Debunking the “useless” college major

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

As an undergraduate, I took the “liberal arts” aspect of the Luther experience straight to the heart. I double majored in English and religion, so I was always up to my nose in readings, research, and papers on everything from Emily Dickinson’s childhood to interreligious responses to gender violence. Like any college student, I complained and whined about the workload to anyone who would listen, but there was never denying how much I loved my studies.

I’d heard all the stereotypes before: “Religion major? I assume you’re going to be a pastor.” Nope. “English? The world needs more English teachers; good for you!” I agree, but that’s not it either.

Throughout my first three years as a student, I always thought I’d go straight to graduate school. It wasn’t until this past summer, the summer before my senior year, that the thought, “maybe grad school isn’t for me right now,” even crossed my mind. And sure enough, as I entered my last semester of college, I decided to take the “easy,” more predictable route of...getting a job.

How hard can it be? LinkedIn posts thousands of new jobs each day!”

Hard. It was hard. The first two months after my December graduation, I spent hours upon hours a day applying to jobs I was probably underqualified for and that were too far away for any chance of entry-level success. As time went on, I became more and more cynical, questioning the decisions I made in college, everything from course work to extracurriculars, kicking myself for not having done more internships or a couple of management classes. I let myself fall into the “useless major” trope of my own studies, looking for any scapegoat to explain why no one was contacting me.

Thankfully, my loved ones were always there to remind me that I studied what I did because of how excited I was to go to class each day, how engaged my professors were, and how much each and every assignment taught me. All the while, I developed the professional skills I didn’t even know existed until I had to talk about them in a job interview.

After that interview, I was offered a position at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, doing communications for their Wesley Center for Spirituality, Service, and Social Justice. The position allows me to build on the storytelling skills I learned from my English major, while also engaging with campus religious and nonreligious communities, a task aided my religion major. To them, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t a communications or marketing major—I just needed to be able to “sell” myself, my passions, and my eagerness to learn.

Every institution and organization will be different. As I learned the hard way, some job application systems will kick your resume out if you don’t “match” their desired area of undergraduate study before your materials even get reviewed by a real human—that is just one of many hard truths and challenges facing recent graduates.

And there’s a scarier implication of the stigmas surrounding “useless” college degrees that goes beyond computer systems. The label implies that some skills and areas of critical thought aren’t “helpful” in improving society. Yet, I have to wonder, how many lives could be saved from white nationalist terrorist attacks if every child was instructed in interreligious literacy? What degree of hatred could be prevented if methods of sharing and witnessing diverse narratives were commonplace? How many innocent people could be kept out of jail if our politicians and judicial professionals were practitioners of restorative justice? The humanities and soft skills aren’t “useless”—they can be lifesaving if taught and used with compassion.

These scenarios, just snippets of my educational utopia, are far from perfect or relatable to a lot of people. I believe a good place to start is allowing young adults follow their hearts (and minds) when it comes to education. If that leads you to organic chemistry, that’s great. If that leads you to interpretive dance, that’s great, too.

Debunking the “useless” major has everything to do with challenging what we deem to be “successful” professionalism. If “useful” majors are equated with monetary wealth, that implies money is the only factor of success. But if we look at job satisfaction, work-life balance, opportunities for development, and creative freedom, the definition of “success” becomes interdisciplinary in nature depending on what helps an individual get out of bed every morning.

I’m not rolling around in cash, and I won’t be for a while (if ever), and that’s okay with me, because my personal success takes many forms. Yesterday at work, I got to sit in on a “Being LGBT and Jewish” panel, taking pictures and notes for my office. The whole time, I couldn’t stop beaming; I couldn’t believe I got to attend an event like that for my real, grown-up job—a job made possible by my “useless” majors.

Personal passions, both in and out of the classroom, are what make each of us unique. Chances are, with enough persistence, vision, personal branding, and belief in yourself, an employer is going to see your “useless” major and go, “that’s who I want on our team.” And, spoiler alert, that’s also the kind of management you will want in a working environment. If not...well...there’s always grad school.

And lest anyone forget and needs one last piece of encouragement, Arne Sorenson, Luther College graduate and Marriott CEO, was a religion major.

Rebecka Green is a recent Luther College alum who majored in English writing and religion. During her time as a student, she was involved around campus as a student worker for the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success, co-founded and was president of Interfaith in Action, and was selected as a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Scholar. Following her December 2018 graduation, she accepted a position at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, as the Communications Assistant for the school's Wesley Center for Spirituality, Service, and Social Justice.

Rebecka Green '18

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  • March 14 2019 at 6:08 pm
    Tabita Green

    So proud of you and grateful for your liberal arts education at Luther. I am a firm believer that students who find the intersection of their passions and talents will be successful and, perhaps more importantly, satisfied and fulfilled in their work. You've taken full advantage of every opportunity at Luther—and now Hamline University will benefit from that!

    I hope you have a blast.

    Love, mom

  • March 18 2019 at 5:37 pm
    Deb Edwards

    nice essay Rebecka - and thanks for inspiring other liberal arts majors not to give it their dreams


  • March 18 2019 at 5:38 pm

    I mean not to give up on their dreams!

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