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The Worth of Liberal Arts/Humanities Degrees

myuma

Flowers. So many of the same. So many unneeded.
Pronoun
she, they
Many people say that taking a Liberal Arts or Humanities degree is useless, because it won't help you get a well paying job in the same way something like Computer Science would. What's your take on this?

Some more questions to spark discussion:

- Should you follow your passion and take a subject you enjoy, or purely go to university to build a career?
- Is the expense of university worth a degree that doesn't provide a clear career path?
- If you took a humanities/arts degree, how true has the "humanities/arts students get low-paying jobs, if any" adage been for you?
- Are humanities/arts degrees "less rigorous" than those in the sciences? Does that change how valuable they are?
 

Superbird

Fire emblem is great
In any case, I think the optimal course of action is both, if possible. I graduated with double majors in Computer Science and Psychology, knowing full well that CS was where my job was going to come from. And that it did, but learning psychology at the same time was something I really enjoyed. I knew this would be the case going in. If going for just one degree, then ideally you can do both at the same time. If you can fit two degrees in, then you can definitely do both at the same time.

It's never going to be impossible to find a job no matter what your degree is, but at the same time you have to go about it with foresight. When choosing degree path, keep in mind both the job opportunities from your chosen degree, as well as the amount of time you have to stay in that degree for. Engineering tends to get you a pretty high-paying job right out of school with a Bachelor's degree, whereas with most of the liberal arts/humanities/social sciences you need a Master's or Doctorate to really be qualified for the jobs that those degrees are best suited for.

As for rigor, I think it depends on the institution you study at moreso than the major. A bachelor's in engineering is probably going to involve a bit more work than a bachelor's in social sciences, if only because engineering tends to lend itself better to practical/physical projects whereas social sciences and humanities at an undergraduate level mostly boils down to "write papers and take tests". But a master's or doctorate would be equivalent, if not weighted in the other direction, because those involve research, and research is hard and takes a particular type of mindset to excel at.
 

Murkrow

Says "also" and "or something" a lot
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he
Should you follow your passion and take a subject you enjoy, or purely go to university to build a career?
It's always kind of irked me that people see university as a place to improve your job prospects than something you do because you want to. My answer is, do what you want! That includes if what you want is to get into a career rather than follow your passion.

If you define "worth" in terms of the financial and the return-on-investment then yeah some of them probably are worth less. But money isn't the only thing we should value either as a society or as individuals.
For a lot of jobs, being able to finish a degree is more important than what the degree was in, because it shows you can focus. Humanities degrees are probably best for this. Being able to write an essay is a very important skill. Doing a purely mathematics in my degree, I was glad I didn't have to write essays because I didn't enjoy it, but that's probably to my detriment.

Is the expense of university worth a degree that doesn't provide a clear career path?
In countries where you have to pay to go to university, that's probably up to the individual. If you don't think it's worth it for you to study a thing then don't. Which sucks for poorer people, but that's not what this topic is about.
In countries with free/cheap tuition the question is more whether the university should be paying for people to learn something which doesn't benefit the economy in an obvious way. (In an ideal world, it wouldn't matter and people could study regardless of economic benefit, but we don't live in an ideal world sigh) But I would say it is, because what is valuable to companies now doesn't give the full picture. Diversity of all kinds is a good thing and that includes diversity in thinking/expertise.
Also, humanities generally cost less to maintain than sciences anyway, so it's not a great expense.

Are humanities/arts degrees "less rigorous" than those in the sciences? Does that change how valuable they are?
Since I did maths the definition of rigour I'm used to means making sure there are no gaps or holes in your logic. There are right answers and wrong answers, or impossible-to-know answers. There's not really much room for debate or grey areas a lot of the time. So in that sense it is more rigourous. But I suspect that's not quite the meaning you had in mind?
If you meant is it harder then probably not. It depends on the person, since people's brains all work differently.
 

MampersandF

spin the wheel
Pronoun
any
as someone who's currently studying history in university after two other botched courses, that's definitely a question I've had to grapple with quite a bit. keeping in mind that my reality is particular to my country, this much is what I've put together

choosing your degree based only on your passions is worthless, because the competition for jobs in this world is rather severe and one is seldom the only person who has passions. choosing a degree based only on high-paying jobs is also worthless, because there's no instant money-printing magic spell (besides inheritance, I guess). "become a compsci major to land a lucrative IT job" sounds great on paper, but it obfuscates a huge step-in-between, where you apply yourself to learning compsci and to building yourself up as a valuable job candidate for the IT industry. that's not easy to do, and someone who feels nothing for compsci might be altogether unready to keep up with it.

the question that one should instead be asking every step of the way is, what can I do to land a job that suits my needs and expectations of a job? that doesn't begin or end with one's choice of a degree, although it does make that choice a lot less simple than it's usually made out to be

one by one on the other questions:

- Should you follow your passion and take a subject you enjoy, or purely go to university to build a career?
people can and do attend university to learn subjects for nothing more than the joy of learning -- but usually, that's people who already have careers. the sad reality of capitalism is that, whether that means going to university for one or not, making plans to get a job is a matter of life or death for most people.

- Is the expense of university worth a degree that doesn't provide a clear career path?
there are no degrees that provide a clear career path. some may be in higher demand than others, but studying a supposedly lucrative course doesn't automatically get people into jobs; they still have to do that all by themselves.
(and sometimes, demand is in unexpected places. for example, right now, there's a shortage of history teachers in my country; that means there's an upsurge of job opportunities for history majors. can you believe it?)

- If you took a humanities/arts degree, how true has the "humanities/arts students get low-paying jobs, if any" adage been for you?
did you know that, technically, marketing is a humanities course? it's not always as clear cut as "humanities/arts is for passion, sciences is for money"; there are quite a few jobs rooted on humanities that are the exact mind-numbing white-collar shit that's usually associated with making a lot of money, and quite a few jobs rooted on sciences that might starve you.

that said, when one is grappling with that above-mentioned question of what can I do to land a job that suits my needs and expectations of a job, that includes what one needs and expects of the pay. contrary to all manners of societal pressure, pulling a huge salary isn't the only proper way to live; if one's priority isn't making a lot of money, they may actually find more happiness at a job with a modest salary and other advantages

- Are humanities/arts degrees "less rigorous" than those in the sciences? Does that change how valuable they are?
not at all. I'd argue that a degree in the humanities can be more challenging, since you generally can't count on anything being an objective truth. I bet physicists don't normally have to grapple with studying tens of completely different schools of thought in their field,

humanities often speak truth to power, and that's the source of much of the pressure against them. centuries ago, academics were crucial to creating the foundation of the power that changed the western status quo from monarchy to democracy; people who are currently powerful are afraid of the same thing coming for them, and their currently favoured counterstrategy is to attack the humanities by all means necessary -- oftentimes by using their own understanding of the humanities, in fact.
 
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