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!
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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.”


Want more tips on college success?  Check out The Secrets of Top Students.

 

Music and Learning: Why Is It Worth Integrating Music into the Classroom?

By Carol Williams 

Many research studies have already shown us that music brings about a range of psychosomatic effects to our bodies. It’s proven to be helpful in dealing with chronic pain. Music also reduces blood pressure or boosts our immunity. It was inevitable that at some point it caught the eye of cognitive psychologists interested in human learning capabilities. Consequently, music emerged as a significant factor for improving the learning process among students of all ages. Here are some reasons why introducing music to the classroom is worth the effort.

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Quick Tips Part 8: When to Quote, Paraphrase, and Summarize in Your Papers

Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing are all crucial to writing a persuasive, well-reasoned paper. But do you know when and how to use each one? The chart below can help with that.

Citation Technique Key Points When to Use It
Quoting
  • Use exact language of original source
  • Put quotation marks around original language
  • Use proper attribution
  • Avoid using quotes too often
  • Indent quotes of several lines (block quotes)
  • The language of the original text is important
  • The quote lends authority to the argument you are making
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing the text would make it lose some of its meaning or power
  • There is no other way to say something
Paraphrasing
  • Restate the original text in your own words
  • Restated text should have approximately same level of detail as original
  • Wording, sentence structure, and order of ideas should be significantly different from original
  • Faithful to the original meaning of the text
  • Use proper attribution
  • While quotes can be distracting, paraphrasing preserves continuity of style in your paper
  • You want to simplify or clarify vocabulary, sentence structure, or arguments of original text
  • You want to put technical language into language more appropriate for your audience
  • You want to show you’ve understood the text by stating it in your own words
Summarizing
  • Restate the original text in your own words
  • Should be much more condensed than the original
  • States only the main ideas
  • Wording, sentence structure, and order of ideas should be significantly different from original
  • Faithful to the original meaning of the text
  • Use proper attribution
  • The text you are summarizing supports your argument or provides background information
  • You want to draw attention to the points that are relevant to your paper
  • You want to leave out extraneous material
  • You want to simplify the material

Want more tips on how to write a paper?  Check out The Secrets of Top Students!

Quick Tips Part 6: How to Study Actively

By Stefanie Weisman

Did you know you learn better when you study actively?  Next time you have a test, instead of passively reading and re-reading your textbook, try the following active study techniques:

  • Explain concepts in your own words, to yourself or someone else.  Remember: it’s okay to talk to yourself!
  • Make review sheets/ Write out the main points.
  • Join a study group in which you and the other members test each other on the material.
  • Write and re-write things — like names, dates, formulas, vocabulary, and verb conjugations — from memory.
  • Draw out/ diagram complex concepts.
  • Do practice problems — and don’t look at the answers until you’re done!
  • Take practice tests provided by your teacher.
  • Think up potential test questions (and answer them).
  • Test yourself with flash cards, lists, etc.

For more study tips, check out The Secrets of Top Students.

How to Get Started on a Career While Still in College

By Alison

Many college students are so focused on their academics that they may decide to put their career aspirations on hold until after graduation. This is understandable; while attending classes, studying for tests and doing homework, beefing up a resume may seem like a Herculean task.

Fortunately, using some creativity and taking advantage of your inherent interests and spare time, you can start working on your career goals while still in college — all while keeping up with your studies. For example, check out the following outside-the-box ideas:

girl typing

Experiment with contract work

Traditionally, one of the best ways to gain real-world experience in college is through an internship. If you are not having any luck finding a paid or unpaid position, or if the companies that need interns require a larger time commitment than you can afford, consider contractual or freelance work. This is an especially good approach for entrepreneurial-minded students to test out their interests and gain needed experience for their resume.

For example, Forbes notes that Amway, the 26th largest private company in the United States, offers plenty of flexible career-development opportunities that can easily fit into an already busy schedule. Other websites that offer freelance work include Handy, Upwork (which offers both short and long-term projects), Elance and Fivrr.

Make extracurriculars count

There are typically plenty of extracurricular activities in college. As Career Builder suggests, join some organizations and clubs and take on leadership roles that you can highlight on your resume. Showing your long-term commitment to a team or club will impress potential employers with your sense of responsibility. If the extracurricular fits into your career goal in any way, all the better — for example, if you hope to go to law school, joining the speech and debate team is a nice way to show you have experience in public speaking.

Work on your technology skills

Once you graduate from college and are getting into the real world of work, chances are good you’ll use at least one type of technology. In addition to becoming familiar with Word, PowerPoint, Excel and other programs, consider creating a website or app. This is especially important if you are hoping to get into IT or a related field. When you interview, you might not have a part-time job in technology on your resume, but if you can show a snazzy and eye-catching website that you created or talk about an innovative app you invented, it will be sure to impress your future boss. As a bonus, these are projects that you can fit in and around your college work.

Never underestimate the power of networking

Another great way to start on your career path while in college is to network with anyone and everyone. Tell your folks about your work dreams and see if they know anyone who works in that industry who might be willing to talk to you over a cup of coffee. If you are working a part-time job as a barista, tell your regular customers what you hope to do — one of them may surprise you and say she does that type of work and will keep you in mind for future openings. You can also use social media to your advantage, posting about your after-school plans. Getting the word out may lead to internship and job offers.

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.


Pssst!  Check out The Secrets of Top Students.

 

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.