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The Advantages of Being Useless (CI #3)

In addition to all of the stresses of homework and the impending future, every Liberal Arts major has the added burden of wondering just what it is they are going to do with their degree. If you are a Liberal Arts major, you are probably very familiar with remarks like “What are you going to do with your life?” or “How is that useful?” or “People with those majors don’t get jobs.” Being a Liberal Arts major myself, I have always dealt with this type of condescension and, to be frank, just downright rudeness. I have been subjected to these types of comments from event the members of my own family. I can understand the concern and doubts–but after hearing these types of things over and over again, I have to admit that I get pretty tired of it. It is quite insulting to have your skills and passions be called useless repeatedely. The mindset that The Liberal Arts are useless is a major part of the reason why they have been thoroughly devalued over the past couple of decades, with fewer and fewer students studying the humanities. With numbers dwindling, the Liberal Arts seems to be on the brink of near extinction.

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I was fortunate this week to come across an article that I found to be both comforting and incredibly interesting. The article explains how the proclaimed “uselessness” of the Liberal Arts could actually be a great advantage in the professional world. Here is an excerpt:

“I bet there are some of you who disagree, who think Liberal Arts degrees aren’t useless. You’re wrong. I also bet that, among those of you who agree, who think Liberal Arts degrees are useless, you’re wrong about why they are useless. One of my goals, accordingly, is to explain why Liberal Arts degrees really are useless and why people are right to say so…I’m going to convince you that the uselessness of Liberal Arts degrees is advantageous. I’m going to argue that people who major or minor in a liberal arts discipline are better off than people who don’t. And I’m going to argue that these people are better off precisely because Liberal Arts degrees are useless.”

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The author points out that the difference between a Liberal Arts degree and and other type of college degree is that the degree doesn’t always spell out what you are going to do with it. An accounting major gets an accounting job, a nursing major gets a nursing job, a computer science major gets a computing job. The reason most people pursue majors and professions such as these is because they offer two things: a good salary and security. While I agree those two goals are necessary, I think it shirks another responsibility we have to ourselves–which is to pursue something we are passionate about. If you are passionate about nursing, accounting, and computer science, then by all means pursue those things; but I have heard of plenty of college students taking classes and pursuing careers that really don’t interest them all for the sake of a good paycheck. 

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A Liberal Arts degree is a legitimate educational pursuit, and despite the gossip, it can and will lead to a professional career if a person with a Liberal Arts degree puts themselves out there.  A recent article from Forbes magazine reads:

“In the coming decades, success will be defined by the ability to understand the complex problems that customers face, and the ability to solve these problems elegantly. Technology development is important, as is finance, manufacturing, and distribution. But these areas are not core competencies for the industry leaders. The next billion-dollar company will be run by history majors who are skilled in wading through a massive jumble of facts and who have the ability to distill these facts down to a clear set of objectives that a global team can fulfill.”

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Liberal Arts majors learn to think creatively, research effectively, and consider issues critically. This is why a Liberal Arts degree is valuable. Other disciplines can teach you specific skills and trades but they only prepare students for a specific job. Companies need a broad range of critical thinking that Liberal Arts majors can offer in addition to the specific skill sets that are offered by people or more specialized disciplines.

If you are a Liberal Arts major, the next time someone doubts you or your education, I hope you remember that what you study is still very relevant to, not only the professional world, but the world in general. Despite the naysayers, I still firmly believe that a Liberal Arts education can offer plenty of possibilities.

Liberal Arts and The Advantages of Being Useless

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2 Comments

  1. Allison Clifford says:

    Yes. I am a Psychology major, and I have heard all of these same things that you have been hearing. I’ve heard it from my family members, my peers, and even strangers. I am so incredibly tired of it. Your post about this is excellent, and it really helps me in giving me another window to view my major and its validity even when others don’t recognize it.

  2. Alex Walsh says:

    I like your (and that author’s) take on this. I’ll admit, I sometimes am condescending towards arts and humanities majors, but I still understand the fact that you are more in it just because it’s your passion and not necessarily for the pay. And I see engineering majors here every day that will be a sad excuse for an engineer, because it is clearly not their passion.

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