Steven Pearlstein’s Washington Post article ‘Meet the parents who won’t let their children study literature’ is heartbreaking. Pearlstein says many of his students would have studied the humanities had their parents not encouraged them to pursue STEM degrees instead. In the words of the great Willard Smith, “parents just don’t understand.”
Seriously, though, these parents don’t understand. Below are five reasons you should major in English (if you want to) despite what your parents might say.
1. You’re not going to be a barista (unless you want to be)
Image Via Fresh Cup Magazine
“But what about underemployment?” they ask. Your answer should be “Please stop.” Because underemployment is not a big deal. When looking at this issue, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found the rate at which recent college graduates took low-wage jobs rose just 5% (from 15-20%) between 1990 to 2012. The study also shows about a third of recent graduates take jobs that don’t require a college education. That’s always been the case. Oh, and it’s not exclusive to English majors. The exact same thing happens to STEM students. It takes time to find an in, so don’t shame people for waiting tables in the mean time.
2. Unemployment rates are essentially the same across all majors
The economy’s better than it was a few years ago, and it’s overall a bit easier to find work. Still, though, when someone says “unemployment rates” to an English major (or parents of an English major), you can sense their blood pressure rise. However, a study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that, between 2011 and 2012, unemployment rates among humanities (8.4%), computers and math (8.3%), biology (7.4%), business (7%), and engineering (6.5%) majors were, as you can see, essentially the same. So English majors actually can find work. Doing what, though? Well…
3. What you major in won’t decide your career
Image Via The Gazette Review
It’s ridiculously hard to understand this when you’re eighteen-years-old, but what you study in school does not necessarily determine your career path. Philosophy majors could end up managing social media at a startup, and art history majors could become small business owners. In fact, a 2013 study found just 27% of people have a career directly related to their major. Every English major has been condescendingly non-asked, “So you’re going to teach?” You can confidently tell these people you won’t. Unless you want to, which is cool too.
4. STEM majors really don’t make that much more on average
Yes, they do make more. In 2015, Georgetown University found that the median annual income of STEM majors is between $60,000 and $80,000. The average annual income of humanities major is about $50,000. Big whoop.
5. You like reading…right?
You’re on this website, so I’m assuming the answer is yes. We know that the act of reading is good for you. Also, studying literature and writing about it will give you a leg up in the writing realm. There’s a shortage of good writers out there. Even your parents will agree with that. Besides these practical benefits of studying English, though, there’s the biggest reason of all which every adult will roll their eyes at. You only live once. If you like reading more than anything else you’ve studied (which, yes, take other classes in college…that’s what they’re there for), then make English your major. Lean in to what you love. It’s really not that complicated.
Hear more about the opposition between humanities and STEM degrees in our recent chat with Scott Hartley (The Fuzzy and the Techie):