Worse Than Worthless Majors
When your new major is even less useful than your old one, telling your friends and family requires a plan.
By Emily Suvannasankha, University of Central Florida
I lie about my major a lot.
When it comes to admitting what exactly it is I’m doing here at college, I’m lousy with fibs. Why? Because no one wants to hear that you’re a writing major. It brings to mind the potent image of empty soup cans jangling with nickels under the arch of the Florida Turnpike.
It’s not pretty—especially not to people who’ve been brought up to, if nothing else, adamantly steer clear of majoring in Things That Won’t Get You a Job.
And yet here I am.
I know this sounds like every other non-STEM major’s self-indulgent pity party, but even within the liberal arts sphere, there are different levels of fucked. Allow me to break it down for you.
–Tier One: STEM—Biomed, Engineering, Astrophysics. The literal rocket science that people like me would sooner shoot themselves in the face than pursue.
–Tier Two: Almost STEM—Health Sciences, Nursing, Pharmaceuticals. The off-brand but respectable math/science that regular people can do without feeling the urge to poison their own pouches of Kool-Aid.
–Tier Three: Extremely Grave Adult Endeavors—Business, Finance, Marketing, Accounting, Education, Economics.
The majors that sound like they guarantee employment, if only because they’re so boring that everyone else has sprinted the opposite direction.
–Tier Four: Stereotypical Liberal Arts Fare—International Relations, Anthropology, Literature, Psychology, Communications (does anyone actually know what this means?).
The subjects normal enough to elicit some respect—or more accurately, the tentative head nods of friends and family who at least understand what you’re talking about.
–Tier Five: Art Majors—Graphic Design, Sculpting, Game Design, Animation, Underwater Basket-Weaving.
The idea of pursuing an obscure or digital craft that may not have existed 50 years ago will confuse people, no doubt, but at least art sounds hard. Do you know how many people will claim they can’t even draw stick figures? (Ridiculous. Yes you can, Judy. That is an outright lie.)
–Tier Six: Pointless Lost Causes—Creative Writing, Philosophy, Religious Studies, probably Journalism. These vague notions don’t even have the protective cloak of sounding difficult or technical—to most, they just seem easy, sad and entirely unproductive.
After changing my major, Tier Six was a new discovery for me. I thought I’d hit the bottom with Graphic Design, which my STEM roommates liked to call an “art major,” but no. Oh no. There is a lower depth of shame, a wasteland even more barren of dignity than that of an art student who has superglued their fingers together for the eleventh time that night. (True story.)
People are quite frightened by the prospect of dedicating one’s life to what sounds a lot like a dead trade. No one wants to imagine a college student spending four years on a laptop doing something that everyone and their turtle’s pet seahorse thinks they can do. Any old bastard can steal a monocle and fake beard from Party City and sit around stroking and philosophizing. Any sorry sap who managed to scrape through sixth grade can write a halfway mediocre essay that gets the point across. So why bother?
As a former resident of Tier Five, I can say with confidence that the general populace is much more impressed by fancy ambiguities they don’t understand, like “digital humanities” and “experimental design,” than by plain old “writing,” which they think they do.
In my experience, Graphic Design sounds absolutely unfathomable to your average Joe Lunchbox who has never so much as cropped a photo in his life—which is why I often dust that one off and whip it out instead of mumbling, “I’m an English major.”
It’s a bad time, friends. I can only hope that the pitying looks eventually lose their sting.
So in the hopes of sharing what little I’ve learned so far, here are some tips—the only advice I could think of, really—to help those who have willingly taken themselves down a few pegs on the College Major Hierarchy.
Dishonesty may sound inadvisable at first—casual deceit tends to rub people of fine principles and upstanding morals the wrong way. I get it. And while I’d agree under just about any other circumstances, once in a while, lying your ass off can actually feel quite liberating.
Once you realize that most of the people you run into don’t give one-quarter of a winged damn what your major is, you’ll be free to do as much fudging of the truth as you please. Fabricate the flimflam like there’s no tomorrow.
On the last day of my 2D art class, I came this close to declaring to the whole room that I did not, in fact, need to build my portfolio, because I was changing my major to Biomedical Sciences. (Is that scoffing I hear?) And if I had dropped that gigantic whopper, I would’ve been fine.
I was never going to see any of those glue-burned, glitter-under-the-fingernails suckers again.
The perceived danger, of course, is being caught in the lie if you ever do develop a deeper relationship with one whose leg you’ve pulled. My only solution: run, hide and never speak to them again. Or keep weaving the tall tale until you’re well and truly ensnared in a cruel sailor’s knot of your own half-truths and outrageous bamboozles.
(No, but seriously, if confronted, just un-lie—or as the laymen like to say, tell the truth. Say you changed your mind. I know, wild stuff.)
2. Get comfortable with life at the bottom
There’s never been any problem that couldn’t be solved by locking yourself in your room and engaging in some hardcore, badass introspection. Get uncomfortably intimate with whatever the depraved subject is that you’ve stooped to—snuggle so close that your mom knocks on the door and demands to know what you’re doing in there.
Skim anthropology books by the light of a flickering clip-on reading lamp from the dollar store.
Troll the art history forums hunched in the darkest corner of your room until your battery runs out.
Watch every basket-weaving tutorial on YouTube while simultaneously playing opera music by the door so no one can hear you weaving your twine at four in the morning. (Not a euphemism.)
Write your weirdest, most utterly outlandish stories that would confound your closest friends at eight A.M., before any of them are awake, and show them to no one—except maybe your mom.
The process of learning your chosen fool’s errand inside out, and internalizing why it’s now your major, is the most valuable thing you could possibly do for yourself, especially when it feels like you’re floating belly-up in a society where no one believes in the value of what you love except you.
To people like me who have only fallen one or two tiers down the hierarchy, the sensation of being on the wrong side of a productive society is old hat, so this advice especially goes for the former pre-med and engineering students turned whimsical majors out there. Getting into eccentric endeavors most commonly used as punchlines requires that you make up for lack of public appreciation by appreciating them yourself, up close and tenfold. It’s possible, I promise.
And anyway, gaining your own approval is better than desperately hoarding everyone else’s. It’s certainly more fun. Fuck ‘em.
At some point, the whole absurd charade won’t be necessary. For example, it’ll likely be easier to admit to being a Philosophy major when it stops being summer and you’re in a room full of likeminded shunters of popular judgment.
And then when you’re used to saying the words, you’ll no longer have to rip off the STEM majors or confine your synchronized interpretive dance practice to the three feet of floor space in your dorm room. You’ll be able to tell the whole world about your dreams of pursuing Jell-O art, whether your half-sister’s Bolivian third cousin thinks it’s a sound idea or not.
Or maybe you won’t. It’s okay to keep your dreams private—or as private as a college major can be—for however long you want, even if that’s forever.Computer Science majors will probably never have to think too hard about broadcasting their chosen path or hesitate when asked, scrolling through the list of lies they could possibly eject just to avoid a little awkwardness.
At first, it’s difficult to reconcile the cognitive dissonance. The remaining desire to please and to be accepted, leftover from your first major, mixes sourly with the cold iron squeals of the elevator that delivers you down to Tier Five or Six, because that’s where humanity’s collective consciousness has engraved a sodden paintbrush with your name. (Only an English major would invent a metaphor so overly dramatic.)
But even if that niggling feeling of disappointing the whole damn world never completely goes away, I think it will get easier. Once you let go of the thirst for widespread approval of your sincerest passions, the truth becomes clearer: the only approval you actually need is your own.