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Citing data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Newsweek recently released a list of what it considers the 13 Most Useful and Useless college majors after weighing factors such as employment rates and salary directly following graduation.
Unsurprisingly, the ultimate hard science trifecta of mechanical, electrical and civil engineering topped the magazine’s Most Useful list — to be featured in tomorrow’s Nexus — trailed by the corporate-centered fields of finance, marketing, business and economics, while the Most Useless list was mainly inhabited by liberal arts-related majors, such as English, history, political science and anthropology.
With the economy in its current state, many feel pressured to enter fields that provide lucrative opportunities and career options upon graduation. While there are those of us who have embraced a pragmatic approach to future security, with only around 1,200 of UCSB’s nearly 20,000 undergraduates enrolled in the College of Engineering, it seems there are still plenty who continue to forsake their perceived utility for genuine passion — until enrolling in law school, at least.
1. Fine Arts
Unemployment, recent grad: 12.6 percent Unemployment, experienced grad: 7.3 percent
Earnings, recent grad: $30,000 Earnings, experienced grad: $45,000 Projected growth, 2010-2020: 5 percent
While high-paying employment opportunities in the field of art may not be envied by students in the College of Engineering, fourth-year art major Yuning Yang said its versatility and the degree of influence it holds over everyday life compensate for this drawback.
According to Yang, art majors can hold jobs in a myriad of fields — such as advertising, marketing and drawing, and fashion, product, interior or graphic design — and stick with the program despite peers’ taunts about its lack of real-world application since it is some- thing they are truly passionate about.
“A lot of people tell me, ‘Oh, you’re an art major? So you just draw?’ But no, that’s definitely not the case,” Yang said. “And grading-wise, it’s not like I can just get a problem right and then it’s done. I have to spend a lot of time creating the finished product, and it’s not like it’s ever really finished. There is always room for improvement when it comes to art.”
2. Theatre and Dance
Unemployment, recent grad: 7.8 percent Unemployment, experienced grad: 8.8 percent Earnings, recent grad: $26,000 Earnings, experienced grad: $45,000 Projected growth, 2010-2020: 4 percent
Theater and dance graduate student Gregory Dodds, who spent years studying improvisation on the East Coast before coming to UCSB, said his major requirements include accepting that you will probably not have a stable, conventional career path following graduation. “It’s not as easy to connect dots with theatre majors: The jobs you find are always more elusive, harder to find and certainly more competitive to get,” Dodds said. “Nobody is hiring someone to be an actor or director or poet or writer right out of school, but there are opportunities and the skill set you learn here is always supplemental to the real world.”
According to Dodds, who has taught theater for 10 years, lending your best tricks to young thespians is always an option for theater majors. Otherwise, most graduates look for act- ing or directing jobs in Los Angeles or New York, continue schooling to get a master’s or doctorate or work in production.
3. Film and Media Studies
Unemployment, recent grad: 12.9 percent Unemployment, experienced grad: 6.7 percent Earnings, recent grad: $30,000 Earnings, experienced grad: $50,000 Projected growth, 2010-2020: 9 percent
Despite Newsweek’s placement of majors within the realm of film, video and photographic arts near the top of its ‘least useful’ list, UCSB’s Film and Media Studies Dept. continues to be one of the most robust majors on campus in terms of attracting students, according to Department Chair Cristina Venegas.
Venegas said the major’s reputation for yielding underemployment comes from common misconceptions of its scope and applicability.
“Film and media studies is a program that’s within the school of humanities — it’s both a program that teaches people how to make media in addition to positioning that knowledge in the context of the history of it and analysis of it,” Venegas said. “It’s not a vocational school and it’s not a vocational profession. There is a need for knowledge about culture and media; the world is saturated by media.”
According to Venegas, a substantial portion of the depart- ment’s alumni go on to become professors, screenwriters, agents, successful filmmakers and lawyers.
4. Philosophy and Religious Studies
Unemployment, recent grad: 10.8 percent Unemployment, experienced grad: 6.8 percent Earnings, recent grad: $30,000 Earnings, experienced grad: $48,000 Projected growth, 2010-2020: 17 percent
Fourth-year philosophy and public policy major Ernesto Diaz said while mental deliberation is not a directly tangible asset, philosophy is a versatile study that applies to a range of fields, from management and businesses to law and medicine.
As for his plans upon graduation, Diaz said he hopes to eventually work his way to law school and specialize in immigration issues.
“Philosophy is primarily used for law school and medical school — primarily for bioethics — and it teaches you how to engage with people,” Diaz said. “You could become a teacher or a social worker.”
