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CollegeFilter: How is one to choose without regret?
June 25, 2014 12:44 PM   Subscribe

At the age of 24, I just completed my first year of undergraduate studies at a good public university. I am a strong student with a 4.0 GPA, but I feel that my interests are so broad and varied that I don't know how to narrow down on a specific path of study. Compound these problems with the ubiquitous financial and career concerns of the modern college student, and you have one confused student. How can I resolve this inner turmoil and structure a long-term plan that will bring me (at least some) peace of mind?

I know this sort of a question is a dime a dozen, but any response is genuinely appreciated.

In an effort at brevity, let me concisely round out my background information: It has been a whirlwind of a year. College didn't work out for me after high school, and for years I pined for an opportunity at higher education. Now that I'm finally getting such an education, I feel overwhelmed with the decisions I need to make and the speed with which I need to make them. My original goal of studying social work and foreign languages quickly fizzled out once I learned the extensive education required for the social work field as well its measly financial return. If I had gone to college straight out of high school, I probably would have studied English or something similar. (It's taken so long to get into college due to family and financial reasons.) I have since veered towards philosophy, and I love it! I feel at home in the department and with the fellow students, and I thrive in the courses. However, I can't shake this grim adumbration of graduating with minimal earning prospects.

So I've considered picking up a second major, something more tangibly skill-oriented, e.g. computer science, mathematics, or economics. I'm particularly considering computer science or mathematics due to the love I had for a course in formal logic I recently took with the philosophy department. Alas, it's been years since I've done any post-algebraic math, so I would be getting a late start to the game. Hence such a decision would almost certainly result in an additional semester or two (four more years instead of three), not to mention the additional debt I would incur. (If I graduate within the next three years, I'll probably have around $20-30k in debt, maybe less depending on future scholarship opportunities.) Furthermore, although I'm a bright student and feel confident I could learn anything towards which I applied myself, the frank truth of the matter is that mathematics is not my natural strength. I have always had an intense love-hate relationship with it. However, as mentioned earlier, formal logic has opened my eyes to new understanding of the subject.

Truthfully, I want to study everything! In my spare time I read tons of psychology/psychiatry (viz., Jung, Maslow, Grof, etc.). I'm passionately interested in self-growth and social justice. I've gone through the entire list of majors offered by my university (multiple times), and it seems as if my mind changes month-to-month, week-to-week, and even day-to-day. One thing I do know for certain is that I'm unwilling to give up my philosophy major. It nurtures my soul, spirit, and mind, and it's the one field of study I feel totally comfortable in. That being said, I am also pretty certain that I do not want to pursue academia as a career choice.

My biggest fear is graduating at the age of 27 straddled with $25k in debt and unable to find a job. More specifically, I feel terrified I'll never be able to pursue all the things my soul craves: writing, music, art, languages, films, culture, all the myriad hobbies I pick up, et cetera. Maybe I'm overthinking this whole thing (I probably am), but I feel as though a whole lifetime's worth of ramifications sits heavily upon the decisions I'm making now. Needless to say, I feel pressured to make the right decisions.

So my questions are as follows:

1) Can someone with a liberal arts degree still enjoy prosperous careers?
2) Are double-majors ever good ideas? What would be the best major to pair with one such as philosophy, especially for a student who is not necessarily interested in graduate-level studies?
3) Perhaps most importantly, how can I begin to stop worrying so much about the future and instead enjoy this educational experience that is college?

So much for brevity. Again, I humbly thank anyone and everyone for reading and replying. I'm looking for opinions all over the spectrum. Tell me how it is.
posted by fignewton to Education (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, how do you want to pay the bills five years from now?
posted by oceanjesse at 12:52 PM on June 25


Perhaps it's easier to say how I do not want to pay the bills five years from now. I do not want to be a mid-level manager or a cubicle worker for some sales team. I do not want to work in finance. I do not want push a product or a service I don't believe in.

