Alumni Answers: How can I explain my major?

Alumni Answers: How can I explain my major?

Have you ever had a negative reaction to your choice of study, or felt the need to defend it? I am an art major (business concentration) and often have to let comments roll of my back or explain myself for choosing a major that is not widely considered “useful.” Any suggestions for how to tactfully and briefly explain why my liberal arts degree is useful, but in a way that makes a lasting impression with the person questioning it? (Mary Kate, Art 2018)


John P. (BA Politics, 1987), Senior Analyst at Legislative Budget Board, State of Texas

A liberal arts education is useful because it teaches you how to write and how to think about very difficult questions. That carries over to any profession. Internships are useful because they can teach you to work on the exact same things with the exact same software you might use in your first full time job. Almost every undergraduate major is going to cover a wide variety of topics at a high level. Graduate degrees tend to get more specialized.

Wendy R. (BA English, 2007), Self-employed writer

Mary Kate, this happens every day of my life as a creative writer and literature major. I receive three responses to my chosen major and field. 1. So you are going to teach then? 2. What are you going to do with that? 3. Can you actually earn money writing? All of these questions suggest that my major exists inside of a box. No major exists inside of box. The person wielding the major is where the value lies. I know plenty of post MBA, PhD, MD, and JD candidates who have failed at their professions or ended up profoundly miserable in their chosen fields. I know an equal number of philosophy, art, history, and literature majors who have done the same. My point is, you are the value, you can do what you please with your education regardless of what university you attended and what major you chose. You define success and create your own path in the workforce. I speak from experience as a resume writer who has coached hundreds of job seekers; there is no single path to success in this life. It is often a combination of knowledge, luck, and hard work. I never change my response to these questions. I always answer that I am grateful for the depth and breadth of the knowledge I received during my undergraduate years, and that no degree could ever stop me from achieving my goals, and in fact, I am blessed that my degree has made me a more diverse and desirable candidate in every work environment I have ever been in. Hold your head, be proud of your major, and own your education. Best of luck to you.

Matthew C. (BA English, 1992), Structures Technician at SpaceX

Explain to them that everything they use in their day to day life – clothing, car, kitchenware, decorative items, cell phone – begins as an idea, then becomes an art project also known as a product design prototype. I was an English major. If someone criticizes my choice of study, I just correct their grammar and go about my day.

Joseph H. (BA English, 2000), Leadership Program Officer at Southern Methodist University

Certainly! I also find myself defending other people’s majors as well. In the case of art majors, I find I usually start with the fact that they are among the few majors on campus who actually work for their degrees. They’re out long hours, face serious review by faculty far earlier and more frequently than other majors, are forced to learn project management and presentation skills long before other students and rely on them in the public square, and at the end they have actually built things and have real accomplishments in their portfolio. That’s before you even get into broader applications like the importance of design and salesmanship in the marketplace.

Todd S. (MBA Organizational Development 2012), Self-employed Talent Development Consultant

Yes, sometimes there are people who question the value of certain degrees/majors. If you are learning about something you are passionate and can relate what you have learned to how you would (or have) applied that in a work setting, you will get less negativity. Also, as you get a few years out of school, the specific major holds less and less importance…unless something very technical (IT, accounting ,etc.).

John P. (BA Fine Art, 1968; MA Fine Art, 1972), Self-employed Fine Artist

Dear Mary Kate, Well, how “useful” are any of the arts: music, literature, sculpture, ceramics, painting? If we imagine that our existence has a transcendent purpose and meaning and is more than just a utilitarian exercise, then let’s acknowledge that the arts help us to express the transcendent in human nature. A worthy occupation. And, under certain circumstances, a master plumber’s license is more useful and valuable than many kinds of advanced degrees. Consider that you will always have more to learn in this life and that a liberal arts degree is an excellent preparation for that Please don’t worry about defending your choice of study. If you are committed to it, the negative reaction of others will fade in importance. Associate with those who will inspire, challenge and encourage. Best wishes to you, John P., B.A. Fine Arts ’68, M.A. Fine Arts ’72

Rachel L. (BS Biology, 2011), Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)  at Children’s Medical Center

Hi Mary Kate, This is a great question. When I chose my major, I chose the major that had the subject matter I was the most interested in learning. This subject happened to be biology, which was instrumental in my education to become a physician assistant. However, when choosing a major, I think pursuing a subject you are passionate about is more important than choosing a “useful” major. While some jobs may require specific skills, most likely you will learn a lot on-the-job in your first job out of college. Being a more well-rounded individual who studied a subject they are passionate about will be more useful to you in the long term! Best, Rachel L.



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