Is a double-major in Spanish and philosophy viable and fruitful?
March 26, 2014 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Is a major in Spanish a good investment? If I buckle down and commit myself to daily study and practice (and spend one semester abroad), can I attain a decent fluency in the language? What kind of career paths could I expect? More details and questions follow.

This question may annoy some of you. It is of a type that is asked fairy frequently; I suppose you could categorize it under "questions regarding what to do with my life."

Here is some brief personal background. I am 24 and about to finish up my first year of undergraduate students. I've always been a bright and eager student, but circumstances prevented me from attending university until this point in my life. After high school, I moved to a big city and found a job working in a Cuban restaurant. While working there, I developed an interest in the Spanish language and culture.

My current plan is to major in Spanish. However, I'm interested in a broad range of topics, and I'm finding it impossible to stick solely to an education in here Spanish language. So I've always considered pursuing a second major in philosophy just for the sake of personal and intellectual engagement. But I'm also interested in doing a minor in studio art, again just for the sake of personal engagement and creative expression. (For reference, I'm currently taking two philosophy courses and one studio art class, all of which I very much enjoy.)

But now I'm feeling like I'm trying to overreach my capacity. Ultimately, I suppose my focus is learning Spanish, and my fear is that by taking on these other emphases of education, I'll be distracting myself from gaining true proficiency in Spanish.

Is a major in Spanish a good investment? If I buckle down and commit myself to daily study and practice (and spend one semester abroad), can I attain a decent fluency in the language? What kind of career paths could I expect? Should I drop the minor in studio art? Should I drop the second major in philosophy? Should I pick up something else entirely?

I know these are open-ended questions, but any input, especially from those with backgrounds in Spanish and philosophy, are much appreciated!
posted by fignewton to Education (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Spanish fluency will at least give you job prospects in translation work. Philosophy and studio art will give you no job prospects. Perhaps not what you wanted to hear, but in this economy you may want to carefully consider what you're spending thousands of dollars on education on. Intellectual engagement is awesome but ensure you're choosing educational paths that allow you a future.
posted by Anonymous at 8:54 AM on March 26, 2014

Response by poster: I suppose I should have mentioned that I have a full-tuition scholarship and have been granted with additional aid. I will graduate with minimal, if any, debt.
posted by fignewton at 9:00 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Spanish is a fairly common 2nd language in the US. It isn't in super high demand just on its own but a Spanish Speaking ____ is frequently really helpful. So basically I feel like you need something else, some other skill/career and then you combine that with Spanish and you make yourself extra valuable.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:00 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are a number of career paths where what you really need is a bachelor's degree and the right skills for that particular job, and it won't matter what the degree is in. Or where you definitely need a graduate/professional degree and it might not matter so much what your bachelor's degree is in.

For example, a good investment would be to find out what the prerequisites for medical school are, and take them, and excel in them, while majoring in whatever you want.

So, go ahead and pursue these various interests until you get a better sense of how they'll pan out for you, as long as doing so doesn't cause you to have to stay in school extra semesters racking up debt.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:01 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

(that said I wouldn't say Spanish Speaking Studio Artist is really the way to make your millions. I was thinking more in the business world)
posted by magnetsphere at 9:01 AM on March 26, 2014

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.

Spanish will be very practical in the working world.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:02 AM on March 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

The great thing about majoring in Spanish, if you're interested in a lot of different topics, is that it'll most likely plug you into a more liberal arts track, which should require you to take a lot of diverse courses through "general education requirements" or whatever your particular school calls it. You won't really have a chance to specialize in any of those other areas, but depending on your interests you could probably lean in one direction or another.

One important question for you, though. Is your interest in Spanish that you want to learn to speak Spanish? Because in my experience, that's not what being a Spanish major is for. Most Spanish majors want to study Spanish literature, arts, culture, or the like. The early part of the degree is dedicated to studying the Spanish language so that students have the ability to specialize further.

If you're just interested in studying Spanish as a language, does your school have a foreign language study requirement? I took three years of French in college and picked up some pretty serious competence strictly through fulfilling non-major degree requirements.

I can't really weigh in on the philosophy or studio art paths. From here, they sound like hobbies and not serious interests worthy of getting a degree. But if you just need a degree and it doesn't matter what it's in, sure, why not?

What were your initial goals upon starting school? Did you go back to school because your career path requires you to have a BA, period? Are you hoping to expand your skills in a certain area? College is expensive. Most people don't go for personal enrichment. However, it is usually most efficient, once in college, to pick a field of study and stick with it. If you end up majoring in something "impractical", well, if it results in you getting the degree you need, so be it.
posted by Sara C. at 9:02 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you have any interest in working in education, public health, or translation, for example, having Spanish proficiency will absolutely pay off. But all of those careers will likely require a more practical second certification than "philosophy." But if you get a Spanish and philosophy undergrad and then do a Teacher Certification program (and later, a Masters' of Education), that's a pretty solid path right there.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:04 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Spanish fluency will speak for itself on your CV. Do study abroad if you have the opportunity. Fluency will happen, and you'll have so many opportunities outside of school and coursework to learn it and get good at it. But don't go to any trouble to obtain a BA in Spanish language (unless you want to teach Spanish).

