Studying the social sciences and humanities has never been more important, and is even more so post COVID-19. Two months ago, the New Yorker reported on enrollment in the humanities and social sciences dropping dramatically at universities across the country. Even liberal arts colleges and universities with top curriculums in the humanities are seeing students favor degrees such as business and computer science.
In the last four years at Berkeley, I’ve had a lot of people ask what I’m going to do with my degree in the social sciences and even more people ask me why I choose to study sociology. When I tell them the answer: “that I enjoy it,” I’m so frequently met with puzzled and confused looks.
Rising costs of tuition as well as housing in many college downs are valid reasons for students wanting to choose a degree that they perceive as safer or easier to monetize. At the same time, many students are misinformed about how their degrees relate to careers. There is an assumption that you can only work in tech if you pursue something technical, but the majority of job openings at tech companies are not technical and do not require any particular concentration.
For students looking to attend law school, the American Bar association doesn’t emphasize any particular major, and most, if not all law schools don’t take into account your undergraduate major. A fifth of bachelor degrees are now in business, but popular routes like investment banking and consulting have historically favored and welcomed liberal arts majors because of strong communications and analytical skills.
For many of these industries and fields, obtaining a job is dependent more on internships, portfolios and projects than it is on coursework. A student studying business and wanting to pursue corporate sales is going to learn more from a sales internship than from business classes; so many career-pertinent skills simply cannot be taught in the classroom. Entrepreneurship is a field that often doesn’t require a degree at all and is something that is learned by actually getting your hands dirty and starting a business yourself rather than by reading case studies or books about how to start a business.
Technology has opened many job opportunities for every degree. At the same time, technology is evolving so fast that by the time technical majors leave university after four years, it is becoming more and more likely that the programming languages they learn in university are outdated or obsolete. University curriculums can’t change and innovate fast enough to match this trend, rendering a lot of technical skills studied in university as not particularly helpful once students begin jobs in the industry.
Artificial intelligence is a rapidly growing space that is going to require workers from all walks of life. We need developers to build large language models and do technical research, but we also need researchers with a background in the social sciences and history to assess societal consequences of the technology, policymakers to monitor and regulate data collection in this new field of technology, educators to incorporate artificial intelligence tools into curriculums and data scientists with a background in ethics to ensure that data sets and models are being trained on a diversity of data. And if students in the humanities pursue technical careers, this is good because it ensures that the people building powerful models and handling consumer data have more of a background in privacy and ethics and will consider the consequences of decisions perhaps more heavily than their technically educated counterparts likely will.
If we keep pushing the narrative and jokes that some majors are “easy” or lack career opportunities, we’re going to see an even more harmful perpetuation of the trend we’re already seeing: the monetization of knowledge, privatization of education and a homogeneity of learning. Diversity of education is crucial to prioritize a society with a diversity of viewpoints. We all consume art, listen to music, read books or the news and watch movies and television. If we all continue to study the same two or three fields, we’re not going to have a diversity of art or conversations, and that is especially concerning in a society that deeply requires more critical and analytic thinking.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how fragile all of our systems are, from education to healthcare to public welfare. We desperately need a restructuring and rethinking of how all of our institutions operate. Analytical reading, critical thinking and strong writing skills are key skills that we need to be cultivating. It’s not a coincidence that the majors that most deeply question capitalism and systems of patriarchy, racism, colonialism and oppression are the ones politicians are looking to defund or discourage students from studying.
Thus, I implore you: If you are studying something in the humanities or social sciences, stick with it and don’t change your major just because so many people around you appear to be studying the same three fields. You don’t need to justify to anyone but yourself what you’re spending your time studying, and there’s a place for you to create change and work on innovative and impactful projects in any industry.