Tyler Gross

If you treat your education as a means to an end, you're going to wind up shooting yourself in the head. Worse, you'll wind up dying long before they bury you. Worse still, you'll be so boring that nobody will even want to bury you.

Though I have great respect for my colleague Lester Black, I couldn't disagree more with his advice for students. His "unpopular" suggestion to earn a degree in "the natural sciences" so as not to be like those sad-sack "English majors" is actually a very popular cliché—and it's wrong.

As giant tech companies continue to gobble up entire industries, demand for graduates with degrees in the life sciences, the physical sciences, and engineering has gone way down. The ratio between science degrees and job openings is now dismal, and, according to an analysis of information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics published in the New York Times, the future doesn't look good: "In the decade ending in 2024, 73 percent of STEM job growth will be in computer occupations, but only 3 percent will be in the physical sciences and 3 percent in the life sciences."

So if you're only in college to land a stable job with the highest starting salary possible, you should learn computer science—you know, how to make those really cool digital products that are totally making the world a better place and not at all slowly turning humanity into one giant battery for Jeff Bezos's space dildo.

Even if you were guaranteed a good job in a STEM field right out of college, choosing a course of study solely for its economic benefits is a recipe for misery. Let's play out the logic. You're a smart person. You trudge your way through a "hard science" program. Congratulations, now you're a bench scientist studying frog gonads. I'm not here to deny the mysteries contained in gonads—far from it!—but if you're not turned on by those mysteries, you're not going want to wake up in the morning.

This is why it's so important for you to study what you want to study in college. What I'm about to say is so simple that it's almost laughable, but you must understand one thing: No matter what you choose to do, you will be the one doing it. The "you" you are right now. The you who loves acting, writing poems, reading histories, looking at cells under a microscope, coding for robots, thinking about the interlocking concerns of gender, race, and class.

And if that "you" happens to fall in love with language and wants to study English, then get an English degree! It may be true that English majors don't often experience a high financial return on investment early in their careers, but the fault there doesn't lie at the feet of the English Department. It lies at the feet of Republicans and enabling Democrats who gut funding for higher education and the arts and humanities. If we elect decent Democrats to office, we won't even need to write articles like this.

And anyway, the notion that an English degree won't translate to financial stability is only as true as you want it to be. You can—if you're lucky and savvy enough—spin your literary studies into a job at advertising firms, tech companies, pharmaceutical companies, etc. You'll have to sell your soul, of course. But you've clearly got plenty of soul to sell.

I'm running out of space for this sermon, but if you're skeptical of the "value" of the humanities in your actual, personal, one-and-only life, then read David Foster Wallace's "This Is Water." Read Chapter 5 of W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk. Read Percy Bysshe Shelley's "A Defense of Poetry." And do it soon. You don't want to wake up at 45 feeling like you wasted your life.