If there’s one thing The Great Recession has taught us, it’s that a college degree is becoming increasingly important in order to land a well-paying, stable job. Gone are the days when you can work your way up the corporate ladder with just a high school diploma. Instead, employers are becoming more and more selective in whom they choose to interview and eventually hire.
With this in mind, it should be obvious that college degrees should be oriented around how to find the best job with your particular skill set. Flexibility is a must! For many, this is simple: many degrees, such as a marketing degree, mathematics degree, or engineering degree are useful in several different areas, rather than being confining in nature.
However, what if you have a more creative bent of mind, or are interested in studying what you’re passionate about, rather than what “makes sense”? Does the new economic climate make these studies impractical or—even worse—obsolete?
In a 2008 article, Michael Roth argued that a liberal arts education is valuable regardless of the job market. “A successful liberal arts education develops the capacity for innovation and for judgment,” Roth wrote. “Those who can imagine how best to reconfigure existing resources and project future results will be the shapers of our economy and culture. We seldom get to have all the information we would like, but still we must act. The habits of mind developed in a liberal arts context often result in combinations of focus and flexibility that make for intelligent, and sometimes courageous risk taking for critical assessment of those risks.”
While this sounds good, how can current and future college students study what they love while still keeping an eye to the future? While it may seem ideal to study what you’re passionate about, it is more feasible to minor in what you love and major in something more practical (as painful as that sounds). This isn’t to say that you should study something that is completely uninteresting to you, however.
For example, you might want to be a world-famous poet. You could minor in creative writing, but major in marketing. That way, when you have finished your first book, you will know how to take your work and market it to the world, rather than relying on others to do it for you. The same applies for any artistic endeavor. There are millions of artists out there who no one has ever heard of, for the simple reason that they do not know how to get their work noticed.
Conversely, if your interests run more toward the intellectual—philosophy, history, literature, etc.—and you entertain thoughts of teaching, be prepared to major in education and minor in your favorite subject, or to head directly into graduate school. While most schools do not require a master’s degree to teach at the elementary or middle school levels, some do require an advanced degree to teach at the high school level.
The thing to remember when deciding on your course of study at college is that you want to study something that you are interested in, or you will have little motivation to succeed. If you spend four or more years studying a subject about which you have no passion, then you will spend the rest of your life pursuing a career that will be lackluster at best.
So go ahead and study what you love. Just be smart about it, and be sure that you have thought well into the future as to how you will best be able to use your education in the job market. While it may seem romantic to be a struggling artist who lives on love, the reality is that this grows very old, very quickly. So think ahead, and make the most of your education. Best of luck!