It’s that time of year again. By now students high school, college, and graduate school alike have graduated and are looking forward to the next step of their lives. Many have spent years in their craft, and many will be looking for a craft to spend years in, so of course this is the time when annual lists of most and least paying majors are published. Usually these lists are pretty stagnant: the highest paid majors are always STEM fields and the lowest ones are always the fine arts (and sometimes education, but that’s another post entirely). The wording of these posts is also pretty regular as well; it always goes something like “With the constantly rising costs of college can you really afford to undertake a major that sits at the bottom of the list?” I have a better question for the people: can you really afford to choose a major just based off the supposed payout?
We all know college is expensive, and that we should make investments like that wisely. Even though we have alternatives to expensive “prestigious” institutions where you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a four year education, there is still a prevailing mindset that college is simply a job factory. You come in to college ignorant and leave out with a degree in hand and a job waiting on you. This is a problem. Our society has corrupted the idea of education so much that we forget that the original purpose for higher education was, oh I don’t know, the actual education part. I mean yes, ideally you would get preparation for the type of career you want to pursue outside of college within its walls, but this idea that college is ONLY for job training has got to stop (especially since you can get jobs without a degree). People used to go to college because they wanted to learn more and because they wanted to further their interests, not because they were told that "you gotta go to get a job". That needs to come back.
I had known for a while that I wanted to write for a living, so naturally I wanted to pursue writing as part of my major in college. I was strongly advised to pursue Agriculture since I was at Alcorn, and even told that I could still write as like a publicist for the field. Others told me that I was too smart to not be a doctor, and that I was too "gifted" to stay poor.. None of them really understood that my passion was not in any of those things, it was and is in writing stories, creating worlds, reading literature and discussing its implications on our world. I love words and I love learning, and no “sure fire riches” could change that. If I had listened to those people I probably would be rich right now (not that I'm necessarily poor right now either), but I can guarantee you I wouldn't be nearly as happy with what I do for a living. I wouldn't have the fulfillment of teaching, or the joy of having people enjoy my writing, or even the stimulation of engaging in intellectual conversation. I couldn't imagine trading that for a couple extra hundred dollars, which is why I told them then and will tell anyone now: “I’d rather be making enough money to make it doing something I love, than be rich doing something I hate”.
Now I am not foolish. I know that there is a lot of money in the STEM fields, and a lot of us could really use that money. I know that there is a conscious effort by big companies to get more people into these fields, even at HBCUs. However, I also know that not everyone is meant to be or even wants to be in these fields, and that no one should sacrifice their personal goals and wants to appease others. I had two friends in college who were encouraged to pursue the medical field in order to get the "good money". Before our freshman year ended both of them had changed their majors because they hated the coursework they were taking so much, and realized that they loved other fields so much more. Even now, they cannot imagine having stayed in STEM because they love Psychology and English so much. That’s just two examples; not even mentioning the many people who feel the same way all over the country. When we create lists that glorify STEM majors we perpetuate the belief that you will only get a good job and be happy in one of these fields. We kill the dreams of people who really don’t want to be in those fields, but feel like that’s the only way they can be successful. We turn the people forced into these fields into mindless zombies who hate their jobs and life, and I don't know about you but I don't want a doctor who hates their job working on me.
I also realize that just like I have a passion for English, there are people who legitimately have a passion for STEM. I know people who can talk for hours on end about research, experiments, and medicine the same way I can talk about literature and analysis. These people followed their passion, will likely go on to be amazing doctors, scientists, or probably discover a cure for cancer. People will praise them for doing what they love, and use them to encourage others to do the same. I only wish that the people who want to go on to educate those future doctors, make sure that that scientists stays sane, or write the book and subsequent movie about the cure for cancer was given the same praise for following their dreams. Isn't that what life is supposed to be about? Doing what you love and making a living doing it? We are all people with different passions, beliefs and loves, and we all should be encouraged to follow them rather than be convinced that only a certain set of majors are valuable. Whether your passion is chemistry, sociology, accounting or theater; no one should tell you that your passion is useless just because the only value they see is monetary. Life is too short to spend it unhappy, and can you really put a price on your happiness?