You all can’t be engineers, computer scientists, doctors, and lawyers. We need teachers, chefs, writers, musicians, and counselors. This world is more and needs more than STEM. Fix the world with good work ethic and determination, not by whatever is written on your degree.
Although a bit paraphrased, this was one of the most impactful pieces of advice I received my senior year of high school. Coincidentally, it came from my AP Physics teacher who had graduated from the university I’m attending now. She graduated with high honors and a STEM degree, and so the class was a bit surprised to hear this from her. After all, it’s rather common to hear something to the effect of: Don’t pursue liberal arts. It won’t get you a job
, especially as technology continues to intertwine with society.
Choosing a major was the most stressful part during the application process for me. I already knew that I didn’t want to apply without declaring a major since that would be disadvantageous in the long term.
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Even with that in mind, I faced a cultural, almost-traditionalistic barrier within the environment in which I’ve grown up. My parents work in nursing, and majority of the people my family knew on our block pursued nursing. This, combined with the stereotype of Asians being presumed as the demographic that “always pursues medicine or some type of engineering,” was daunting. I’d be lying if I said that peer pressure didn’t affect me, especially as I heard, “I’m pursuing biomedical engineering” over and over in my high school’s hallways.
I will admit that University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is well-known for its engineering programs. On the other, more personal hand, however, I knew that primarily pursuing any form of engineering or computer science was not within my realm of interest. This is not meant to suggest that skills such as coding are not important; in fact, these skills are highly marketable and can prove advantageous in the long run due to technological advancement.
While scientific technicalities are important, however, humanities majors provide insight into the larger picture. “Studying a humanities field involves moving beyond the search for the immediate and the pragmatic; it opens one to the examination of the entirety of the human condition and encourages one to grapple with complex moral issues ever-present in life,” explains The Washington Post
. Simply summarized, humanities majors go beyond problem-solving and key in on the “how” and the “why.”
Think about simplifying logarithms. There is one answer that you’ll end with that is correct. Even if you can do the work in your head, teachers often instruct you to write down all of your work in order to prove that you understand the process. This example is a very basic way of analyzing a key difference between STEM majors and humanities majors; STEM majors are given a problem (the starting logarithm) and are directed to find the end in the most accurate and efficient way possible (the simplified logarithm). Humanities majors are represented by the necessity of writing the entire process down as proof of comprehension. How
did you get to your final answer? If there was a question posed about how that simplified logarithm fit into a “real-world” context, that would also be representative of the questions that humanities majors examine.
According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities
, “93% of employers agree that candidates’ demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” These are skills that are attainable through a liberal arts education, and they can be further enhanced through studies in the humanities. In fact, the liberal arts are practically required as scientific advancements are made, as explained by George Anders in You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education
. “The more we automate the routine stuff, the more we create a constant low-level hum of digital connectivity, the more we get tangled up in the vastness and blind spots of big data, the more essential it is to bring human judgement into the junctions of our digital lives.”
There is a need to analyze society and the implications of what is created, which is why humanities majors are not worthless. In addition, technological improvements cannot replace the human need of the “social.” If one makes the assumption that STEM majors will produce every machine, product, and so forth for the next ten years, then that assumption must also be inexplicably tied to the truth that the responsibility of managing and dissecting how these new tools are used and what their implications are falls on the shoulders of humanities majors. As my AP Physics teacher suggested, there is no way that every single person will end up as or should pursue a STEM major.
No one will argue against the fact that STEM majors frequently turn out profitable much faster compared to humanities majors. However, whatever degree you have doesn’t automatically determine success, and this is highlighted in both real and fictional settings. Emma Watson, well-known for her role as Hermione Granger, graduated with a degree in English Literature from Brown University. Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man, ends up working in a Baskin-Robbins even though he’s emphatic about having a “Masters in Electrical Engineering, alright? I’m gonna be fine.”
A degree is like a doorway, but it’s up to the individual if they wish to step through that door. At the end of it all, a degree is an academic title given to a student by their respective university. How you put your skills to use and how persistent you are at your work is the true determination of success. Having a degree in any subject doesn’t mean anything if you sit on it and wait for luck to come your way.
According to 2015-2016 data, 83% of English and Creative Writing majors at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were employed after graduation. Compare this to 39% of Biological Science majors who were employed, and you’re faced with an interesting dynamic. The LAS (Liberal Arts and Sciences) Report
only represents a subsection of one school, but it still is a strong example of how humanities majors stack up against STEM majors. 90% of Computer Science majors, according to the College of Engineering Report
, were employed after graduation, exhibiting a mere 7% difference between them and English and Creative Writing majors. Of course, this is a small slice of what the statistics look like since all universities have their specialties. I highly advise looking into the post-graduation statistics of the colleges you’re considering as you choose what major to declare in your application. You may be surprised by what you uncover.
The pressure to take on a STEM major in college is real, but realize that it isn’t the sole option in a progressively technological world. Without a doubt, there is still a genuine need for humanities majors. It’s not just about finding the answer. It’s about how and why such answers fit into society, what the implications are, and how the larger picture is affected by development. The skills learned and enhanced through primary study in the humanities are highly valued and are sought by employers. In this age of technology, the humanities are required more than ever.
This article reflects the opinion of the author.