What Is the Value of Studying the Humanities?

3d_graduation_cap_and_diplomaClick on this link and the headline that comes up is “This Is Irrefutable Evidence of The Value of a Humanities Education.”

But the “irrefutable evidence” provided in this article undermines its own title.  “Irrefutable” would be statistically significant data, percentages, study results that show humanities degrees lead to career success.

“Mitt Romney majored in English” is not irrefutable proof of anything (a better headline: “This Is Irrefutable Evidence of The Value of Being Born to Really, Really Rich Parents”).

Don’t get me wrong, I think a humanities education is a valuable thing for a lot of reasons, many of which are given in the article.  But it isn’t fair to say to young people who–together with their parents–are contemplating huge debt burdens and facing a highly competitive job market upon graduation: “go ahead, major in history, philosophy, or English…because these rich, successful people did!”  

What is unfair about that is the jump from point A (a humanities major) to point B (a middle-aged person with a successful career) without providing any support for the transition.  To make a good argument, you have to get into the nitty gritty of how to get from that college degree to the successful career:

Was it a big loan from a rich parent?

Was it years and years of struggle and poverty during which the person persevered despite the odds?  

Was it a combination of rare comic genius, resilience, and hard work?  

Let’s be real: there’s one Conan O’Brien–the average college campus doesn’t have one more of those, much less a whole student body full.  

Instead of another article along the lines of “When people ask you why you’re majoring in English, just say, ‘Steve Jobs studied calligraphy!,'” I want to see an article about a campus that actually weaves career preparation throughout it’s humanities curricula so that it can say, “we prepare our students for professional careers.” Then I want them to provide “irrefutable evidence” in the form of empirical studies that follow their alum:

What percent of students get jobs within 6 months of graduation?  

What industries are those jobs in?

How quickly do their alum get promoted?  

Every week, I work with students and recent grads who have that humanities degree, but have no idea how to craft and mold their experiences to fit the job ads to which they’re responding.  I help them get their job search documents and professional school applications in shape; I do interview prep work with them–but this is all after the fact of getting that humanities degree.  It can and should be woven into the curriculum so they hit the ground running upon graduation. 

Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in training students to highlight their humanities studies so they stand out in the job search and workplace. For one-on-one support in preparing for your job search or to set up a workshop, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
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