Hannah Young

During my first week at my liberal arts college, it felt like everyone I met was on the pre-med track.  As I listened to my roommate complain on the phone to her mom about the multitudes of prerequisite courses she was going to 'have' to take if she wanted to get into a 'respectable' medical school, I couldn’t help but wonder: was she going pre-med because she truly wanted to, or because she felt pressured?

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My parents always told me I should study whatever I felt passionate about.  After being placed into an introductory sociology course on my first day of college classes, I was hooked.  But when I told people I planned to major in the discipline, they looked taken aback.  Even at a small liberal arts school like mine, the most popular majors are economics, biology, math, and psychology.  And it’s hard to avoid news articles as you scroll through Facebook or LinkedIn telling you to major in something 'practical' or else you’ll never find a job.  But I’m here to reassure you: study what you want.  Even though you might feel pressured by friends, family, your college, and the media, don’t give in just because you think it’s the only way forward.

I’m currently interning in a wealth management group at an investment bank, headed by a highly experienced financial advisor.  She’s insanely successful; for instance, she’s been named one of Barron’s Top 100 Women Financial Advisors every year since 2006.  Her major in college?  Art history.  Her business partner also majored in the liberal arts. The two women working below her majored in history and math, respectively.  None of them went to business school or majored in anything finance-related, and each day they manage billions of dollars’ worth of assets and accounts.  They didn’t necessarily come out of college with these skills, but using their experience and mental prowess, worked up to where they are now.  I was networking with several postgraduate interns, and many of them noted that the internship program specifically looks for and tries to recruit liberal arts majors.  Why?

The truth is that the future labor market is uncertain.  With the advent of complicated technology and automation, you can’t be sure of the jobs that will be open to you once you graduate.  But what computers can’t do is simulate real human interactions, and that’s where the liberal arts major comes in.  A recent study found that these hard-to-automate (and often high-salaried) jobs, like interacting with valued clients,  require social skills more than ever. And these skills aren’t just about how friendly you can be--they’re about how adaptable, productive, and able to be interdisciplinary you are.  Of course, majoring in STEM or another stereotypically 'practical' field doesn’t mean you won’t have these abilities, but focusing on an area in the liberal arts almost ensures you’ll have the intellectual breadth and depth giving you the so-called 'soft skills' that are currently in demand.  Another recent study concluded that as long as liberal arts graduates gain proficiency in one of many technical skills--like data analysis, social media, and marketing--their post-college job prospects go up greatly.  Plus, you’ll almost certainly get better at writing, editing, and oral communication--things a business or STEM major might not give you, but that all employers are looking for.  And if you’re looking to go to grad school?  Even better.  Law school applicants from liberal arts backgrounds are accepted at much higher rates than their pre-professional peers.

Focusing on liberal arts ensures you’ll have the intellectual breadth and depth to give you the 'soft skills' currently in demand.

I’ve witnessed countless friends change their majors because they couldn’t stand to take one more class that they just didn’t care about.  Even my freshman year roommate ended up dropping the pre-med track (and fortunately, the hysterical calls to her mom decreased, too).  It’s better to reflect on what you actually want to do, and spend a little while figuring that out, before you trap yourself in years of unhappiness.  You don’t want to look back on your college experience wondering what cool and useful classes you could have taken if only you weren’t hemmed in by distribution requirements for your major!

My point is simple.  If you know what you want to do, and it happens to be a stereotypically lucrative field, that’s great!  But if you’re feeling pressured to do the economics or biology major just because you’re afraid of the humanities, take a step back for a second and reconsider.  Your major means basically nothing after college--rather, it’s all about your ambition to seek out and create your own opportunities. Your job prospects aren’t going to be inherently worse based on your major, and if you’re hardworking and determined, you can do whatever you want.  Just ask any of my internship bosses.

 

Hannah is a student studying sociology at Hamilton College.  You can usually find her powerlifting at the gym, enjoying picnics in Central Park with her friends, or doing an excessive amount of online shopping.

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