thinking about college as a means to an end. College doesn’t teach you how to become a certain profession, though it should make you into a better person. At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you. Study what you like. Study what you’re good at. Study what you’re curious about.