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Thursday, July 24, 2014 | Last updated: 5:19am

"Best" majors, worst problem



After a full night of studying for my family studies and human development exam earned me an A, I threw a solo dance party for 10 minutes straight and called my mom.

The test covered a ton of very specific information, all of which I want to completely understand in order to become the best counselor possible. I believe in myself and I’m proud of what I want to accomplish as a professional woman.

However, when I see articles like Forbes’ “The 15 Most Valuable College Majors,” which hastily sums up child and family studies — along with social work, culinary arts and special education — by classifying it merely as one of the worst-paying college majors, it’s a little discouraging.

Rankings that organize majors based on their supposed difficulty and worth are frequently posted by huge media outlets. They make it easy to feel that society values my aspirations less than those of other students.

Classifying majors as good, bad, the best or the worst creates a hierarchical system that inaccurately represents the importance of various occupations. This language is unproductive and very destructive in the creation of a society that values precision and problem solving as much as it does creativity and open-mindedness.

Everyone has a place and a job in society and, if this were truly recognized, these lists wouldn’t exist.

For students and prospective students deciding what to major in, a Google search isn’t a bad way to get an idea of potential options.

But while researching, they may stumble across articles such as Yahoo’s “The 10 Worst Majors for Finding a Good Job,” Forbes’ “The 10 Worst College Majors,” and The Huffington Post’s “The Best and Worst College Degrees For Your Money.”

Worst, worst, worst. Why is there so much negativity? These articles are overlooking and disregarding the fact that students in majors from neuroscience to anthropology are working toward bettering themselves and the world.

STEM students must complete rigorous coursework and take classes that require a tremendous amount of attention to detail. While they deserve a hefty round of applause for their work and commitment, students who are majoring in English, psychology, or early childhood education rarely get this same recognition.

These majors, along with language studies and religious studies, are some that consistently end up at the bottom of these lists. However, if a student is truly passionate about teaching kindergarten, becoming a translator or starting their own place of worship, their hopes could be dampened by the blunt language in these articles. Dissing certain majors by calling them the “worst” — even when the point of the article is to simply inform readers of their employment rates — casts a shadow on the jobs associated with these majors that further hinders their chances of attracting employable grads. It’s a vicious cycle.

Those of us who haven’t chosen to become surgeons or CEOs are called lazy or seen as taking the easy way out. Even bigwigs contribute to this mindset.

During a speech at a conference in January, President Barack Obama sarcastically compared the monetary success of workers in manufacturing with that of art history majors, degrading the worth of art history in the eyes of some viewers, according to an article by the Guardian. While I doubt Obama meant any harm with his joking comment, and he apologized for it later on, it is the use of this language — regardless of seriousness — that is damaging. It plants a seed of doubt and compromises the self-confidence of students.

The casual use of the words “best” and “worst” when talking about college majors leads us to undervalue certain majors and occupations. While doctors are undeniably crucial in American society, where would they be without teachers and without patients from all walks of life? Success is dependent on these relationships, yet the salaries of doctors and teachers couldn’t be more different.

Ranking orders for college majors creates unnecessary, imaginary tension that exhibits itself in the inequality of salaries, and blunt statements about which jobs hold more value only perpetuate a culture in which this is acceptable. Respect, or at least acknowledgment, is due to each of the occupations that keeps our society running smoothly.

— Shelby Thomas is a sophomore studying family studies and human development and Spanish. Follow her @shelbyalayne.


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