A student wrote to me recently to tell me how tired she is of the assumption that Humanities students are prepared for nothing in professional life besides teaching. She said many of her friends are majoring in something vocational, and they give her a lot of grief about being an English major. “I never get a break from the whole ‘you’re not gonna be able to do a lot with that major’ argument,” she said.
Of course I replied with a good “chin up!” email and some real-world encouragement about her prospects for the future. I suggested she tell her friends “I’ll be able to do more than you will. You’re preparing yourself for a lifetime of one job. I’ll be ready for much more!”
Then I wondered: Why does this poor girl have to write to me for encouragement? Not that I mind—I don’t! I love hearing from students. But I’m 3,000 miles away from where she is. I’ve never set foot on her campus. Isn’t there someone close by who can tell her the same thing? Someone in a classroom, a department office, someone who’s an advisor, an instructor, something? She had to scour the internet looking for help until she finally found me?
I know career advisors often try to help Humanities students see a broader future. But not all students visit the career center, and even those who do often don’t get around to it until graduation is looming on the horizon. By then they’ve spent years fending off the “you’re-not-gonna-be-able-to-do-a-lot-with-that-major” critics. Worse yet, they’ve come to believe it themselves.
Now imagine for a moment students majoring in Business, Nursing or Computer Science being told their professional prospects were unclear, vague, or limited. Or—even more preposterous—imagine Business, Nursing or Computer Science students getting no guidance whatsoever about their prospects for the future. Imagine a Business student asking a professor what he might do with his degree and hearing the one and only answer: “Well, perhaps you could teach.” Pretty energizing bit of encouragement, eh?
When students know they can put what they’re learning (writing, research, systemic thinking) to work, they’re likely to be more enthusiastic about what they’re learning, motivated to master the skills and abilities they’re pursuing in school. That tired expectation—“Perhaps you could teach”—has an unspoken follow-on phrase: “Otherwise, you’re on your own, so you better really love this stuff because it’s not very useful.”
So let’s stop that. Now! Tell Humanities students they’re preparing themselves for important responsibilities, for leadership, for entrepreneurship, for careers involving analysis, managing qualitative information, working across cultures. Humanities students need to hear from people whom they trust that what they are learning is practical and relevant.
(If you’re not entirely sure how a Humanities education translates into skills and abilities useful in business, and if you’d like some help developing that message, call me!)