In Defense of Your Humanities Degree: 5 Reasons Why Studying the Humanities Isn’t a Waste of Time

By Danika McClure

In the wake of a graduate shortage in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), degrees in the humanities and soft sciences have increasingly been deemed as frivolous and less valuable to the American job market. Shortages in technical industries across the country have forced lawmakers to take action, often by decreasing funding to the arts and soft sciences in favor of colleges which produce more STEM graduates.

Rosemary G. Feal, who directs the Modern Language Association of America, attributes the decline in funding for the arts and humanities in the United States particularly to “legislators who themselves have not experienced first-hand the value of studying the humanities.”

The most recent attacks on the arts and soft sciences come from Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who told members of the associated press last month that he planned on reallocating the state’s higher education budget, giving more funding to colleges which produced the most STEM graduates.  Ironically enough, Bevin received his undergraduate degree in Japanese studies from Washington and Lee University, a private liberal arts institution.

By reallocating the state’s budget, Bevin hopes to curb the state’s STEM graduate shortage. But Bevin is just the latest in a series of lawmakers that don’t see the value in a humanities education, buying into the all too common myth of the unemployable liberal arts major.

As has been noted numerous times by educators everywhere, completing a degree in the social sciences, humanities, and the arts does not automatically condemn you to a life of retail or unemployment. The opposite, in fact may be true, as studying the liberal arts teaches students a variety of skills most sought after by employers. Rather than looking for technical skills, 95 percent of employers, prefer candidates who display “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems,” skillsets which humanities majors are more likely to have upon graduation.

While there are strong voices present in politics and even the education sector, there is proven value in studying the humanities, and as a person who has spent a large majority of her life in the arts and humanities, I’ve found many of the skills I learned in these “frivolous” courses more valuable to my work than any technical education I received while attending college.  Here are 5 reasons why pursuing a humanities degree isn’t a waste of time.

  1. Thinking Only About Shortages in the STEM Fields Will Oversupply the Workforce

While it cannot be understated that America is in the midst of a STEM crisis, reducing funding for programs outside of the hard sciences will ultimately oversupply the workforce in the scientific and technological sphere. After all, this isn’t the first time that the U.S. has experienced a workforce shortage; according to The Washington Post, this is a mistake the U.S. has perpetuated previously. A generation ago, lawyers made more money than investment bankers; but in the present day, the workforce is oversaturated with law graduates, while the investment banking industry is constantly searching for qualified candidates to fill positions.

While America does need to produce a certain number of STEM graduates in order to keep up with the global economy, there are other complex issues which graduates will have to confront in future years–issues which will require adaptability, in a variety of different environments.

  1. Humanities Education Gives Employees a Global Perspective

As business evolves to be ever globally-minded, business owners, civic leaders, and politicians are increasingly looking to understand the cultural and social climate of countries around the globe, and are counting on humanities graduates to better understand the cultural, historical, and political differences present in these countries.

Many large and revered corporations have failed to expand into overseas markets by ignoring cultural differences present in those markets.

“Some of the most successful American companies, including Walmart in Germany and TJK in Holland have failed overseas,” explains Professor Harry Lane, who teaches in Northeastern University’s School of Business, “because they did not understand how cultural differences would affect their business models.”

Lane, who has spent the past 30 years teaching individuals how to adjust to overseas markets, adds, “Thanks to globalization, an executive deals with more organizations, governments, and people, many of which are vastly different from the entities the executive is accustomed to and from each other.”

Those who have spent time studying the humanities and social sciences are able and ready to help their employer adapt to a variety of situations, partially because of their ability to adapt to any given situation and their proficient social skills, but also because humanities graduates have likely dipped their toes in a variety of social subjects including politics, sociology, anthropology, and language. These skillsets and areas of study allow graduates to adapt more quickly to the history and culture of a region, adding value to employers who seek to quickly develop relationships and transition into lucrative interactions in unfamiliar territories.

  1. Having an In-Demand Degree Doesn’t Necessarily Guarantee Job Placement

Given the fact that college has become increasingly expensive over the past decade, it makes sense that people are choosing majors based on their “employability factor.” Recent studies indicate that nearly 82 percent of 2015 graduates researched their field of study before choosing a degree path at their college.

If obtaining a certain degree guaranteed you a job, this kind of long term thinking would make perfect sense. But many professors, such as Jay Halfond of Boston University, have been speaking out against this line of thinking. In an interview with EvoLLLution, the professor notes, “In my view, it is dangerous and even corrupting to proceed down a path that shows that higher education ensures lucrative jobs soon after graduation. But we need to do a far better job demonstrating the relevance of a broad, general education, while linking what we teach to what is critical in the professional world.”

While there are jobs that require certain skillsets affiliated with specific degrees, generally speaking, your degree may have little to do with your career success. Recent research indicates that 62 percent of college graduates are working in jobs which require a degree, but only 27 percent of graduates are working in careers related to their major.

So what are employers looking for?

Many companies have begun seeking out candidates who have skillsets that are particularly developed among humanities majors: those who are adaptable, possess high levels of emotional intelligence, and are able to fit into the company’s pre established company culture.  That is to say, employers are less worried about your degree program and GPA, and are paying more attention to your personality, adaptability, and your predisposition to upholding company values.

  1. Humanities Courses Teach You How to Grapple with Uncertainty

In many STEM courses, students are presented with factual information and straightforward answers. Humanities classrooms, by contrast, are more likely to present students with material that is subjective, in which analyzing and considering a question is more important that giving a correct answer.

John Horgan, a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology explains his own defense of the humanities, writing “The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. This skepticism is especially important when it comes to claims about humanity, about what we are, where we came from, and even what we can be and should be.”

He adds later that by the end of his courses, his students will learn to question all authorities including himself. “You’ll question what you’ve been told about the nature of reality, about the purpose of life, about what it means to be a good person. Because that, for me, is the point of the humanities: they keep us from being trapped by our own desire for certainty.”

  1. The Job Prospects and Income for Humanities Majors Aren’t as Dire as Has Been Reported

UNEMPLOYMENT RATES danika mcclure

Image Source: cew.georgetown.edu

As grim as the job prospects seem to be for humanities majors right out of school, studies show that obtaining a job isn’t quite as difficult as is typically reported. In fact, the average unemployment rate for new graduates in the humanities is right on par with those with computer science and math degrees (9% v 9.1%).

Other studies indicate that humanities majors end up making more money on average than their peers who study the hard sciences. In a column written for The Wall Street Journal, Scott Samuelson cites a study performed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities which found that “at peak earning ages (56-60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional, or pre-professional fields.” Once again, employers were looking to hire graduates with the ability “to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.”

Author Bio: Danika is a musician from the Northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on twitter @sadwhitegrrl


 Whether you’re studying the humanities or STEM, The Secrets of Top Students can help you get better grades!

The Liberal Arts Student’s Guide to STEM

Even if you’re a liberal arts / humanities student, you will probably have to take a course in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) at some point in your college career.  Check out this new article I wrote on how to succeed in STEM, even if you think you’re “just not good at math.”


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Quick Tips Part 5: How to Come Up with a Thesis

By Stefanie Weisman

If you’re a high school or college student, you probably dread having to come up with a thesis.  A thesis is the argument you make in your paper based on research and/or your own experience.  Sometimes a thesis will come to you very quickly, in a flash of inspiration.  But most of the time, it takes a lot more work.

When writing a research paper, consider yourself part of a scholarly debate.  It’s perfectly acceptable – even encouraged – to challenge the ideas you read in a book or heard from your teacher.  A thesis should be your own unique, original contribution to the debate.

To come up with a thesis, think critically as you read books, articles, and other sources.  You should constantly ask yourself questions such as:

  • Why did a person or character do something?  What motivates him/her?
  • Who/ What is responsible for an event or action?
  • What is the cause of something?  What is the effect of something?
  • What is the significance of an action or event?
  • What are some potential flaws in an author’s argument or idea?  Are there other possible explanations?
  • What do you think about an issue?  Do you agree with the given interpretation?  Why or why not?
  • How did an event or action take place?  Why did it take place the way it did?
As you do research, try thinking like a reporter – always ask “who, what, where, when, why, and how?”

Do you have any tips for coming up with a thesis?


For more tips on writing papers, check out The Secrets of Top Students.

Quick Tips Part 4: How to Use Google for Academic Research

By Stefanie Weisman

Sure, you use Google to look up cute cat videos, but it can also be a great tool for academic research.  Here are some tips on how to use Google to find sources good enough to cite in your papers.

  • Use double quotes to search for an exact term or a set of words in a specific order.
  • Include “site:” to limit your search to a particular website (e.g., “site:nytimes.com”) or top-level domain (e.g., “site:.edu” – this is useful if you only want to search websites hosted by universities).
  • If you’re looking for pdf documents – which tend to be more scholarly than regular websites – enter your search term(s) followed by “filetype:pdf”.
  • When trying to find a term on a web page, don’t forget about Ctrl-F (or Command-F if you use a Mac).  Just type the word or phrase you want to find in the box that pops up, and it’ll show you all the places where it occurs.
  • Use Google Scholar to search for academic articles, and Google Books for easily searchable texts.

