“Best” and “Worst” Majors – Anything but Definitive
Toward the end of my junior year of college, I undertook every parent’s worst nightmare; I changed my major from biomedical engineering to religion. For me, the move was simple and logical. I had finally discovered an area with academic and vocational opportunities (i.e. it wasn’t beach volleyball) that deeply moved me. I had discovered a field that made me eager to read all assigned readings and complete all assigned homework for all my classes. I’d found a subject that made me excited to read beyond all assignments.
But my friends saw it differently. Biomedical engineering was a strong major, one with excellent career prospects, one that would pay well and garner status. Religion was…well, no one knew. Even among the most informed of peers, the question posed to me most frequently was, “Are you going to be a priest?”
What these friends were posing to me in conjecture was the social understanding of majors and what opportunities may follow from them. And in truth, with majors like religion, people really don’t know. Which brings me to the inspiration for this article.
Last June, a report in the Huffington Post’s Education section caught me eye. The title?
Wow. The Huffington Post doesn’t play around.
And my first thought was this: I bet my family peppers this list. Oh, was I right.
1) Anthropology (my MA)
2) Film/video and photography
3) Fine arts (my wife’s BFA)
4) Philosophy and religious studies (my BA and MDiv, plus my dad’s MDiv)
5) Liberal arts (arguably, all the degrees I’m naming)
6) Music (my mom’s BA and MA)
7) Physical fitness
8) Commercial art & Graphic design
9) History (my dad’s PhD, my sister’s PhD)
10) English (my dad’s BA, my sister’s BA)
The Robertson family is all over the top ten worst majors…definitively ranked. And that definitive ranking is completely based on the poor career prospects that supposedly attend to these majors.
Personally, I’m thrilled with my current work and future prospects. My wife is currently taking care of our little ones – much more than a full-time job – but she made a wonderful living as an oil painter before pursuing an MBA and earning an engaging career in marketing. My dad just retired from thirty-one years of profoundly rewarding parish ministry and part-time professorship. My mom retired two years ago from fourteen years of directing my hometown’s high school choir program. My sister quit a tenure-track professor position at top-30 Macalester College to become a full-time writer; she’s now a multi-time New York Times and International Bestselling novelist. Warner Bros. recently bought the movie rights to one of her books.
I should note a few things here. I come from privilege, not monetary privilege, but privilege nonetheless. My parents were the first generation in my family not only to attend college, but even to complete high school. Both of my parents grew up extremely poor, but both valued education highly. Because of that latter value, my sister and I grew up where two things were emphasized: 1) education and 2) the notion that we can achieve anything we want if we work at it. Together, these gave us the confidence and means to dream big.
My purpose is not to critique the Huffington Post. In fact, this ranking is simply based on statistics for unemployment, which is far from an illegitimate way to rank a “worst” major.*
Instead, my purpose is to highlight this: if you love something enough to pursue it to an extraordinarily high level, and have at least a somewhat practical sense for how to apply that pursuit, you can succeed. Do not pick a major based on any “best” or “worst” major rankings. There is no “best” or “worst” major as simply as no two people are identical. As always, individuals must define success for themselves and plan their path for achieving it, pursuing the most appropriate major along the way. It might be electrical engineering, but it might be sociology. If your plan is in place, there is not a wrong choice. And don’t just listen to me. Multiple academic studies and journalism reports agree.
* I will, however, write – probably multiple times – in the future regarding the misuse of statistics, something that is prevalent in and important to the conversation about colleges and college admissions.