It's important that my ideals line up with my work. That's simply not the case in so much for the business world, or at least that's my current perspective of the business world.
posted by fignewton at 12:57 PM on June 25


I think your idea of double majoring in philosophy and computer science is perfect , and should position you well enough for a paying job when you finish college. Don't worry about the extra year -- some days I feel like I'd kill to have access to an extra year's worth of college memories. There are lots of non-profits, universities, & other organizations whose missions may align with your ideals and who will also need computer people around. Keep reading and listening to music (or whatever) in your spare time -- what's wrong with that? Also, everyone worries about the future all the time. If you can't kick the constant grim adumbrations (and nobody really can, I think), at least scan them for usefulness from time to time, and remind yourself of the frequency with which they come up negative. Also, life will obliterate whatever plans you make, so be flexible. Good luck!
posted by sleevener at 1:02 PM on June 25 [8 favorites]


1) Can someone with a liberal arts degree still enjoy prosperous careers?

Yes, but not nearly as easily. And I feel like it depends a lot on the actual degree, your connections, and simple luck.

That is, I wouldn't bet on it.

2) Are double-majors ever good ideas? What would be the best major to pair with one such as philosophy, especially for a student who is not necessarily interested in graduate-level studies?

Why would you major in philosophy? I mean, read the books. Debate with people.

If you like the logic aspect, go into computer science. The logic is much more rigorous and the major is much more useful. The philosophy logic course covered 1/3 of the discrete mathematics course that was required by my comp sci program. (Also, I had a difficult time grasping differential equations, but computer science was really natural for me.)

If you like the social/political aspect, then do something specifically for that.

Even the often-made-fun-of English major is more useful.

3) Perhaps most importantly, how can I begin to stop worrying so much about the future and instead enjoy this educational experience that is college?

I think you *should* worry about how you're going to use your degree, since you have debt. You will need to make a living, and presumably, you have preferences about your lifestyle.

Pick something that (1) is actually hiring (STEM degrees are good for this) and (2) you are willing to work hard to become good at it.

Increasingly, there are a ton of studies showing that you'll like doing what you do well. So it's more important that you do something well, than you do something you like.

If you want to do a bunch of things, because you have a wide range of hobbies, pick a field that pays well and values work/life balance. Then use your money and free time on your hobbies. Writing, art, music... none of those require a college degree. On the other hand, if you want an engineering job, your employer is going to want that bachelor's degree to even look at your resume.
posted by ethidda at 1:07 PM on June 25 [6 favorites]


Just because something interests you doesn't mean that you have to take a class in it or make it your major. You should prioritize - finish any general education requirements that you need to graduate, then take the classes that you need in your major to earn your degree. Once you have those bases covered, take whatever additional electives you want.

I would try to identify a field or skill that you intend to pursue after college. A lot of friends in college said things like, I want to work in international relations. That's great but what do you want to *do*? Public relations for an international organization? Web development? Program management and evaluation? Accounting? Try to think about what kind of skills you would like to cultivate and work towards getting internships in those fields for the summer.

If you don't know what you want to do, that's okay but think about things you might like to do and try to intern in those fields so you'll learn whether you actually want to do that. Look at websites with job listings and try to identify jobs that you might want when you graduate. Then look to see what those jobs require. If there's an organization that you would absolutely love to work for, see what it takes to get an internship there.

1) Yes, a person with a liberal arts degree can enjoy a prosperous job.

2) Sometimes double majors are great ideas. My husband got a double major in computer science and English. His first job out of college was in tech journalism.

3) You stop worrying by deciding you're not going to worry and, failing that, going to counseling. I actually felt stressed out in college for similar reasons. If you use your time in college to build practical skills and earn a degree, you'll be fine.
posted by kat518 at 1:07 PM on June 25 [5 favorites]


The rule of thumb that I give my students is that you major in something that will pay the bills, and you minor in something you're passionate about. You can bump this up into a major (like your philo major, since you're hugging that one close) if you have the spare credits and either pick a different minor or forego the minor, no biggie.

Visit your school's career center. They will also have materials helping you choose your major, as well as interest surveys, etc. that will help lead you into discovering a career that suits you. Visit them early and visit them often.