What are some Google search techniques you like to use?


For more tips on writing and research, check out The Secrets of Top Students.

4 Must-See Places on the East Coast for Theater and Art Students

By Alison

Summer is almost over. Before the school year starts, you and your theater and art buddies are ready to hit the road for an amazing vacation. Instead of meandering from state to state, plan your trip to include as many cultural activities as possible. Fortunately, the East Coast is home to tons of artistic and theatrical touchstones.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

No trip to the City of Brotherly Love is complete without a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As one of the largest museums in the country, it is home to hundreds of paintings, architecture, sculptures and more from North and South America, Europe and Asia. Spend a day admiring the amazing Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings by Van Gogh, Cezanne and Monet and famous works by Frido Kahlo, El Greco and Salvador Dali that are on display at the museum. The building itself is a work of art, too. The neoclassical building is modeled after the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The museum is located at the west end of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. You and your friends can either explore the museum on your own or arrange for a guided or walk-through tour.

Exterior of the Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Exterior of the Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts

Located in the Boston suburb of Worcester, the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts offers something for everyone. The theater, which seats 2,300 people, hosts national-touring companies performing Broadway shows, nationally-famous entertainers and community theater groups. To satisfy both the theater and art fans in your group, the Franklin Square Salon Gallery, which features a variety of art exhibits, is located on the second floor of the theater. This summer’s performances include the 10th Anniversary World Tour of Celtic Woman, Morrissey and the 2015 Miss Massachusetts Pageant.

Broadway

An East Coast adventure is not complete without spending some time in the Big Apple. After exploring in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, head to New York City for at least one Broadway show. For example, if you have wanted to see “The Book of Mormon” ever since your theater professor told you how funny it is, now is your chance to do just that. If you have time for more than one show, there are no shortage of entertaining productions on the Great White Way, including classics like “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Aladdin” and “Jersey Boys.” Whether you prefer something dramatic or a more avant-garde production, New York City theater offers something for everyone.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The “Met,” as it’s known, is to the Big Apple what the Louvre is to Paris. The museum’s collection of European art rivals anything you will find overseas and includes everything from the ancient Romans to Renoir. The Met is also home to plenty of American classics, as well as pieces from Egypt, Africa and the Middle East. The museum features hundreds of events and programs every month, including lectures, tours and performances.

About the author: Alison has been a freelance writer for the past 15 years. She enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics, and always looks for opportunities to learn about new subjects.

A Brief History of Education

What kind of education would you have received if you had lived in a different time? Interesting to think about.

Before Modern Education
Source: BestDegreePrograms.org


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Six Reasons Why Art is Essential to Education (Guest Post)

Vera Marie Reed is a writer who has written several articles for education and career sites. When she is not spending her day reading a new book or writing, she loves getting her creative juices flowing by trying new artistic hobbies such as photography or painting.

Recently, education has been subjected to government budget cuts.  A smaller budget leads to huge cuts within the schools, including teacher’s supplies, extra curricular activities, and classes not deemed essential. Unfortunately that means that many schools often opt to cut art education, including music, dance, and art classes. Although many school officials may not see art classes as an important part of a well-rounded education, students get significant benefits from all forms of art.

education 1

1. Students Develop New Skills

When a student wants to learn photography, painting, sculpting, or other types of art, they aren’t just learning the skills of that particular talent. Students also learn to think creatively, which is a skill that can transfer to other subjects. They become more descriptive and imaginative when writing essays. Art students also develop critical thinking skills which are important while learning math and science.

2. Motivation for Students

Getting kids to stay in school has always been an issue. They don’t feel motivated to go to class and learn things they don’t enjoy or think will be applicable to the real world. That’s why it’s important to allow them to explore subjects that are not only fun, but inclusive to all types of personalities. Students who are involved in art classes and extra curricular activities often find more drive for going to school every day.

3. Students Get An Outlet for Self-Expression

To say that young people, from elementary to high school students, have a lot of emotion would be an understatement. So many students feel the stress of needing to be successful at school, along with the pressures of fitting in with their peers. Without a proper outlet to express these feelings, they can end up feeling negatively about themselves and their school experience. However, art classes and extracurricular activities are the perfect outlet for self-expression.

4. Students Improve Test Scores

Those who are involved in art classes and extracurricular activities have been known to have higher test scores, better school attendance, and more recognition for academic achievement. According to a 2010 study, students who took art and music classes were much more likely to score high on the math, writing, and reading sections of the SAT. The better performances on the various subjects also correlated with these students attending highly rated universities.

