Meghan Rankins ’20
When the article “In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure” from the New York Times scrolled across my phone, posted by Davidson College, I was intrigued.
As a liberal arts student, I quickly clicked to see how I, a history major and gender and sexuality studies (GSS) minor, would somehow make more money in the long run than STEM majors.
“Why do the earnings of liberal arts majors catch up? It’s not because poetry suddenly pays the bills. Midcareer salaries are highest in management and business operations,” the article stated. “Liberal arts majors are more likely than STEM graduates to enter those fields.”
My heart sank, yet again.
In my four years at Davidson, the emphasis on the value of my liberal arts education has been institutionally ingrained: Critical thinking! Problem solving! Analysis! Social skills! “Soft skills” that don’t actually require a college degree. “Soft skills” that I will one day utilize to enter and change a STEM field, corporate business, or tech start-up…at least that’s what I’ve been told are my options.
As a graduating senior in the midst of an existential job crisis, I’m addicted to reading the Center for Career Development newsletter and checking Handshake for more potential job postings and events that might one day be relevant to my post-grad employment.
But, I continue to get the same narrative as the New York Times article and Davidson in Silicon Valley advertisements: how can you major in what you love and graduate tech capable? As if your major means very little beyond receiving a degree, any degree, itself.
The last Center for Career Development newsletter lists events with Deloitte Consulting, UNC’s Masters of Accounting program, Wake Forest School of Business, UNC Charlotte’s Data Science Initiative, Bank of America, and Ally Financial among other related programs.
Of the 53 post-grad events held by the Center for Career Development in September, 31 were related to business, tech, or STEM, 15 were geared toward graduate and professional school, and the remaining 7 were a mixed bag of options.
Again, the options presented to me are: tech, business, STEM, consulting, grad school, or a pre-professional program.
My Handshake portal tells me that jobs popular in my major (History) are: Marketing Representative, Entry Level Traveling Sales Specialist, and Jet Pilot.
While I am grateful that the students that are looking for those resources have them, and I applaud the organization put into these events, it leaves me questioning: where are the resources for students who aren’t going to graduate school or into tech and business?
Although I do plan to apply to law school the year after graduating from Davidson, I’m hoping that my degree in history and GSS will lend itself well to a career in nonprofit development or labor organizing to hopefully fulfill one of Davidson’s other favorite maxims: “Lives of leadership and service.”
There are a few programs through the Center for Career Development that have piqued my interest, including the recent “Adulting 101: Non-Employment Post-Grad Opportunities” workshop, which included graduate school, fellowships, and the Davidson Impact Fellowship.
However, the fellowships discussed were only the scholarship-fellowships presented on their website.
There was no conversation on programs such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America or more niche service fellowships like the Equal Justice Initiative Fellowship, National Women’s Law Center Fellowship, or the FAO Schwarz Fellowship.
The Davidson Impact Fellowship (DIF) was also brushed over. Like the fellowships, all of the DIF information presented could be easily found online.
Although I can’t expect a presentation or person to hand me job opportunities (hence why I know about these opportunities), I take greater issue with the fact that these types of careers are not even presented as legitimate options for graduating seniors.
They do not receive the same attention as the business and tech sectors.
If we can have lawyer panels and investing coffee talks, why can’t we also have non-profit career panels, grassroots organizing lunches, and artist or poet chats?
For students to graduate knowing what career they want to pursue and how to pursue it, they need to talk to people in these fields too.
Ultimately, the “liberal arts in tech and STEM” strategy perpetuates the “unemployed English major” narrative and the “Oh? What are you going to do with your degree? Teach?” narrative, as if teaching isn’t valuable enough in itself. (Newsflash: All Davidson students are where you are because you had at least one influential teacher or mentor.)
You should be able to major in what you love and do what you love without feeling like you can’t go into a related career field, whether that be teaching, tech, or writing poetry.
Liberal arts students do have marketable and valuable assets that can go beyond bringing soft skills to hard skills sectors.
We can be innovative in sectors beyond the tech start-up, but only if we have the institutional support to do so.
Meghan Rankins ’20 is a History major and GSS minor from Greensboro, North Carolina. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.