The thing about a liberal arts major is that you almost certainly won't find a job exactly in the field of your major. Accountancy majors get jobs as accountants, but no one is handing out itinerant philosopher jobs. The value of a liberal arts major is that it teaches you to write, to reason and to apply those skills to a multitude of circumstances. And with that, you will be prepared for almost any modern career.
posted by Liesl at 1:09 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


It's easy to know what you don't want to do. It's easy not to do things. But this isn't about what you don't want to do, this is about what you do want to do. Think and act in those terms.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:11 PM on June 25


Computational journalism is pretty cool, maybe you could look into that?
posted by oceanjesse at 1:12 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


I have a degree in English Literature (with a concentration in Victorian Literature.) I work in a cubicle working for a Sales Team and I LOVE IT SO HARD!

But that's me.

Philosphy is interesting, but I wouldn't ever major in it. English is one of those majors that causes people to smile and pat you on the head, Philosophy actively identifies you as a whiffy dreamer with no common sense.

If I were to do it over again, I'd have majored in Nursing and taken as many English classes as I could with my regular course load.

Of course when I was majoring in English, my goal was to be an English teacher, so it wasn't all that weird.

High Schools don't typically hire Philosophy teachers, and right now, teachers are a glut on the market, so I wouldn't pin my hopes on that profession.

So...you kind of have to have an idea of the sorts of jobs you want to do when you get out of school. You'd like to do work as a social worker, but somehow the money scares you off.

My Dad was a Social Worker, he worked for non-profits for 30 years, then did 10 years as a therapist for the Federal government. Don't pooh-pooh Social Work out of hand. There are currently 229 Jobs for Social Workers listed at USAjobs.gov. The pay is fair, the bennies are great AND you can work overseas. My parents were in Germany and two stations in Japan. You can also go into private practice as an LCSW. So, my recommendation is to look again at Social Work.

So...rethink social work.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:16 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


Please ignore the nasty comments about Philosophy being useless.

1) Can someone with a liberal arts degree still enjoy prosperous careers?
Absolutely! You'll find anecdotal evidence of this all around. Just bear in mind that a liberal arts degree isn't the same on the job market as a STEM degree (but you already get that).

2) Are double-majors ever good ideas? What would be the best major to pair with one such as philosophy, especially for a student who is not necessarily interested in graduate-level studies?
Again, absolutely! In your shoes I'd balance the qualitative aspects of philosophy with a more quantitative major - this could be economics, statistics, computer science, you name it.

3) Perhaps most importantly, how can I begin to stop worrying so much about the future and instead enjoy this educational experience that is college?
I found it helpful to remember that the Big Grown-Up World was right around the corner, and my time in Educational Land was limited. This forced me to revel in my classes and the learning experience.

Good luck!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:30 PM on June 25 [11 favorites]


It's important that my ideals line up with my work. That's simply not the case in so much for the business world, or at least that's my current perspective of the business world.

Have you heard of corporate social responsibility? There are companies that I'm not in love with but if they donated $5 million to Habitat to Humanity and wanted to hire someone to talk about where their donation went, I'd be happy to help.

For what it's worth, my father in law was a philosophy major. Now he works in a cubicle as a programmer.
posted by kat518 at 1:33 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


It sounds to me as though you have two goals: financial stability and meaningful work. While I understand wanting both of those things, they are pretty nebulous terms. Maybe it would help you develop a longterm plan if you had some more concrete goals to work toward?

Have you considered visiting your school's career office? I found some of the individual assessments useful for figuring out what types of work I might find interesting. Also, the career office should have relatively recent information about the financial prospects of different career paths. Alternatively, just go to the library and check out some books like What Color is Your Parachute.

Keep in mind that you might find that you have to make compromises as you think about financial stability and meaningful work. When I was choosing majors, I pursued what interested me. This means that my financial stability is sometimes questionable, but I am better equipped to engage in the types of work that I find meaningful. For my definitions of financial stability and meaningful work, I find that I sometimes have to trade one for the other. I generally choose what I see as meaningful. Of course, I am in a relatively privileged position in that while my personal financial stability can be questionable I have a wonderful support network. As you work through your own compromises or ways of defining these terms, you might find it useful to talk to a pastor or counselor or someother such person.

Now, as to your specific questions:
1) How prestigious is your school? In general, the better a school's reputation the more latitude students have in what they can study and still find gainful employment. As someone mentioned upthread, a lot of this has to do with the types of connections that are made. I would encourage you to begin volunteering and doing internships now that help you build connections and your resume. Also, doing such work might help you realize what you are looking for in a more permanent career.