5. Preschoolers Develop Important Skills

Preschool-aged students are essentially still learning their most basic functions. Students who take part in art and music activities from a very young age can develop spatial perception, critical thinking skills, and better communication. These are all skills that are vital for the growth of any young person. Just by allowing them time and materials for art every few days, you can ensure that these young students are gaining the skills they need in school and life.

6. Promotes Independence in Students

Art is one of the subjects that require the most independence. Through the self-expression and creativity involved in artistic endeavors, people learn to be more independent minded. There’s no homework to copy or test answers to memorize. Therefore, every piece of art they create is completely original and part of their individual growth.

Art in education is floundering due to budget cuts. However, the skills and emotional growth acquired through art is irreplaceable. For many students, the lack of art in school may mean cutting their path to success.


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Eight Rules for Writing a Great Paper (Guest Post)

Lois Weldon is a professional writer at the dissertation writing service Uk.bestdissertation.com.  She is an ESL teacher.  Her hobbies are decoupage and writing poetry.  She loves Marvel comics and homeschooling her 7-year-old son.

If you’re a college student, you’ve probably completed hundreds of writing assignments and become intimately familiar with the writing process.  But writing does not stop with graduation – you’ll have plenty of opportunities to write even after you finish school. No matter how much writing you’ve done, it never hurts to learn a few tips and tricks to facilitate the writing process.

Read these tips before writing that paper.  Photo by gudmd.haralds via Flickr.

Does this look familiar to you? Read these tips before writing that paper! Photo by gudmd.haralds via Flickr.

  1. Make an outline. The importance of having an outline can never be overstated. An outline is a blueprint for your assignment. Developing an outline will help you organize your ideas, conduct better research, and estimate the word count for every section.
  2. Take note of the structure. When doing your writing assignment, make sure it has an introduction, a body and a conclusion. An introduction should introduce your topic and provide background information, while the body of the paper should contain the supporting evidence for your paper. Lastly, provide a conclusion by summarizing your argument and putting it in context. Remember: the conclusion is your last chance to impress your readers, so make it memorable!
  3. Ensure continuity of ideas. Imagine if your paper is all over the place – that is, you discuss a certain topic in one paragraph, then introduce an entirely unrelated topic in the next paragraph. Your reader will not be pleased. It’s important to maintain continuity so your readers will be able to follow your train of thought.
  4. Keep it objective. When it comes to academic writing, what really count are facts and relevant information. While your opinion does matter, refrain from incorporating it on your writing assignment. It is imperative that you present a clear and unbiased picture based on evidence and expert studies. Unless your opinion is being asked, don’t include it in the paper.
  5. Use bullets and numbering. In some academic writing, bullet points are preferable to long-winded paragraphs. This will allow you to discuss each point in an efficient and organized manner. Plus, it’s easier on the eyes.
  6. Take note of the word count. When writing your assignment, keep in mind that too few words means you won’t be able to express your ideas effectively, while too many words can lead to superfluity or duplication of ideas. If you are given a required word count, stick to it! In your outline, indicate how many words you should allot per section.
  7. Use examples. In a writing assignment, you must show that you understand the resources and materials you gathered from research. Use concrete examples to apply what you’ve learned and support your arguments.  You should also make use of tables, statistics and figures in your paper.
  8. Cite your sources. When it comes to academic writing, citing your sources, especially when you’re borrowing an idea or theory, is a must. Plagiarism is a form of stealing and you don’t want to compromise your future just because you did not acknowledge someone else’s work.

For more tips on how to write a paper and much more, order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Will We Be Publishing Books Written in Digital English Someday? (Guest Post)

I’m excited to introduce my first guest blogger, Alexa Russell.  In this post, Alexa writes about nothing less than the future of the English language.  While we need to recognize the importance of Internet English, we should be wary of relying on it too much.  What’s your take on the issue?  Should we embrace the patois of the digital age, or fight to keep ‘proper’ English alive?  Should digital English become part of what you actually learn in English programs?  Without further ado, here’s Alexa.

The digital migration brings millions of new users to the Internet daily, with even more returning day after day to their favorite informational resource. Not only do these individuals access countless stores of knowledge held on websites and databases, they also contribute to the Internet by publishing in the form of Twitter and Facebook updates and blog posts. Many of these publication forms champion cursory writing, and in response many Internet users have found ways to express themselves through acronyms or shortened words.

This has spurred a huge debate about the current state of the English language. On the one hand, many believe that the rules of grammar serve as the best way to express yourself and be taken seriously. Others, however, believe that these rules hinder actual communication and force people to follow archaic rules that are inefficient for the digital age. The point of using abbreviations or removing vowels from words, after all, is to communicate more quickly.

