Turn questions about my major to yourself

“What do you want to do with that?”

I hear that question constantly. As a philosophy major, every time I meet someone new or update friends and family on my school plans, it invariably comes up.

“What do you want to do with that?”

For some, it’s a question of concern. They are genuinely worried about my career options. That's understandable. Philosophy majors score significantly higher on both the analytical writing and verbal sections of the Graduate Record Examinations than any other major, but the only distinguishable option for those studying philosophy is graduate school – usually to become a lawyer or a professor.

For most people, it’s a passive-aggressive assault. These people want me to defend my choice of major, something I don’t think that I, or anyone else, should have to do.

The pressure has been relentless. I’ve been interrogated by my parents, my girlfriend, even associates of mine who are teachers – people who are supposed to encourage free thinking and the pursuit of knowledge.

I once told a close family friend about my choice of major, and her immediate response was, “Oh, God, you’re not going to make any money doing that.”

It makes me wonder when and how a person’s choice in education became more about their potential earnings and less about how their education would help them advance as a human being.

The Washington Post reported in May 2013 that only 27 percent of college graduates were working in degrees related to their chosen majors. Therefore, a whopping 73 percent of college graduates held jobs that were only somewhat related (or in many cases, completely unrelated) to what they spent four years studying.

So there are people who graduated, got their jobs and they’re working in the field they studied. Good for them.

But what about the 73 percent of people who graduated and found themselves working in a completely different field? What did their education do for them? It certainly didn’t get them the job that they imagined. But did they at least take away something significant from their education that helped them to learn more effectively, think more critically and advanced them as human beings? Or did they leave college with a few good memories of booze-fueled weekends, cramming for finals and some classes that they barely managed to pass?

For all those people questioning the educational choices of others, I ask you: What is your education doing for you? Are you coming to school because somebody told you to and you want to scrape by in a few classes so you can graduate and work in a field that will, based on the odds, have nothing to do with your chosen major?

Or are you going to college because you want to advance yourself? To learn to think critically, to look at life from differing perspectives and to become a more well-rounded person?

That’s not to say that everyone should drop what they’re doing and start studying philosophy. While it’s my major of choice, it certainly isn’t for everyone. Perhaps we need to stop asking the question, “What do you plan to do with that?” and instead ask a far more productive question: “Why are you studying that?”

We should stop asking others, and start asking ourselves.


Reach the columnist at svshacke@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @sirshackofford

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