News, Column

More Than A Paycheck

My major is useless. Or at least that’s what I’m told-“An English major isn’t practical,” or “There’s no money in journalism.”

I’ve heard it a thousand times. And yet it hasn’t made me question my choice to study the thing that excites me and what I knew would make me happy, even if that meant I might end up making less money.

I’m not sure what makes a major practical. I would argue that neither potential earnings nor job availability after graduation make a major any more or less practical, partly because your major doesn’t necessarily restrict your job search and partly because I think it’s dangerous to think of knowledge as valuable only insomuch as it relates to its potential to beef up your bottom line.

Luckily, we go to a school where knowledge isn’t reduced to its practicality. If it were, we English majors would be struggling to prove that poetry is “practical” beyond its artistic and cultural (and sometimes political) value. I can think of a few ways, but none that would convince someone only interested in my future salary potential.

Sure, I can write well after four years in our English department, but my major has given me more than just good grammar. I have gotten lost in dense theory that has not only challenged my comprehension ability but also the way that I perceive the world. I have been able to find 14 pages’ worth of meaningful things to say about a 14-line sonnet. I have seen how far-reaching English can be, and I have a far more eloquent understanding of the world because of it.

But none of that really matters. Each so-called “useless” major can produce a similar list of its merits and that’s why I have a problem with evaluating knowledge in the way that these “Top 10 Useless College Majors” lists do. Classically, education was “impractical” by modern standards, with most education devoted to imbuing you with knowledge of classic literature, language, history, music, mathematics, and philosophy. In its highest form, education was more about the worthwhile quest for knowledge than it was about preparing its subjects for work.

Every (very expensive) minute of my education has been worth what I paid for it, even if I don’t use what I learn in whatever job I resign myself to doing after I leave Boston College. Although I half believe the joke that what you pay for is a diploma, I have to disagree that what I’ve learned here hasn’t been valuable beyond its ability to get me a job. I’m one of those people who see the value in pure thinking, in pursuing a life that’s about something higher than a paycheck. Maybe I’ll change my tune when I realize that I can only afford two more months of rent, but I don’t think I will.

Being at BC has helped me to discern what kind of things I believe in. To borrow words from a Father Arrupe prayer and from a friend who turned me onto it, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way … It will decide … what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude … Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”


April 6, 2014