A January 2012 feature article published by Wired Magazine illustrates why we should embrace this digital form of English. As the headline announces, “Its Tyme to Let Luce” with the rules of casual conversation. “English spelling is a terrible mess anyway,” writes Anne Trubek, “full of arbitrary contrivances and exceptions that outnumber rules. Why receipt but deceit? Water but daughter?”

Efforts to stem the digital corruption of English only get in the way, Trubek argues. Autocorrect software, which attempts to make sense out of misspelled words, both purposefully and not, often further complicates intended meanings by correcting to the wrong word.

Even colleges and universities, the bastions of proper English and, are beginning to embrace digital applications. A January 2012 piece published in the New York Times reports the attempts of Duke English professor Cathy Davidson to do away with the traditional term paper in favor of consistent posting to a class blog.

Although she finds that this outlet supports writers that rely on creativity in their prose, many feel that the rigid rules of proper grammar need to be respected, especially by college students. “Writing term papers is a dying art, but those who do write them have a dramatic leg up in terms of critical thinking, argumentation and the sort of expression required not only in college, but in the job market,” said Douglas Reeves, founder of the Leadership and Learning Center and a columnist for the American School Board Journal.

The youngest among us have incorporated digital forms of English so completely into our usage that it often finds its way into oral conversation. The Baltimore Sun published a May 2012 piece on different acronyms and abbreviations that parents should know in order to communicate with their children. Many of the more popular ones, like “YOLO” and “OOMF” are relatively new but are already being used by millions.

What the digital migration has allowed people to do is construct their own rules of conversation, apart from those held sacred by the old school of grammar. There’s no doubt that people will continue using these forms of speech, and postmodern writers have long been published advocates of English deconstruction. With the ease of publishing today, digital English will continue to take hold. However, those who don’t publish works that adhere to at least some standard rules of writing, may find that their audience dwindles when they can’t understand what they’re reading.


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What’s the point of a college education?

There have been a lot of articles questioning the value of a college education recently – particularly the value of a liberal arts education. Take, for example, Frank Bruni’s The Imperiled Promise of College and Michelle Singletary’s Not All College Majors Are Created Equal. These articles warn against choosing majors that tend to result in low-paying jobs (or no jobs at all). That’s why I was glad to read Alina Tugend’s article Vocation or Exploration? Pondering the Purpose of College, which argues that college students can and should study the humanities. As Ms. Tugend writes, the question is this: is the purpose of college to “ensure a good job after graduation,” or “to give students a broad and deep humanities education that teaches them how to think and write critically? Or can a college education do both?” I’m going with door number three.

In the article, Ms. Tugend notes that what students major in has a greater impact on their future earnings than in previous decades.

So does that mean I should urge our son to pursue a degree he doesn’t have any interest in because it may provide him with a higher-paying job — or any job, for that matter — after college?

No, Professor Carnevale said, because if you don’t like what you do, you won’t do it well. The point is that “young people now need to have a strategy,” he said. “If you major in art, realize you will have to get a master’s degree. The economic calculus has changed.”

I like that line – if you don’t like what you do, you won’t do it well.

When I was in college, my most rewarding classes were in the humanities. I specialized in medieval history and got an M.A. in Art History before I majored and got a job in Computer Science. Do I regret studying history and art history, where job options are extremely limited? Not in the least. I’m glad I have a background in the humanities – I think it makes me a more well-rounded, knowledgeable, appreciative person. (However, I’m lucky that I didn’t go into debt to get my degrees. If I did owe lots of money, perhaps I wouldn’t be so pro-liberal arts.) One of the best things about Columbia, my alma mater, is that it has a Core Curriculum. All undergrads, no matter what their major, are required to take classes like Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization, where they have literally hundreds of pages of reading each week on everything from Homer to Dante to Freud. This was probably the highlight of my academic career.

Lastly, I was quoted in a Crain’s New York Business article last week – Goodbye, ‘bamboo ceiling’ – Corporate barriers spur Asian-Americans to start fast-growing enterprises, by Emily Laermer.

When Stefanie Weisman was Stuyvesant’s valedictorian in 1999, she said, the school was about half Asian. She described her time there as ‘the most intense four years of my life’ because of its competitiveness.

‘The students there are bright and hardworking, partly because there are so many Asian-American students,” she said, citing the influence of ‘tiger parents.’ . . . .

It’s also possible that tiger parenting ultimately backfires. Ms. Weisman, who is writing a book about academic success, said that those who enjoy learning – rather than studying because their parents insist – tend to do better professionally.


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