You’re studying philosophy? What are you gonna do with that?”
It’s a question we’ve all fielded countless times before, whether it came from an interest in our studies or an interest in our well-being after graduation. There’s an enormous pressure on students today to pick a major that will lead to a prosperous career, rather than one that they’re interested in.
“Want to major in sociology? There’s no money in it. Major in business. Theater? Are you crazy? You spend so much time on the computer, major in that,” say the parents and the guidance counselors. “Do you want to wait tables your whole life?”
The image of the philosophy-student-turned-barista is one that’s been burned into the American conscious, but it’s not just liberal arts scholars who are manning the counter at Starbucks. According to a report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a whopping 44% of recent college graduates are underemployed — working, but in jobs unrelated to their field, often for minimum wage.
It’s not all gloom and doom, however; according to the study, these same grads do eventually make their way into appropriate fields. In fact, the trends the job markets are currently experiencing mimic the ones it experienced about 30 years ago, prior to the dot-com boom that resulted in the hiring of a fresh crop of new employees.
While it’s true that those who major in something like computer engineering will make more money in the long run than others, there’s another truth to be had: Money can’t buy happiness.
I like computers, a lot. I spend most of my day in front of a screen; There’s no disputing this fact. But if I were majoring in computers, I’d probably be miserable. It’s not my passion. It’s something I considered with much gravitas — well, as much as a 17-year-old kid could muster before I entered college.
I realized that, although I might like computers, my real passion is in the arts. I crave the urgency, zaniness and insanity of a job in the arts. I like the idea of walking into work and not knowing what to expect.
I enjoy thinking on my feet, putting on shows and watching an audience react to what’s on stage in front of them. Making people feel something because of a work of art, putting on a successful show, the adrenaline rush of the lights going out and the curtain going up — that’s my passion, not fixing computers.
Plenty of other people think this way. They’d rather live paycheck-to-paycheck doing something that they love than be financially comfortable in a job they hate. Maybe it’s my youthful, naïve outlook, but I don’t mind that being my life after graduation.
After all, regardless of your degree, along with that diploma comes a mountain of student debt, and maybe living back home with mom and dad again. Maybe you even pick up a job you had in high school, at least for a little while as you send out résumés.
I know I’d rather my diploma be in something I love. Wouldn’t you?
Sophomore arts administration major
Printed in the 2/26/14 edition.