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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsThe 'U' in Education

Liberal arts face major scrutiny

This fall, almost 22 million students are expected to attend two- or four-year colleges or universities in the United States. As these students begin their new academic year, some are still asking, “What should I major in?”

That question can be daunting. With the economy slowly recovering from a recession, students are encouraged to choose a major that is practical for the real world. What that means is picking a major that is in high demand and offers graduates a decent-paying job, whether they enjoy their studies or not. With that said, students are discouraged from choosing liberal arts or humanities majors.

According to Forbes Magazine’s “The 10 Worst College Majors,” seven out of the 10 majors listed fall under the liberal arts and humanities categories. The majors were ranked based on unemployment rates post-graduation and median salaries of recent and experienced graduates. The unemployment rates for recent graduates ranged from 8.3 to 12.9 percent. Not only are these numbers discouraging to students, but also to parents.

Many students rely on their parents for financial assistance during college. Another Forbes Magazine online publication, “The College Majors That Are Worth It,” featured the 15 best majors, nine of which were science. Biomedical engineering topped the list with a beginning salary of $53,800 and mid-career salary of $97,800. Parents may be much more eager to support their children provided they pick one of these 15 majors, rather than a liberal arts or humanities major. However, students and parents shouldn’t be so quick to single out the supposed worst majors.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 45 percent of social sciences majors and 51 percent of humanities majors were accepted into medical school in 2010. These majors did just as well as their science counterparts. Research shows that students in liberal arts and humanities majors are better at coming to conclusions by synthesizing information.

Another study by Chicago State University found that the top 10 majors accepted into law school included philosophy, anthropology, history and English — all of which were included as the top 10 worst majors. It’s safe to say that lawyers are coveted just as much as doctors.
In the grand scheme of things, majors are merely labels. Students seem to be happier and tend to excel when they are immersed in a field of study they are passionate about. Liberal arts and humanities majors will still face scrutiny and judgment from their family and peers, but statistics show that they can be just as successful as the majors that popular opinion deems “worth it.”