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Getting a "Useless" Degree

We’ve all heard the jokes before. Snide remarks about gender studies degrees and suppositions that people are majoring in “underwater basket weaving.” In an increasingly STEM-focused world, fields such as the arts, English, history, and other fields of study in the humanities have become less recognized as meaningful degrees. With rising unemployment rates both in America and around the world, students have increasingly been pursuing degrees in the STEM fields even when that’s not what they’re passionate about. As a liberal arts college, Meredith offers a wide variety of courses and degrees, many of which are in humanitarian fields. The Herald spoke with students pursuing so-called “useless” degrees to learn why they’re studying what they are, what their plans are post-graduation, and what value they think their degree has.

Sadie Rounds is graduating in two weeks with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a creative writing minor. Rounds shared that studying English in college felt like a natural decision because she has “always loved reading and writing” and that her favorite thing about studying English is “working with people who are also passionate about [English].” While Rounds loves what she does, she has dealt with family members and friends questioning the usefulness of her degree and saying that English “seems easy compared to other majors.” She concluded by sharing that “the most important thing about choosing an area of study is to choose something [the individual student] actually enjoy[s]” and emphasizing that every field has value, not just those in the STEM fields.

Kate Polaski is a member of Meredith’s Class of 2023 and is graduating in two weeks with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. They shared that they’ve heard people joke about the uselessness of history degrees multiple times in the past and that they feel that the jokes “prove how little [those making them] actually know about the field.” She went on to list a number of incredibly successful American politicians and leaders who all held degrees in History, including Woodrow Wilson, W.E.B. Dubois, three recent SCOTUS justices, and several more. Polaski also shared that the events of the past inform the future and argued that only by understanding the past can people be better in the present. Polaski concluded by sharing their belief that “to undervalue history is… a grave mistake… [that proves individuals] never truly studied it in the first place.”

While there is debate surrounding which degrees are more accepted and respected in society, data shows that a student’s degree of choice doesn’t make them significantly more or less hirable. While it’s true that many people who get bachelor's degrees in fields like biology and chemistry frequently become doctors or scientists, getting to those jobs requires years of extra schooling beyond the bachelor's degree level. Studies in research science and medicine do often lead to successful careers with high salaries, but the years of graduate and/or Medical school required to get there is a huge expense not faced by students ready to enter the workforce as soon as they complete their undergraduate degrees.

Sarah Page is another member of Meredith’s Class of 2023 with a Biology major and Music minor who feels that “a degree is only ‘useless’ if a person doesn’t know how to use it.” Sarah shared that she loves studying Biology and admitted to choosing that as her major rather than Music because of “perceived usefulness.” However, she pointed out that STEM and Humanities majors are both challenging and rewarding in different ways. In her STEM courses, Page has been required to memorize and recite large amounts of information, while she feels that the humanities courses she’s taken require students to “engage with class content in a more hands-on way.” Ultimately Page shared that she has benefitted as a student and person from both fields of study and feels that studying both disciplines has “[given her] transferable skills that [she] can pour into whatever pursuit [she] wants to.”

Every field of study, no matter how marketable, has value. History, English, art, and other humanitarian fields are defined by what characteristically makes people human. These fields are intrinsically tied to culture and heritage and can even help predict and improve the future. When we place science and technology degrees over Humanities ones we risk losing all that makes us human and the wide variety of skills that humanities courses and degrees require their students to master.

By Clary Taylor, News Editor


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