2) I majored in both English and philosophy, but I knew that I was going to pursue graduate study. No one has ever been impressed by, or even slightly interested in, the fact that I majored in Philosophy. But I am glad that I majored in Philosophy because of the ways that it shaped my own understanding of the world. If I were an undergraduate again, I would probably major in statistics and philosophy. It would be great to be able to read and interpret the word both qualitatively and quantitatively. As you are thinking about double majors, I would try to choose majors that allowed me to develop vastly different skills sets---so maybe a humanities and a social science or a humanities and a hard science or such.

3) I think maybe you should stop thinking as though there is a "right" answer to the question of majors. The world needs people with all sorts of educational backgrounds, and you sound as though you have a lot of different strengths and interests. It seems as though you have a lot of options here, and it is exciting to be in that position. Spend more time thinking about what you want to do than trying to figure out some mythical "right" answer to this type of question.
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 1:33 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


And in case you missed it when you asked a similar question back in March:

Anecdotally, I was a philosophy major (graduated very recently, during the poor job market) and have been doing great in the professional world. I don't formally use philosophy at work, but my philosophy coursework gave me advanced critical thinking skills and the ability to look at problems from a multitude of perspectives. Every last person (literally) who has interviewed me for a job has been impressed with my major and expressed interest in learning more about how it makes me a good hire. (I do work with nerds, though nerds of a different variety than I am, so that is surely part of my success.)

It is a risky major for sure, but to say it "will give you no job prospects" is patently false.


Except - EDIT! - I have since used philosophy formally at work. Just last week, for example, I wrote a philosophy report for my boss, an economist. The naysayers are mistaken.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:34 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


I'd like to say that Critical Thinking skills are deeply necessary to me as an analyst. The skills are coveted, but to work as an analyst, you'd may end up in professional work that you perceive as going against your ideals.

I'd like to point out that people who work for their ideals typically are prepared to take less money to make that happen.

That said, I was able to test out of Philosphy/Critical Thinking based upon stuff I had already learned at my corporate job.

So...that's something.

By all means study things you love, but you don't have to major in them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:39 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Undergraduate education is about becoming the person you want to be.

There are certain professions- Law, Medicine, etc. - where you literally need the degree or you can't practice. That's a path to a career. Anything else, be it "STEM" or not, is just what you chose to major in. Millions and millions and millions of liberal arts grads have jobs, and skills like writing are immensely useful. The narrative that has developed in the past few years re: "STEM" is half people being scared by the bad economy and student debt, and half just a way for people to feel an unearned sense of superiority about their life choices.

Major in what you're interested in. That gives you the best odds of finishing successfully, and of becoming the kind of person who can go out and get the job they decide they want when they're done.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:41 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]


Major in what you're interested in. But keep in mind that the bulk of the good-paying jobs for the unspecialized DO involve finance, working in cubicles, or being part of a sales team. Even programming jobs.

You may have dues-paying experiences where you have to do stuff you don't necessarily "believe in" so that you build the skills necessary to find your way into something you really want.
posted by deanc at 2:29 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


Not sure what your school offers, but since you have an interest in computer science, psychology, and earlier foreign languages, maybe look at an additional major in linguistics. Depending upon your department there may be applied and computational linguistics courses that would help you get some projects done and introduce you to practical tools but maybe without the extra time and debt.
posted by Gotanda at 2:31 PM on June 25


My daughter majored in math and philosophy, and graduated without a career goal. She worked for several years doing event planning and some finance, both at for-profit and non-profits. Now she is in a program in urban planning. I think I could summarize this as a "do what you have to do until you know what you want to do" approach. The real world is much more diverse than the academic world. Most people don't have a close fit between their major and the subsequent career.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:30 PM on June 25


I think there's a deeper thing here that you need to work on realizing, namely the fact that you literally can't do everything. Variety is the spice of life, sure, but not only is the jack of all trades the master of none, but in fact it's not really possible to be a jack of everything. Maybe a 3 or a 4 of hearts, at best.

