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Your thoughts about humanities major? >>> Stop Worrying About the ‘Death’ of the Humanities

BelmontVABelmontVA 51 replies5 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
Sorry this article is behind paywall. I am interested in hearing from other parents about your prospects or real life stories of recent humanities major (or more broadly non-STEM majors) graduates, either successful or never again type. Thank you for sharing.
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https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/stop-worrying-about-the-death-of-the-humanities-11556290279

Literature, history and related subjects are becoming less popular in college classrooms, but that isn’t the only place they live.

By Adam Kirsch
April 26, 2019 10:51 am ET

Colleges across America are beginning to prepare for graduation season, but in some corners of campus, you’re more likely to hear sounds of dread than of celebration. These are the humanities departments—English, history, philosophy, classics and others—where enrollments have dropped precipitously since the financial crisis of 2008. “This wasn’t a gradual decline; it was more like a tidal wave,” as the president of Macalester College, Brian C. Rosenberg, told the Atlantic last fall. At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, for instance, the number of students graduating with humanities degrees fell from 1,830 in 2008 to 1,025 in 2016. Nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, English departments have lost some 20% of their majors over the last 10 years. Meanwhile, students are flocking to STEM subjects: At the University of Pennsylvania, the number of students majoring in biology went up 25% between 2005 and 2014.
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Replies to: Your thoughts about humanities major? >>> Stop Worrying About the ‘Death’ of the Humanities

  • gwnorthgwnorth 364 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    I wasn't able to find another source to read the article but I'm not sure majoring in sciences is any different than "non-STEM" in terms of employment prospects, at least with just a bachelor's degree. Students in Biology majors (or Chemistry or Physics) are just as likely to find themselves in jobs alongside graduates of the humanities. Unless you're talking professional degrees or degrees leading to graduate studies, outcomes are likely to be the same (and I say this as the parent of a student who has just chosen Physical Sciences over Engineering). Anecdotally I can say that following local online student forums the trend is firmly towards Engineering, Computer Science, Business, and pre-Med/Pharmacy/Dentistry" followed by pre-law. All very practical degrees. Of course the number of professed "pre" students that actually end up pursuing those professional degrees will be very small. The humanities are often viewed amongst many new high school graduates as the purview of the less academically capable unless the intention is to use them as "pre" programs. Time will tell what opportunities DS19 will find with a Physics degree but graduate school seems likely at the very least.
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  • gwnorthgwnorth 364 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    Also I will add that while a Physics degree maybe less practical than an Engineering degree, DS19 is still leaning towards practicality in that choice rather than choosing his other two interests History and Music. One advantage of a science degree over Engineering is that at least he has room to take electives in those fields.
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  • warblersrulewarblersrule 9998 replies170 threadsSuper Moderator Super Moderator
    edited July 7
    Yes, it's been a noticeable trend for some time now. At many of the top schools, only 5-10% of students are majoring in the humanities, compared to 45-50% in STEM fields. I posted a thread a while back about the decline of history departments.

    https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/2112613-grim-outlook-for-history-number-of-ba-graduates-dropped-30-over-the-last-decade-p1.html

    There's no reason humanities majors can't find jobs, but they do need to acquire hard skills and work experience. You can't wait until the fall of your senior year to start career prep.

    It's foolhardy to get a PhD in the humanities with academia as a goal, though. Colleges across the selectivity spectrum are downsizing or eliminating their humanities programs.

    edited July 7
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 1341 replies10 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Like everything on CC, it really depends. There are lots of people who get humanities degrees who are thriving. The student needs to be good at what they study. Not all STEM careers are good. Likewise, there are many in various humanities who combine interests and make a path which is both lucrative and satisfying. I believe the intersection of two unlike majors makes for the best outcome. One cannot be easily replaced and one can command a higher salary. This can be STEM or non-STEM.
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  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 12711 replies234 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    There's no reason humanities majors can't find jobs, but they do need to acquire hard skills and work experience. You can't wait until the fall of your senior year to start career prep.

    THIS. And it's true for the STEM majors too.
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  • hzhao2004hzhao2004 637 replies2 threadsRegistered User Member
    I do feel that humanity degrees like English in the second-tier or third-tier schools have questionable values.
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  • whidbeyite2002whidbeyite2002 196 replies1 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Although she is capable in all high school disciplines, my daughter is a humanities lover through and through, so we did not dissuade her from applying as an political science/IR or classics major. I do not believe she could have demonstrated any conviction in her application had she gone for a STEM field. So we did not push her to reconsider her choice and instead encouraged her to embrace who she is. Will her job pursuit be difficult in the future? Only time will tell. College is partly (mainly?) about finding out who you are and what you are capable of achieving. She might emerge with a totally different purpose and integrated interests.
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  • JHSJHS 18373 replies71 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    My daughter and son-in-law are both English major BAs ten years out with semi-professional masters degrees (one an MPA, the other an MA in digital humanities) acquired while working with significant employer subsidies). They both have good, interesting jobs, and they have both supported themselves completely since graduating from college. (Neither had college debt, although both had modest graduate-degree debt.) One is a program officer for a relatively small foundation (about $100M/year in grants) working on issues of children/youths in poverty in the New York City area. The other handles the website and digital publishing programs of a huge professional organization of academics. Neither one is still in the first post-college job. They are just about to close on an apartment in NYC they are buying with their own savings and credit.

