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Thursday, April 18, 2024

The benefits of studying humanities and social sciences

An undergraduate degree in STEM is not strictly better than one in the liberal arts  


By JENA TUFAIL — jjtufail@ucdavis.edu


Have you ever felt the pressure to choose a major simply because you believe it may lead to the most profitable career, rather than because it is what you are most interested in? Many students, myself included, have struggled with balancing interest in a major with the potential payoff of a lucrative career.

“What are you going to do with that?” is a question many of us are asked at family gatherings before receiving a lecture about how “it’s not too late” to change our majors to something more proactive or “money-making.” But does having a non-STEM degree really impede salary potential?

Research has shown that although students who major in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) do, on average, have higher starting pay than arts majors, by the age of 40 salaries between the two are basically the same. The retirement age in the U.S. has continued to rise, and retirees can’t receive full social security benefits until the age of 67. As a result, many of us are going to be working for a very long time — most of our lives. So isn’t it important to be passionate about your work, rather than having your job be something you loathe? 

As someone who had always believed they would be a STEM major when they went to college, taking core classes in my intended field made me realize how much I truly do not enjoy it. Once I recognized my strengths and found subjects that I was passionate about, going to school became much more enjoyable. I believe the knowledge I acquire from my social science majors will be able to help me in the real world as a future attorney, even if, to others, they are seen as “useless.” There are many skills you can gain as you work toward your humanities degree, which will be a huge benefit wherever you end up working. 

As I mentioned before, there is also always the option to further pursue education if you hope to have a higher-paying job in your field of interest; gaining a master’s, for example, can help increase your salary by almost 20%. Attending law school doesn’t even have a degree requirement to apply. Both choices allow you to study topics during your time as an undergraduate that you are passionate about, rather than spending four years of your life studying something that makes you feel miserable. 

Even if you do not decide to continue your education after your bachelor’s degree, there are many career options available for social science and humanities students. Certifications can also help you gain specialized skills, advance in your intended career, increase your knowledge and more.

Studying a subject because you have a genuine interest in it will always be more fulfilling than picking a major out of obligation. It’s quite possible to gain both enjoyment and a high profit margin all while studying and working in fields that you love. Major in STEM if that’s what you’re passionate about, but don’t do it just because you feel like you have to.

Written by: Jena Tufail — jjtufail@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.