A term you might learn about if you study marketing in one of your lib arts classes (or maybe even in a phsych class), which can be incredibly useful as you apply it to life in general, is called cognitive dissonance. From a very, very boiled down marketing perspective, you could think of CD as that condition where you buy a new motorcycle (or whatever), and find yourself a week later comparing it with a different motorcycle and perhaps wishing a little bit that you had made a different choice. Because you can't have it all.

This will apply to what college you choose, what you choose to study, what field(s) you decide to work in, who you partner/marry/etc., the things you buy - particularly the largest investments you make, the things you spend your time on, basically anything that constitutes a big decision of where you spend your life. You will always have that nagging little voice in the back of your brain questioning your decisions and putting forward that doubt that you could have made a better one.

And perhaps many times you could have made a better choice. But you can't go back and fix that - most of the time - and you certainly can't choose everything. Part of life is learning to get OK with that, learning to silence that voice a little and just relax.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:49 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


1) Can someone with a liberal arts degree still enjoy prosperous careers?
Absolutely. But what kills a lot of people with a liberal arts background is having a rigid focus on coursework at the expense of internships and researching jobs. The really "stuck" BAs I know all fell into this pattern of going heads down on schoolwork for the full length of their undergraduate career, then realizing they had nothing to do afterward. Some reflexively signed up for graduate school with no real plan of what they were going to do a year, two, five years down the line. Then they graduated and looked around, wondering what to do with themselves. Don't be those people. Have a plan, or better yet, three plans.
Perhaps it's easier to say how I do not want to pay the bills five years from now. I do not want to be a mid-level manager or a cubicle worker for some sales team. I do not want to work in finance. I do not want push a product or a service I don't believe in.

It's important that my ideals line up with my work. That's simply not the case in so much for the business world, or at least that's my current perspective of the business world.
I hear you. Lots of people do not aspire to be cogs in the machine. Many of them end up being cogs in a different type of machine, a nicer looking machine. Think about what your alternatives to the business world are, and what you dislike about the business world, or what you perceive it to be. The people I know who are still stuck years after graduating had this attitude that, somehow, they could avoid dealing with deadlines and budgets and demanding bosses by hiding out in academia or the non-profit world. In reality, many organizations with lofty ideals (universities, especially) still treat their employees as callously as any evil mega-corporation. Non-tenure track professors get paid shit, non-profits are sometimes corrupt and horrendously disorganized affairs, and employee benefits like health insurance and PTO are often lacking. My point isn't that you should buck up and get a sales job, and this obviously is not true of all such organizations. But it does happen that idealistic jobs turn out to be just as soul-sucking as their private-sector equivalents, and you shouldn't expect that just because the org matches your ideals that you will be happy working there.

Keep in mind that with any undergrad degree, you're not guaranteed a job you will like right away. I wish somebody had told me that. This is true of non-profits and private-sector jobs alike. Really every organization, whether it's a business or a non-profit or a college, just has mountains of work that needs to get done, and that's what you're there to do. I'm fond of the somewhat cynical phrase, "all work is done in factories", because it really cuts away the flim-flammery of white-collar professions to what they are. At the end of the day, you're just getting stuff done as quickly as possible.

So... I dunno. Everyone will have a different set of requirements for a happy work life. I'm pretty happy doing something I'm good at working alongside people who I like and who like me. I don't have to work late often and I am treated with respect and dignity. The business goals are ostensibly important to what I'm doing, but day-to-day? Meh. I just focus on doing my work well and helping my colleagues do their work well, and everything works out. Someday I would like to use the skills I have developed at work for the greater good, but I don't think i'm ready for that yet.
posted by deathpanels at 5:20 PM on June 25 [6 favorites]


Oh yeah, and to back up the "liberal arts is not worthless" angle, I was a compsci/physics major who seriously contemplated switching to a liberal arts major in senior year because I wanted to be a Serious Writer. Now I work in a software company and regularly am praised for being one of the only people on the engineering team who can actually write cogently about technical issues. I can't directly credit this to the extra philosophy and history courses I took, but my skill with words was certainly developed during that time. Trust me, technical folk like to think they're supremely analytical, but I often find I get the best insights into a problem by having to explain some technical detail verbally or in writing.
posted by deathpanels at 5:26 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


Take a computer science class next term. If you enjoy it, take another one the following term, start looking for summer internships, and check the requirements for a minor.