    My son and daughter-in-law are both sociology-major BAs (which is how they met, as classmates). My son also has an MA in sociology, which he paid for himself with scholarships and loans. He is a survey research expert who works for a large research organization. Coming out of college, before getting his MA, he worked multiple jobs for relatively little pay, including working nights in a theater (his other love). It was a struggle, but he managed to support himself pretty much without parental subsidy, other than a couple months of rent and some second-hand furniture (and also paying for his college degree). His wife went to medical school after a year in Americorps, which was always her plan, and is currently in a post-residency fellowship and also getting a masters degree in health care management. She was supported by her parents through med school.

    My son and daughter both worked a lot during college and college breaks. (During high school, too, for that matter, but not in profession-track jobs.) Much of my son's paid work during college was in theater, but he also worked in survey research and did volunteer editorial work for an academic sociology publication. My daughter had planned to become a journalist/writer, and built an extensive resume to support that while in college, but life took her in other directions. Her writing, analytic, and communication skills are central to the work she does now, and her reputation for those things got her the job, which is a plum in that field.
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  • TooOld4SchoolTooOld4School 3329 replies12 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    With private schools costing $70K/yr, and even in-state public schools costing $35K/ yr. there is no payback in the humanities. As the article rightly points out, it's much easier to acquire humanities knowledge outside of formal schooling too. Not so easy to access a material science lab outside of a college setting. On top of that there are not many funded humanities graduate programs, unlike those in the sciences and engineering. Not surprisingly , students gravitate toward a major where they are more likely to find employment.
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  • suzyQ7suzyQ7 3956 replies55 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I think the most important take away from this is that if you are really not interested, or can't afford, a post graduate degree (MS, MBA, JD, MD, etc) then a humanities major from a lower level school may make it more difficult to get a job straight out of college.
    The anecdotes here are generally from students who went to top colleges for humanities and then got a professional degree post undergrad.
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  • itsgettingreal17itsgettingreal17 3934 replies26 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @homerdog You just said it - Top humanities students. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. For others it may be quite challenging.
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  • mathmommathmom 32231 replies158 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Non-top biology students aren't finding jobs easily either. I know at least one CS major who graduated when my older son did (2011) who did not find appropriate work after graduating. Instead of going after internships he had chosen to work in his hometown during the summers.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 4905 replies89 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @itsgettingreal17 yes I think it matters what type of school one goes to as well if one is going with humanities. It will matter who one meets and if the alumni are active in helping the kids out. An English major at Vanderbilt is different than an English major at Indiana U. Even then, students have to be very proactive and find opportunities for internships. Like I said, there’s school and then there’s resume building. It’s a separate thing and needs to be a four year plan.
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  • TheodenTheoden 170 replies5 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited July 8
    I think there are several things at play.

    When I graduated college (late 80's), a Bachelor's Degree in the Humanities was pretty much a ticket to a job. Not your dream job, but is was assumed you would get entry level management, finance, sales, etc. You only saw the Career Office your Senior year and not very extensively. Not so anymore. Employers now look for significant internships, and research skills (depending on the jobs). Most colleges are preparing students to think laterally, have solid writing and analysis skills and work on group projects and presentations. However, the secret sauce is experience. What's needed now is a more career-focused and resume building approach even for Liberal Arts majors. Internships and research are the differentiating factors. As it was said, you can't really start to think about your career your senior year of College. Your choice of a major and the internships and research will prepare you for you job interviews and possibly offers (based on your internships).

    It's probably the same thing with a Chemistry or Biology major. When I graduated school, my friends who were Chem or Bio majors got jobs in major Pharmaceutical companies with BS degrees, with...note...NO internships. Not so anymore.

    You can get a job in Finance or Management Consulting with a Bachelor's Degree, but Even Econ, Business, Accounting and Finance majors will need internships to make them attractive to employers.

    There's also the trend, for some time, that the Master's Degree is the new Bachelor's. Humanities majors can have fruitful careers in Medicine, Business or Law if they go to grad school. Even Comp Sci and some Biological Science/Environmental Majors are specializing with their Master's to have very marketable skills.



    edited July 8
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  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 12711 replies234 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Internships and research are the differentiating factors. As it was said, you can't really start to think about your career your senior year of College. Your choice of a major and the internships and research will prepare you for you job interviews and possibly offers (based on your internships).

    I think this is true of almost every major. Do most engineering or accounting majors without any internships or work experience get hired out of college all the time?

    Even nurses have internships built in to their programs.
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