Why you probably shouldn’t be a humanities major

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I’ll start this by saying I’m a creative writing major. And if you’re thinking about majoring in any of the arts (and most of ABS, really), or if you already are majoring in the arts, you should consider reconsidering.

I know this sounds hypocritical. Why would I discourage others from pursuing my own field and ones like it?

I’m not trying to say that no one should study the arts/humanities in college. I love the arts and think they’re absolutely essential. But that doesn’t mean people should flock to them as programs of study.

There are plenty of reasons why I feel so strongly about this: It’s often more difficult to find jobs in these fields and many graduates have trouble figuring out what to do next. It can be harder to find real-world application when compared to other fields. These and all of the other practical reasons that have spawned all the Internet jokes about disappointed parents with the liberal arts son/daughter, as well as caused that confused look many people give students when they say they’re in college to study creative writing or art or whatever else. (If you’re an art student, you likely know the exact look I’m talking about.)

But the biggest and most important reason is this: If you’re going to pursue the arts, you need to treat your art like an actual discipline, not a hobby – especially once you’re into upper-level classes in the program.

There are many, many people who don’t view fields in the arts as legitimate and view those who study them negatively. In part, this is because of ignorance about these fields, but that’s only half of the problem.

The misconception that the arts (and things such as communication) aren’t “real majors” has continually been re-enforced and perpetuated by students in them who don’t even take them seriously themselves – who don’t have realistic post-grad plans, who don’t work as hard as their friends in the sciences, who aren’t really contributing anything to the world through their field. (I’m not saying that the legitimacy of a program of study is contingent upon how well it prepares one for the job market, but that is one important piece to the puzzle.)

In classes in my major, there have been so many cases where I’ve had classmates who clearly aren’t taking things seriously. They’re not immersing themselves in the field, or better yet, they know just about nothing about the field at all. They just do the homework and write what they like – no real pushing themselves, no additional research, no body of knowledge, no helpful contribution to the rest of the class. And because of the highly interactive nature of fields like mine, it severely damages the experience of the class when there are people in upper-level classes who are not serious, or realistic, about the field.

But then there’s the serious writing students — the ones who learn skills through writing that they can apply to other aspects of their lives, that read outside of class, can have intelligent conversations about literature and even other art forms, who are at least a tad familiar with writing publications. Things like that.

These people tend to be the minority. And they’re fighting against the people who write simply because they want to “express themselves” and/or think they’re going to write the next great American novel.

So if you’re one of the students who just really likes to write or draw [or insert type of art here], I completely encourage and support you pursuing that in some capacity. Do it in your spare time, found outlets to connect with others with similar interests. Maybe even pick it up as a minor. But if it’s just a hobby and not an academic field you sincerely wish to seriously study at a university level, don’t pursue it as a major.

But if you are completely serious about your arts degree, you’re making concrete plans for grad school, and/or you’re thinking about jobs in your field, and/or you’re finding ways to contribute to the world around you through your art, or even if you just know that you absolutely love what it is you do and that you’re going to find a way to make it part of what you spend your life doing, then you’re what we need in the arts.