Monday, April 13, 2015

Majoring in the Liberal Arts

The liberal arts are English, modern languages, music, art, history, philosophy, and mathematics.  Even though mathematics is the M in STEM, all colleges I know place the math department in the college of liberal arts. 
   One thing to bear in mind, all the liberal arts departments see their mission as the training of new college professors to carry on the teaching of liberal arts.  You want to do some thinking about that career path.  Although a tenured college professor gets paid reasonably well and the work is interesting and you get to work with students, the openings are few and far between.  Most colleges hire "adjunct" part time professors to do the bulk of the teaching.  The pay is poor, no health care, no benefits, and the competition is fierce, and the chance to make tenure is slim to none.  The pay is barely enough to keep a single guy or gal alive.  The thinking student looks to a job outside of academia, the pay is MUCH better.
   The English major centers about the study of great books, Shakespeare and the like.  The good English writers write about the human condition and people's reaction to difficult/terrible circumstances.  Knowing the literature gives good insight into real people in the real world.  With luck, you can get in some real writing courses, where you write, hand in the writing and the professor grades it and comments on it. 
   Avoid the unreal writing courses where the professor just talks about writing.    Aside from the obvious teaching career, industry needs zillions of words written for advertising copy, instruction manuals, proposals, website text, you name it.  Magazines, newspapers, e-zines always need copy.  Don't plan on a career writing novels.  The publishing business is only buying from  agented writers.  Newbies have to self publish ebooks, which can be fun, but there is little money in it. 
   Modern languages lead to jobs with US corporations operating overseas.  They would much rather have their overseas operations run by a dependable American who speaks the language rather than local hires, who might be Al Quada for all anyone in New  York knows. 
    Music is  good, but you ought to have a little musical talent before you major in it.  Performers do hit it big, but for every Elvis there are ten thousand wannabes who never get beyond doing gigs in nightclubs.
   Same goes for art.  You ought to have some artistic talent before you major in it.  If you can draw there are a zillion people needing artwork for every thing under the sun.  If you cannot draw, employment options are VERY limited.  
   A history major is similar to an English major, except the field of discourse is broader, all of human history, rather than just books written in English in the last thousand years.  You do get some very useful training in the separation of fact from fiction.
   Philosophy is fun, but I cannot think of any career that wants, or even would benefit from a philosophy major. 
   Math is very useful, although you should be aware of the tendency of math departments to concentrate upon the proving of pure mathematical theorems rather than the application of mathematics to solving real world problems.   If you like math, you should look at going for an engineering degree.  At my school the math department was so removed from the real world that the engineering departments all taught their own math courses.

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