Other than that, there are absolutely career prospects with philosophy and studio art. Just try to balance those pursuits with something that might be more lucrative. Think about professional or post-graduate tracks, for example, and tailor your coursework to the extent that you're able. Or do work or extracurriculars while you're in school and pursue opportunities arising from that. Many of the kids I did college radio with have gone on to do cool things for record companies and broadcasting--and they had degrees in the humanities.
posted by magdalemon at 9:06 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ultimately, I suppose my focus is learning Spanish, and my fear is that by taking on these other emphases of education, I'll be distracting myself from gaining true proficiency in Spanish.

I just want to add that once you're strong enough in Spanish, you could always do your philosophy reading in Spanish instead of English. :)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:14 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the Spanish is a good idea, but I will add that my husband has a philosophy degree and a masters in art and he is a CRM database administrator. Neither of those fields are super great areas if your goal is to be able to find a job related to your studies that actually supports you financially.
posted by something something at 9:24 AM on March 26, 2014

Can you get a degree in Foreign Lang Education at your institution? Here at mine we have a Spanish/Spanish Ed dual degree. You might be able to minor in Philosophy or Art.

Jobs for liberal arts people must be planned out in the way that pre-meds have always planned their next step. You need to see your next three years as useful in building relationships, keeping an active portfolio, and joining groups that interest you, and forward your interests. Spanish is great, so look for internships and shadowing opportunities where you can use your rudimentary skills, volunteer, join the Spanish club, write for the student newspaper. You can get a job and a career, but you have to plan for it.
posted by feste at 9:49 AM on March 26, 2014

I actually have a BA in Philosophy and Spanish. Here are my thoughts:

Unless you have a really good rigorous program, you won't get fluent through your classwork. You'll get fluent by doing some sort of immersion program. I did a semester and a summer abroad though my university, then went to Guatemala on my own to do one-on-one classes in the private schools there (I'd highly, highly recommend this experience). I'm not actually fluent, but I have gotten jobs because I was able to pass proficiency tests in interviews. Depending on your field, Spanish ability can be huge or not a big deal.

My Spanish degree taught me lots about Spanish and Latin American literature, art, history, art history and politics. I really enjoyed most of the classes, I'd recommend it as a decent choice for a double-major in humanities. But if I had to do it over again, I'd just take a few classes here and there, do the study abroad programs for my actual language ability, and taken on courses in other disciplines. People are impressed/interested in your language ability. They really don't care about your language degree.

As for philosophy, this is not going to get you any jobs specifically, but it's as good, or marginally better on a resume as any other humanities degree. I loved my philosophy studies and I think it's really enriched my life and outlook, so I don't look back with regret. But if I had to do it over again, I'd have been a double major in Philosophy and something more marketable, like a hard science or economics.
posted by skewed at 10:11 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Spanish and Philosophy double major !? I thought I was the only one !! Only on Mefi would I find others.

I graduated from NYU in 1993 with that same double major. I also took several art history classes. Also, I too was lucky enough to graduate with no debt.

Using my philosophy degree, I did some graduate study work, and taught a few classes. However, philosophy did hone my ability to think and communicate - and those skills have poured over into every aspect of my adult life.

Using my Spanish degree, I have made bunches of money - including many instances where I clearly got the project, job, or made the sale primarily because of my Spanish language skills. I can think of a few instances where a good customer was passed over to me from another sales person, because the customer wanted a Spanish speaker. Also, at one low point in my life, in my late 20s, when I was having trouble finding work, I had no trouble at all finding work as a Spanish teacher and tutor. Spanish is a skill that has made me money.

But, I do agree with Skewed above, Spanish class work at a university in the US will not get you to fluency, and unless you are fluent, no one will care about your degree. People care about your ability to speak the language, not your ability to conjugate verbs. You need a period of immersion. I did a year abroad in Spain as part of my degree, a summer session, then fall and spring semesters.
posted by Flood at 11:55 AM on March 26, 2014

Study philosophy because you love the subject. Why not? Study Spanish because a shit-ton of people speak Spanish and it's a great skill. Hell, study a second language too, if you can cram one in there. If I could have a super-power it would be to be fluent in all the languages of the world.

Now, job prospects for people who speak Spanish and have degrees in Philosophy? Meh. Not so much.

