Ever since I decided to become an Art History and Visual Arts and Spanish double major, people (mostly adults) have bombarded me with variations of the same question: “What are you going to do with that?” Regardless of the phrasing, the implication — that these majors are not marketable — still rings loud and clear. As the prospect of beginning the more-permanent job hunt draws nearer and my senior comprehensive thesis looms, I began to worry about the practicality of my majors beyond graduation. However, I find comfort in a recent revelation of mine: Majors and degrees acquired at a liberal arts college do not have to directly correlate with a profession. I accept that I probably will not become a neurosurgeon or hold a position in government office, but that is not because I chose to not major in biochemistry, politics or Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) as an undergrad. It is because I have no desire to pursue any of those professions. I am not limited by my major.
The liberal arts degree has successfully shattered the notion of a hierarchy among majors in terms of practicality and relevance to the real world. The weight a liberal arts degree holds in the professional world is not emphasized enough, especially to undergraduate students. These days in the competitive job market, employers are looking less for the name of the undergraduate major and more for skills that can be applied to any position.
The notion of major practicality is a concept that seems to have evolved primarily in the last 20 or so years due to the increasingly difficult job market. While the same core career paths, such as medicine and law, remain consistent in terms of demand and popularity, new professions that do not have a corresponding undergraduate major have emerged. Job seekers increasingly desire professions such as social media coordinating and event planning due to their involvement in public relations. Many find these professions (and others) more appealing than office work in a cubicle, regardless of annual salary. These positions do not require an undergraduate degree in event planning or social media management, nor do they necessarily need to be temporary positions while searching for more permanent, higher-paying professions. Occidental students seem married to the idea of perfectly coordinating their major to their future careers.
The most popular majors at Occidental include economics, biochemistry, politics, DWA and psychology. But when students majoring in those fields are asked exactly what they want to do upon graduation, their career choices do not always parallel their major. The underlying truth is that everyone at Occidental is getting the same liberal arts degree. The nature of a small, private liberal arts college is that we do not have isolated schools for the various fields, nor do we limit students to solely taking classes within their major.
I can talk anyone’s ear off about the evolution of the male physical form in marble sculpture throughout Ancient Greece or the trials and tribulations of Federico García Lorca’s life as shown through his poems and novels. But my expertise extends much further beyond the specific skill set associated with my majors. I, like anyone else majoring in, for example, English and Comparative Literary Studies, Critical Theory and Social Justice or Latino/a and Latin American Studies, can form a thesis, think critically and present an argument.
I will graduate from Occidental in 2015 with a diploma that reads “Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Visual Arts and Spanish Studies.” My grade point average will only affect me, and my degree is no more or less important or relevant than the next. No undergraduate major is more or less practical than the other. An individual who majors in politics or economics is not more intelligent than anyone who chooses to major in, say, Japanese studies. Professionals and students alike must abandon the expectation of pairing undergraduate majors with careers because if not, the job market will surely suffer from a dearth of hirable applicants.
Hannah Teskey is a junior Art History and Visual Arts and Spanish double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @WklyHTeskey.