Philosophy doctoral student Jenessa Strickland said she had a difficult time initially choosing a major, but did not look back once she did.
“Philosophy is naturally multi-disciplinary; you can study almost anything you want as a philosophy major,” Strickland said. “For example, you can study philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of biology, philosophy of science in general and on and on.”
Unemployment, recent grad: 9.2 percent Unemployment, experienced grad: 6.2 percent Earnings, recent grad: $32,000 Earnings, experienced grad: $52,000 Projected growth, 2010-2020: 6 percent
Third-year English major Nicole Eisenbeisz said she disagrees with the list’s implication that the type of degree that students graduate with is the make-or-break factor in hiring decisions, as relevant experience and necessary qualifications weigh more heavily.
“As long as you have a degree it won’t particularly matter what you majored in, as long as you have the right skills for the job you’re looking for,” Eisenbeisz said.
Eisenbeisz said she decided to study what she finds interesting while ensuring she is prepared for a career in writing.
“I’m trying to do the professional writing program, too, because that is what I’d want to do as a career, but English is what I like,” Eisenbeisz said.
Unemployment, recent grad: 10.5 percent Unemployment, experienced grad: 6.2 percent Earnings, recent grad: $28,000 Earnings, experienced grad: $47,000 Projected growth, 2010-2020: 21 percent
First-year physical anthropology major Maggie Havunjian said the program a student chooses should not be determined by partially arbitrary lists.
“Honestly, I think those lists are just made by people who just want something to do,” Havunjian said. “There is some truth to it obviously, but if you look at it in the eyes of these researchers, there is not much you can do with anthropology besides going into research or continuing your education and getting a doctorate degree.”
Havunjian said she is excited by opportunities for new dis- coveries, and the potential for pursuing something fascinating is greater than employment or salary worries.
“I don’t think I’m going to change my major; I think there are a lot of cool things to be found, new discoveries within the major to be made,” Havunjian said. “To some, it could not be appealing to become an anthropologist, but there are appealing and non-appealing jobs for all majors, so you just need to find the one that works the best.”
Unemployment, recent grad: 9.2 percent Unemployment, experienced grad: 4.5 percent Earnings, recent grad: $30,000 Earnings, experienced grad: $45,000 Projected growth, 2010-2020: 10 percent
According to third-year music and economics double major Miller Wrenn, those in the music field share an enthu- siasm for the subject that outweighs any other potential con- cerns; however, he said he is not alone in supplementing the major with another degree or graduate program to increase one’s marketability.
“College is a place to learn, not just to get ready for a job,” Wrenn said. “If you want to be practical, then you get an MBA, or you double major. But the reason I do music is because it’s what I love to do.”
All the same, Wrenn said there are certainly ways for those wishing to pursue a musical career to make money: The salary for a starting player in a prestigious symphony is on par with that of an NFL lineman, and there is always a chance to make it big in the industry.
“If you get writing credit on a song that goes multi-platinum, you make bank,” Wrenn said.
Unemployment, recent grad: 10.2 percent Unemployment, experienced grad: 5.8 percent Earnings, recent grad: $32,000 Earnings, experienced grad: $54,000 Projected growth, 2010-2020: 18 percent
Due to the historically low number of career opportunities for history graduates with only a bachelor’s degree, those in the program usually go on to get doctorate degrees or attend law or business school.
Fourth-year history major Dean Stanton said he was aware of these statistics and hopes to attend law school to better his chances.
“I think I’ve seen the Newsweek article; I was actually already aware of this situation, being a history major,” Stanton said. “I know that it’s often listed in the least useful majors, and so because of this I plan to go to law school after I gradu- ate and pursue a career in that.”
Other careers pursued by history majors include teaching, public policy, academia, business and government positions.
9. Political Science
Unemployment, recent grad: 9.1 percent Unemployment, experienced grad: 6 percent Earnings, recent grad: $35,000 Earnings, experienced grad: $65,000 Projected growth, 2010-2020: 8 percent
According to fourth-year political science major Cameron Miller, if graduates have clear goals and are passionate about the discipline, these statistics should be irrelevant.
“I find rankings like that to be very mercurial, so often I don’t give them any credence,” Miller said.
Miller said lucrative options for those with a degree in the field include policy analysts in the White House, statisticians who work primarily with political data and, of course, the life of a politician.
“I mean, have you seen how much a seasoned congress-person makes?” Miller asked. “And that is aside from health benefits and bribes.”
However, Miller also said he does not envision his eventual career to land him in D.C.’s inner circle.
“I went into political science because it interested me and was marginally related to law; ultimately, I think I would like to be involved in environmental law, and you can hardly say that is a scantly employed field,” Miller said.