My suggestion would be to learn an actual job skill, like Accounting or Finance, and study philosphy and Spanish as your pleasure courses. You don't have to major in them, or even minor in them, just take as many as you can cram into your schedule to make you smile.

Also, after a few semesters, once you've mastered Spanish, you just move onto Spanish literature and while that's great, you can also read all the books you can find in Spanish throughout your whole life. You don't need to do it in college.

Of all the fluent Spanish speakers I know, none of them studied it in college, let alone majored in it, they've been speaking it at home since birth. Frankly, I only have a handful of beautifully accented Cuban Spanish and I did business in Miami, in Spanish, just fine. It's not really that big a deal. Although BOY would I hate to be without it!

I majored in English/Education, then switched to just English. Any BA/BS gets your foot in the door of an entry-level job anyone could do with a high school education.

My first career started with a part-time phone company job. And I was employeed for 25 years in the Telecommunications industry. Trust me, my degree had NOTHING to do with it.

I got my MBA thanks to a very generous Ma Bell, and again, while a smattering of business related stuff was really interesting to me, having the degree didn't actually prepare me to sit down and start working at anything different than I was already doing.

Most of the jobs one gets in companies today one learns on the job. I taught myself and Excel and now I'm an analyst. None of my higher education had a damn thing to do with it.

My data engineering education came from exhaustive training provided by the phone company. Not by studying telecommunications in school.

My point is, study what you love as pleasure, not because it will lead to a job, it most assuredly will NOT.

If you want your college degree to be a gateway to employment after college, then get a degree in something vocational, Accounting, Finance, Engineering, Nursing etc.

Good Luck~!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:45 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with RuthlessBunny. I wish someone had let me know at the beginning of my college education that majoring in the humanities would get me a nice job as a secretary (though I probably would have done it anyway).

It will make you an interesting, well-rounded person though (personally, I think my fellow secretaries - all language and music and art majors - are far more interesting than any of the people we work for).
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:34 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Of all the humanities, a Philosophy degree is most likely to open career doors for you (trust me, I teach Philosophy and we have SO MANY PAMPHLETS in our departments with stats to this effect) though not because of the words on the diploma. Philosophy education helps you think critically, gives you a strong foundation in logic, and provides a good base in argumentative writing. Those are all very marketable skills, and speaking Spanish (with formal educational proof!) will only augment those skills in a workplace.

If you're considering continuing school, a philosophy degree will give you the skills to succeed in most graduate programs. For example, philosophy majors score consistently badass on the GRE and outperform all the other humanities in the writing sections Undergrads from philosophy programs do extremely well in Law programs and in Medical professions, for example! Also, philosophy majors on average earn more than any other humanities degree (scroll down for the whole chart, philosophy is #45, behind the whole spectrum of STEM degrees).

Instead of thinking about your degree as a self-contained phrase (i.e. bio-tech being the degree that contains certain concepts), think of your philosophy degree as a collection of marketable skills as well as citzenship-training. Adding Spanish to that mix will mean that you can communicate extremely effectively with more people in your culture.
posted by zinful at 12:38 AM on March 27, 2014

Think about a minor in Spanish. That's what I chose to do because, given the number of courses available vs. required for the major, it would have required me to take a bunch of literary analysis courses that didn't interest me. Instead, I was able to choose about one linguistics-oriented course per semester. Since that always felt like dessert on top of 4 or 5 physics/math courses (I escaped area requirements, but yeah, see how that's going to impact you), I generally talked more than anyone else during class. At the end of college I was near-fluent, but I should say that one of the strongest contributing factors to that was a 3-week summer immersion program I had attended in high school. College courses did build on that, but if I had wanted to increase it further a study-abroad program (as others have mentioned) would have been more effective than upgrading to a major.
posted by ecsh at 5:24 AM on March 27, 2014

Spanish professor here.

I majored in Spanish (and Latin American Studies) and then got a Master's in Spanish as well. We did a LOT of literature/history/culture stuff, so if you're interested in that (as I am), then go for it! If you just want to learn Spanish, go abroad.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:37 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in non-profit work, having Spanish fluency (or even proficiency) is extremely helpful. I have friends who majored in Spanish who got a leg up because their jobs require them to speak to non-English-speaking clients. If you're interested in social or advocacy work, Spanish is a great skill to have.

As for me (someone who majored in a philosophy-related subject), the argumentative and reasoning skills you pick up are useful for everyday life. It's really given me a better understanding of expressing myself and my feelings. However, as a recent grad, I haven't felt my philosophy degree has helped my job search much. Maybe even hindered it in some way, as philosophy is thought of as an unpractical major. On the other hand, I think philosophy is one of the toughest undergrad majors and the students who choose to study it are exceptional, so maybe after a rough start in the job market...
posted by myntu at 11:09 AM on April 6, 2014

« Older Developing career direction   |   How do I purchase brand-name apparel at wholesale... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.