Studying the Humanities, What’s the Point?


Joshua Lee

It’s that time of the year for incoming juniors and those overdue undeclared majors. Yes, I’m talking about choosing a major. It’s something that has been on the minds of students and parents alike since the day kids were thrown into kindergarten. It is undeniably one of the most important decisions a student must make while pursuing an academic career. For one, a student will invest at least a couple of years into studying that discipline, but more importantly, it can directly affect their future occupations. So which discipline of study seems promising for the future? Today, pursuing a practical major seems like the most practical thing to do.

According to the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Campus Profile for the 2012-2013 school year, students who are in the humanities only account for 11 percent of undergraduates and 15 percent of graduate students. The humanities at UCSB include majors within English & Literature, Foreign Languages, Philosophy & Religion, and Visual & Performing Arts.

It’s no surprise that the humanities are becoming overshadowed by other disciplines because there just aren’t any practical futures for them. Studying Shakespeare, learning German, contemplating the meaning of life, and acting all seem to produce an interesting experience but lack job security and money.

Especially in today’s economy where job opportunities can be scarce, students are opting out of studying the humanities and choosing engineering, math, the physical sciences, and the social sciences. Majors within the sciences offer opportunities for licensed occupations within medicine such as nursing, counseling, and physical therapy. Students who study business and economics can translate those degrees into financial positions such as financial analysts, sales associates within firms, and accountants.

According to Forbes, degrees with the highest starting salaries are engineering and computer science. Engineers help build infrastructure, turn ideas into machines, and help solve solutions to a multitude of problems. Computer science degrees and software engineers are also in high demand in relation to the boom in the digitalization of all aspects of business: sales, marketing, and communication. Learning these trades and skills while putting them to use in the real world to earn real salaries can pave the way for exciting careers.

The need for creativity also doesn’t stop at the humanities. Science and technology need people who can think outside the box and ultimately push the field farther than it’s gone before. Practical majors like engineering and computer science give students the opportunity to create original ideas that can revolutionize science, medicine, and technology.

Coming from an old fashioned Korean-American family, my parents would have been seriously concerned if I had pursued a humanities degree. They wouldn’t be concerned about what I was studying, but as first generation immigrants, they came to this country with nothing except the clothes on their backs. They came from a background of necessity over interests, which grounded them in their belief that a degree needs to not only be practical in terms of securing a job, but has to make you money so you can ultimately feed yourself and your family. Ultimately, choosing a practical major can give you the security and comfort of owning the roof over your head and not worrying about where your next meal is coming from.

While the humanities do indeed help us understand the world through language, philosophy, and art, science and technology are helping us push boundaries and giving us more knowledge that the world has never seen before. The world has never changed so drastically in the last century than it has in the history of our planet.

In the end, what you choose to do should be up to you and your interests. Choosing a practical career will not only help you put food on the table, but it allows your imagination to translate into infinite practical tools that can help the future of humankind.