I also want to second the suggestion that you look at computational linguistics.
posted by yarntheory at 6:02 PM on June 25


I would favorite deathpanels comments a million and six times if I could.
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 6:18 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Try this: name one job that you could realistically get with a bachelor's degree that you would enjoy and that pays adequately. What do you need to do to get there?

I peronsally don't buy into the "my day job must fulfill my soul" thing, but you clearly do, so you need to think this through.
posted by metasarah at 7:01 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


One thing that I didn't see in the comments above is that you should plan being a life-long learner. College is wonderful time to sample and to dive into all kinds of knowledge but you don't need to fit in everything in just four or five years - you have the rest of your life to continue to learn about writing, music, art, languages, films, culture, and all the things that your soul craves. Don't Panic!

Also, take a look at interdisciplinary majors to see if one fits. I majored in an interdisciplinary department that combined math with social sciences. Even though my math was all mostly sophomore level classes having "Math" in the name of my major paid off big time for me with employers as I ended up working at the intersection of science and business. The biggest downside of the a double major is that it doesn't leave you very many electives for anything else. My interdisciplinary major was about the same number of units as a standard single major and left plenty of room for dabble in other departments.
posted by metahawk at 7:15 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Please don't let the antipathy some people harbor for philosophy get to you. We all have our prejudices, but a quick Google search for "Famous Philosophy Majors" (e.g., this one) should assuage any general practical concerns you have about majoring in philosophy as opposed to some other major in the liberal arts.

Of course, none of that guarantees you'll get a job. As others have mentioned, those majoring in philosophy or english or history or any field for that matter should spend their summers gaining practical work experience; in many cases, this will involve a paid or unpaid internship. You should consider these internships as part of your education.

I think the anxiety you feel is perfectly normal--especially for undergrads in the US system. In many other countries, people get "tracked" much earlier in life. I see the anxiety you are feeling as part of the cost of the American educational system that allows a great deal of flexibility in one's course of study. But that very flexibility is also a great benefit and opportunity. Here is something you may want to consider: many Americans I know (though certainly not all) consider their undergraduate years as some of the best years of their lives precisely because they were free to explore so many different subjects and ideas. Most of us will never again get to sample so many different courses or hear so many great (and not so great) lectures, or spend so many nights with friends talking about ideas over coffee. I'm not suggesting that all this stops when you graduate, and plenty of people are life long learners, but there is something about the intensity and open-endedness of a liberal arts undergraduate education that is special and not easily recaptured later in life. So enjoy it while you can!

I think your plan of a philosophy/ computer science major is a good one. I honestly don't think it matters what you major in so long as you learn certain basic thinking and writing skills. Make sure you get several internships over the next few summers, and try not to stress too much about the future. Happy Journeys!
posted by girl flaneur at 8:08 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


Perhaps it's easier to say how I do not want to pay the bills five years from now. I do not want to be a mid-level manager or a cubicle worker for some sales team. I do not want to work in finance. I do not want push a product or a service I don't believe in.

The less debt you have when you get out of school, the more freedom you'll have to take jobs that you enjoy that pay less.

You should focus on getting out of school with the least amount of debt possible, and pick a degree that lets you do that. Honestly, for your post college happiness that matters way more than what your major is.
posted by empath at 11:54 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


Both my parents studied and then taught philosophy. Then they went down separate paths: my father became a philosophy professor and a farmer, and my mother took an interesting route into early computer programming which led eventually into systems, banking and project management. These were both logical (RIMSHOT!) choices, though perhaps neither path was one that they could see from where they were at the time. That is true for most of us. If you'd asked me what I wanted to do or thought I *could* do at 21 or 26, I would have shortchanged myself, and also probably just straight-up been wrong.

My only advice, and this is personal in nature, so your mileage will vary, is to finish college as quickly as you can. Honestly... your BA is basically just your admission to the workforce. (Those of us without them took longer to get decent jobs. Much longer.) That is basically all. With any luck your school will make some good introductions and usher you into the workforce, but even that is iffy at this time, and lots of schools do a terrible job of this. Planning to extend your undergraduate degree into five years as a plan now seems to me to be actually insane.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:26 AM on June 26


Regardless of which degree you choose, I think you should prioritize looking into your university's internship and job placement programs, and also possible networking opportunities.

That's what I regret the most from my university experience--not doing enough of the social/networking stuff. It may just seem like killing time/organizing random events at the time, but those people will go off down in their own path and sometimes they can open doors for you if you maintain that relationship. University is far more important than just coursework. And don't see "networking" as this soulless scheming Machiavellian thing. It's as simple as "hang out/organize events with/have good memories with cool people who are doing cool things with their lives. And remember what they do."

And on the internship/job placement thing... not sure what year you can get in, but if there is such a program, do it. Regardless of what job you end up in, you will be finally able to put much of your academic coursework into perspective, and it will be easier to prioritize which major is worth investing your time in.
posted by Hawk V at 9:11 AM on June 26


Oh yeah, and don't underestimate the impact of debt and job insecurity has on your life when you're out of school. Your student loans will be a major factor in everything from job choice to living location to traveling to when you get married to when you buy a home... everything. No matter what you do, you should pay off your loans as soon as humanly possible. When you have zero debt obligations you can do whatever the hell you want – join the peace corps, start a non-profit, work for peanuts abroad doing something you care about deeply. Not saying you can't do those things after graduation, but it's something you'll have to deal with one way or another.
posted by deathpanels at 10:46 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


I think there's a deeper thing here that you need to work on realizing, namely the fact that you literally can't do everything. Variety is the spice of life, sure, but not only is the jack of all trades the master of none, but in fact it's not really possible to be a jack of everything.

Repeated to emphasize this. You won't have enough time to pursue everything. Focus on quality, and enjoyment. Don't lose your passion for learning or experiences, just understand that you will have to prioritize certain things over another. You talk about "writing, music, art, languages, films, culture". (raises hand) Been there! If you have one career you love, and then the time, energy and money to pursue other things on the side, or as hobbies, you are fabulously lucky. It's OK if you decide you have to focus on just one or two majors, these other things are still there to enjoy even if you don't get to do them deeply.

When I was in my 20s and set a course that would let me juggle, I never saw the limitations of not being a specialist. In this job market I would tell anyone who has the same passions to experience lots of things, but also commit to one or two things that you can use to present yourself as a specialist. Who knows how long the soft market for job-seekers will be, but employers often want a specialist with the mind of a generalist. You're 27 right now, an extra semester to cement an extra class or two in your major probably won't count too much in the grand scheme of your life.

Consider taking psychology as your major, while also pursuing the philosophy classes you're interested in, and then mix it with a field like economics or computer science. A lot of people working in academia really feel that the main use of the degree is as a credential that proves you can work towards completion of a goal, and that the main benefit of college is all the exploration that you're already doing, the liberal education of learning how to read, write, and think.

FWIW, I haven't programmed in years, but math wasn't my strong suit either, and it had nothing to do with how well I programmed. I saw it as another language, I was interested in patterns - not equations, not math. Try it out before committing to this path, though. It might be that technical writing or user experience design is more satisfying to you, though still technical and in the case of UX, "hot".
posted by mitschlag at 12:49 PM on June 26


Count this as another vote for pairing your philosophy interest with a technical field for a double major. I'd recommend math or statistics or computer science, depending on your specific interests, but people have gone far with philosophy and physics or philosophy and economics too.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:00 PM on June 26


I just noticed this question, but I wanted to say...you are me from a few years ago! I majored in philosophy, and I have never for a moment regretted it, due to all the benefits of studying philosophy you mention. That said, I have been mostly unemployed since I graduated. I definitely recommend a second major in a more technical subject. I agree that statistics might be a good choice. I actually find it quite similar to philosophy, as both essentially consist of evaluating arguments, and issues of philosophy of science and epistemology arise frequently in statistics. Plus, statisticians do a lot of programming. Options for advancement in stat work do tend to require a masters, though. In any case, I think all phil majors should take at least an intro stats class to learn how to evaluate empirical information, which is philosophy's weak spot.

Also, when you graduate and miss talking about philosophy, call me up!
posted by Comet Bug at 6:11 PM on July 7


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