Skip to content

COMMENTARY: My least favorite question: 'What are you going to do with your humanities degree?'


Humanities majors should not be looked down upon, though our society typically undervalues them.  – Photo by Thought Catalog / Unsplash

As we welcome summer, I am sure I am far from the only one fielding the ever-amusing and wonderful question: "What are you going to do with a history degree?" I am never quite sure how people expect me to reply. 

Do they want me to explain the value of a degree in the humanities? Do they need me to say that through my degree, I have learned important writing, reading, critical thinking and researching skills? Do they want me to list all of the incredibly accomplished people who have earned history degrees? Do they want me to explain that, actually, one of the best things about a degree in the humanities is its versatility? 

Or perhaps I could explain to them how the world will likely be on fire and devolve into anarchy in the next 50 years, so I decided that I would study something I liked. And as we enter an increasingly dystopian world, I will be glad that I have been taught to think critically and challenge the institutions around me. 

And for the record, the people who think critically tend to be the most important players in any society — whether it is the settings of Lois Lowry's "The Giver" or George Orwell's "1984".

So while I do feel happy with my choice of major, it is irritating and difficult to deal with constant judgment from others. Even on campus, there is a certain dismissal of the humanities as an "easy" field. 

After telling people I am a history major, I have, on several occasions, gotten this reply: "Oh, I thought you were smart." 

Both of these lines of questioning stem from a push in our capitalist-driven society to find a way to maximize every move we make for monetary gain. I enjoy learning history in itself — can that not be enough? 

College was always marketed as a time of exploration to find what you were passionate about and what you were not. But this is so far from today's reality. 

Ideally, you would have your major figured out by the end of your first undergraduate year at the latest. The more time spent exploring often increases the likelihood of extending beyond the standard four years, which means spending even more money. 

Concurrently, while you are supposed to be figuring out college life, which often entails living away from home for the first time, an entirely new type of schedule, new people and expectations, you also already need to be thinking about your resume.

In particular, you are constantly pressured to think about what you can add to it. This stinks because I like learning for its own sake, whether that includes annotating 200-page readings, asking questions after class or writing analytical essays. 

While I enjoy learning history, I also like the way it has taught me to think. When I think about questions like "What will you ever do with that degree?" or "How are you ever going to make a living?", which are often laced with condescension, I find comfort that my specific college degree has enabled me to ascend beyond this level of rat-race thinking. 

I wish college were the way it was advertised, but that is not likely to change any time soon. So until then, I will continue answering these ridiculous questions with equally ridiculous answers like, "I will be the leader of the universe! Or an astronaut!"

If you are reading this and realizing that you often ask these kinds of questions, allow me to provide you with some alternative responses to your friends who disclose their humanities major to you.

"Wow, that sounds really intriguing. What has been your best experience so far in [insert major]?" or "What drew you to [insert major]?" 

These questions demonstrate a level of consideration and interest that the condescending "what are you going to do" question lacks. Sure — we will all have to find a way to live someday, but we do not need to include this cutthroat capitalist language in our everyday conversations!

Katherine Jackson is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in history and minoring in critical intelligence studies.

YOUR VOICE | The Daily Targum welcomes submissions from all readers. Due to space limitations in our print newspaper, letters to the editor must not exceed 500 words. Guest columns and commentaries must be between 700 and 850 words. All authors must include their name, phone number, class year and college affiliation or department to be considered for publication. Please submit via email to by 4 p.m. to be considered for the following day's publication. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe