We’ve all heard that one joke about liberal art majors: “Would you like fries with that degree?” Most times, the punchline includes the takeaway message that having a liberal arts degree is useless and is followed by an implied prejudice against the entire set of majors under the liberal arts degree umbrella. This, coupled with the College of Liberal Arts’ recent announcement that graduate student funding will be stopped after six years, has set the stage for the battle royale of higher education.
From a young age, children are exposed to career dogma, that is, the belief that certain professions have more societal value than others. For instance, many young children, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, cite lofty goals such as an astronaut or a doctor.
These deeply ingrained opinions regarding educational pursuits are taken to college by almost everyone. It’s hard to break the cycle of major bias when many students enter college with preconceived notions about which majors are thought of as admirable and highly profitable and which are “blow-offs.” I’ve never been a “math and science” person, so coming to UT was quite a shock considering the number of students that pursue careers in these areas. I quickly picked up on which majors were considered prestigious, and which ones — my own, in fact: public relations and Plan II — were looked down upon. I've lost track of the number of times I’ve felt like shouting, “Hey, I’m smart, too!” to the brainiac sitting next to me quietly judging me. It’s 2014 and the notion that proving yourself comes with the territory of pursuing a college degree is archaic. Even though I myself am guilty of judging others based on their majors, it stops now.
Civil engineering sophomore Natalie Weston understands these stereotypes.
“A lot of people expect me to have a superiority complex, others think I have no social life and only spend time in study groups full of type-A personalities," Weston said. "The rest say things like 'you're too (insert positive adjective) to be in engineering.' Every major has a stigma attached to it, but if you're in a program that means more to you than a title, it's not hard to get past.”
Stigmas can make college a bummer. In an educational environment as diverse as UT, the possibilities for academic comparison are seemingly endless, and to some degree — no pun intended — true. Related to the social cachet of certain degrees, articles touting which fields of study make the most money leave students to wonder whether they chose correctly rather than focus on the important fact that, above all else, they chose in the first place. Pursuing higher education is an achievement all on its own, and not one that is praised as much as it should be. As corny as it may sound, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. If we all became astronauts, the world would cease to operate.
There are certainly fields of study that earn more money as well as ones that require a certain skill set that must be learned in a university setting. According to Forbes Magazine’s list of highest income-earning disciplines, engineering, computer science and business take the top three spots, in that order. Education and humanities/social services close the list out as the two lowest-earning disciplines.
Of this ranking, supply chain management senior Melanie Rich says, “I guess on a surface level business and engineering are probably considered the most admirable [majors] because on paper they are the hardest schools to get into, but that shouldn’t make them any more or any less important than someone who is in musical theater. Your pay after you graduate from UT should not be what defines you as a human being.”
This same sentiment was expressed by electrical engineering junior Matthew Normyle. Normyle said, “I think what makes a major choice admirable is a combination of difficulty and passion … Knowing that I typically think STEM majors are the most admirable, especially considering the fact they are very un-intuitive and require the support of a University to learn...If people are truly passionate about their major and have legitimate plans to make an impact with it then I have nothing but respect.”
So, even if some of us do end up working at a drive-thru, let us take a moment to appreciate the wide array of skills that have allowed the world to function smoothly thus far. Whether someone is a triple major engineering student or a part-time commuter, what is important is that the individual is here on the 40 Acres, making higher education a priority.
Berkeley is a Plan II and public relations sophomore from Austin. Follow Berkeley on Twitter @oliviaberkeley.