Liberal arts and the real world: A vocational degree isn’t necessary for success

Major in something that genuinely interests you. Treat your undergraduate years as a chance to explore a variety of areas. Learn about the world from as many angles as possible. There will be time for vocational training later.

These were among the many pieces of advice my parents reeled off as I loaded up the car for college and my mother began to panic at the thought of all of the things she’d forgotten to teach me.

I don’t want to thank them too soon — I haven’t begun applying for jobs yet — but as graduation draws nearer, I can say that I’ve appreciated their support in my decision to major and minor in liberal arts subjects, especially when others have told me with confidence that I’ll be “screwed” when I enter the real world.

With the competition for post-college jobs getting fiercer each year, students are piling on the work and extracurriculars in an effort to give their resumes an edge over others’. This includes double majors. Top schools are now seeing 30-40 percent of students graduating with two degrees. What’s more, there has been a growing trend toward occupational degrees, such as business, and away from the liberal arts.

I have nothing against majoring in these subjects. But I do recommend avoiding taking on a certain major or a crushing workload with tunnel vision toward potential post-college careers.

We’re here for a brief four years, a time that we’re often told is the best of our lives. If it’s not the best, this much can be said for it: It’s the time we spend our teenage years looking forward to, and the rest of our lives remembering. It’s a source of anecdotes, of diehard dedication to our alma mater, of friendships that last into old age.

It seems a shame to waste our time buried in textbooks about subjects which we don’t even find interesting. You have the rest of your life to work.

Enroll in classes all over the map, and pursue the subjects that you enjoy. Take note of what you find yourself doing in your free time, and find a way to do it for pay. Go out and work for a few years before choosing a path; and then go to graduate school and train for it. Learn to think and explore and be open minded — that’s college. Post-college is forever.

If nothing else, we need to relax. Responsibility is scary, but so is regret.

Email Emily Kelley at


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