Can We Talk About College Majors?
I saw a message online recently which said “Can we talk about college majors. I see many people struggling to find a job with degrees because they choose a major that is a total waste of time and money.”
Who wants to be named in a chapter of someone’s success story as one of the people who told them they couldn’t make it? What hurts worse is when that discouragement comes from those who are closest to us.
I spent years working in higher education supporting students through conversations that they were too afraid to have with their families or other circles of support because of messages like this. So much so that I was inspired to write An Open Letter to the Parents of College Students years ago in which I outlined 8 different themes that emerged from those experiences.
“It hurts when you use support as leverage—I can’t tell you how many students I’ve worked with over the years who arrive at a realization that they have been living out a path that has been pre-determined for them, instead of a path that they would actually choose for themselves.
I can’t tell you how many times a student has wanted to change their major or discipline because they came to the conclusion that being a doctor or a lawyer (or whatever) wasn’t for them anymore. I can’t tell you how many times they are met with bashing, contempt, and threats that their support will cease after revealing their decision to choose a path that they were more passionate about to the ones they love.
“My (insert yourself here) is helping me out with school, and said if I want that help to continue I have to do what they want me to do.”
And it’s not limited to financial support. Emotional support can be leveraged as well.
“What do you mean you’re not gonna be a ___ anymore!? That’s not what we’ve been pushing so hard for all this time. You’re breaking my heart. I can’t accept this. I won’t accept this.”
Just so you know, this puts a huge strain on your students emotionally as well as financially. It really messes with their mental health. (See my second point) Stressing about how you feel, and about how disappointed or hurt you are or might be can impact their performance socially, academically, and in other areas as they still have to balance their current responsibilities while calculating how heavy the fallout from you might be.”
I’m planning on writing an updated version, but read the full note in its entirety for more of the themes I included at that time.
When it comes to selecting college majors, I really think that people should pursue what interests them, and what they are passionate about. Doing otherwise is “the real” waste.
Take literature and the arts for example. I struggle when people downplay the role of the arts in life but then listen to music, buy artwork, and watch TV. I can’t help but think of all the people who diminish the importance of the arts, while simultaneously consuming art and media as a way to get through the pandemic we’re in.
We need more people exercising their gifts on the paths they choose for themselves instead of making decisions based on what others have said would be profitable.
The post I saw also reminded me of how important it is to teach young people to recognize how to determine for themselves when messages are helpful for them, and when someone is projecting their own insecurities, fears, and lack of vision on their life goals.
For those of us who have more experience, I think it’s important to recognize when we might be speaking from that place and passing on our stuff to other people.
Dr. King said “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
Just because someone else can’t recognize the value in it doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. It’s a reflection of their lack of vision, lack of experience, or sometimes very real lived experiences that have left those scars. It’s ok to say when you can’t see something, but I think it crosses a line for folks to then make the assumption that a major or career has no value because they don’t value it.
The world is too expansive and has too much to offer for everyone to be a medical doctor, lawyer, or engineer. But for those who are, I’d much rather have folks helping me who are passionate about what they are doing and on a path that they chose for themselves than those who are struggling with being on a path that others chose for them.
I’m looking forward to this weekend when I’ll listen to some music, do a bit of decorating for the holidays, and be thankful for all the artists and creatives who helped make it possible.
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones