Opinion | Your humanities degree is worth it

By Anna Fischer, Senior Staff Columnist

As far as gingers go, I’m a pretty subdued version of the redhead rage stereotype. I don’t have an easily reactive temper, I’m considerably cool-headed and I feel, most of the time, that my soul is almost completely intact.

But there are some days when I feel the fiery rage of my Irish foremothers boil within my — sometimes — soulless corporeal frame, and I know that anyone who comes across me in that moment would surely believe in demonic possession.

The most recent target of this rampage was a YouTube video I came across during a deep Internet spiral. In the video, a man walked up to students on a college campus and asked them what they thought the “most useless major” was. Of course, nearly every answer was “gender studies.” The few answers that weren’t were other humanities majors, such as creative writing and philosophy.

As a double major in English literature and fiction writing with a double minor in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s studies and Korean, I am a quadruple threat of humanities “uselessness.” I’ve been asked countless times what I can even “do” with an English degree. People have told me my whole life that my interests and passions aren’t valid.

A quick Google search of “most useless majors” produces lists upon lists of humanities and liberal arts majors. Very rarely does a STEM major appear on any of these lists. Society has ground into our brains that pursuing the humanities is a waste of time and money — but it’s not. 

Humanities studies provide immeasurable value to our world. STEM may help us understand how our world works, but the humanities help us understand why our world matters.

There is a societal preconception that STEM majors are simply more difficult than the humanities, and therefore worth pursuing more. While STEM majors are certainly not easy, neither are my upper level literature courses. The reason I’m able to maintain a high GPA is not because my major is “easy,” but because I’m passionate enough to work hard for it.

A friend of mine, who is an English literature major on the pre-med track, recently told her mom that she was questioning pre-med. Her mom’s response was that if she chose not to pursue medicine, then she needed to move to a “cheaper school” because her literature degree isn’t “worth” the tuition.

As far as “uselessness” of majors go, there seems to be a consensus — STEM majors make money later in life, humanities majors don’t. This sentiment surely isn’t false. In fact, the average humanities major earns around $52,000 a year, as opposed to engineering counterparts who earn around $82,000 a year, as of 2015.

But — and I hate that this is something that I have to state because it feels so painfully obvious — money isn’t everything. 

Most lists of “useless” majors have defined their parameters monetarily. One list states directly that “A degree is tagged useless when the employment rate is low, large debt, lack of opportunities and waste of time.” Not one of these criteria takes into account happiness or life satisfaction.

I took Calculus 3 and Differential Equations during my senior year of high school. Those are some hard-ass math classes, but I worked diligently and did well in them. After high school, people asked me why I chose to be an English major if I was so good at math. And the simple answer is that I love it. In STEM, the opportunity for high salaries draws in a lot of people who may not love the studies, but have been told that STEM is the only degree “worth” pursuing. Thus, some people struggle because they are not studying what they’re passionate about. Humanities majors are happy — and happiness is worth it.

The happiness of humanities majors persists despite their lower salaries. There is a widespread conception that because humanities majors earn less money, they must lead unhappier lives. In reality, a study from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences showed that in 2019, 90% of humanities graduates were satisfied with their life, about on par with other majors.

How can one’s degree be useless if it makes them happy? Are we really at the point in society where we live in such a capitalist hellscape that making less than $60k a year makes one’s life unsatisfactory?

I’m not naive. I understand that while money doesn’t buy happiness, being financially stable makes it easier to be happy. Yet I also know that if I went into a field that I didn’t love because I could make $100k a year, I would be absolutely miserable.

The humanities provide immeasurable value to our world. Philosophy makes us question the significance of being here and alive. Art expresses life through individual perspectives. Music, literature and performance help us connect with others and see the world through diverse lenses. These are the aspects of our society that encompass our culture. Without it, who would we even be?

As the name suggests, humans would be nothing without the humanities.

Now I want to speak directly to any humanities majors reading this. The next time someone tries to devalue your degree, allow yourself to get angry. Defend your passion, maybe even write a 6k-character column in response to a single YouTube video that set off an internal bomb of pent-up liberal arts rage. 

Turn your rage into art, music or literature. That is a valid response. Because, yes, your major matters. Yes, it is valuable. Yes, it is worth your time and effort. Humanity as we know it would be nothing without you.

Anna Fischer writes about female empowerment, literature and art. She’s really into bagels. Write to her at [email protected].