Let’s start with a joke. Four college grads are together at a fast food restaurant, marveling at a new gadget. The science grad asks “Why does it work?” The engineering grad asks “How does it work?” The business grad asks “How is it marketed?” The liberal arts grad asks “Do you want fries with that?”

Today’s guest post comes from a talented young writer who’s currently pursuing a liberal arts degree but isn’t going to end up asking if you want fries. Lauren Davidson knows you probably think her major is a waste of money and she doesn’t care.

Me? I’m inclined to agree with Lauren on this one. Let’s hear her out.

With the cost of a college education rising to astronomical levels across the country and student debt levels soaring over $1.4 trillion, it is only natural that the conversation has now turned to what exactly students are getting out of their degrees. In other words, what kind of return are we getting on our investment — and should we be allowed to major in subjects that some consider to be a “waste of money”?

As an undergraduate student who is majoring in English and Communications – a.k.a. liberal arts (one of the categories that is traditionally considered to be a “waste of money”), I can confidentially say that I do not care if you think that my majors are a waste of money. My degree may not have the same straight path to a job as an engineering degree does — but that does not make it any less valuable or worthwhile.

Why Students Need to Consider More than Future Salary Potential When Choosing a Major

Getting a degree isn’t simply about figuring out which major will give you the highest return on your investment. While it may seem idealistic, I went into college with the notion that I should major in something that actually interests me, that I enjoyed doing, and that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life — not just something that I could do to make the most possible money, regardless of whether or not I liked it.

I do understand why people argue that some majors are a waste of money. It’s been proven that certain majors lead to higher salaries and better job prospects, but how successful can someone really be if they hate what they are doing? I’d rather find a job that I am passionate about and work my way up in the company than start off with a high paying job that I hate and have no passion for my job.

I think if students are considering majoring in something that generally leads to lower paying jobs, they really need to be passionate about it. Students shouldn’t choose majors because they think they will be easy or because they think they may like it. I think it is crucial for students to sit down and think about what they are truly passionate about and what they would like to do in the future. While it is a good idea to consider future salary potential, finding something you truly love is way more important.

My Plan for the Future

As a practical matter, I will need to get a job. I have student loans that I will need to pay back, and I plan to support myself after college. However, choosing a major based exclusively on what will pay me the most after I graduate may help me meet my financial goals, but it won’t lead to happiness. I will also not likely succeed at my job if it doesn’t truly interest me and I am not engaged in my work. On top of that, if I am not cut out for the curriculum, then I run the chance of landing student debt without the degree.

Journalism and writing in general really interest me and always have. Though they may not lead to the big paychecks many other majors do, I know I will always enjoy my work, and there are some promising career paths that I could choose. I could take the path of journalism and eventually try to land a job at a big news station. I could also work in advertising and marketing and expand my skillset to allow for future advancement at a company.

Even if I decide not to pursue the more typical job paths for graduates with my degrees, I think my education gives me a well-founded skillset that could be applicable to many other jobs. I think I have developed great critical thinking skills as well as the ability to work in teams – both of which I think will benefit me along the way.

Why People’s Criticism of Certain Majors is Unfounded

On my campus, there are a number of majors that are regularly mocked for being a waste of time and money, such as English and Communications (mine), Fine Arts, Psychology, and many more. Yet each of these majors brings something valuable to our society — such as providing art and caring for people. While people who work in these fields may not make a lot of money, they are still making incredible contributions to our community.

Critics of these “useless” majors should also keep in mind that all college students are required to take a substantial number of general education courses, and a relatively small number of specialized credits for their major in comparison. The upshot is that all graduates have a baseline level of knowledge — and won’t be lacking in any significant area. Many of my friends graduated before me with degrees in majors that have nothing to do with their current jobs. Someone once told me that at the end of the day college teaches you how to learn among other vital life and career skills, and I truly believe it.

By choosing a major that I actually enjoy, I am learning how to work hard, ask the right questions, research and write effectively, and excel in my classes. These skills are far more important in terms of my ability to be a great employee than choosing a particular major that doesn’t interest me.

So when I read an article criticizing college students for picking majors that are a “waste of money,” I realize that these critics are out of touch with what college is really about — and that I simply do not care if you think my major is useless. I know what I am learning, and that the skills I am learning will help launch my career — whatever it may happen to be.

Lauren Davidson is a soon-to-be graduate or graduate from the University of Pennsylvania depending when you are reading this article. As she transitions into a full-time job, she is looking to do freelance writing work to help pay down her student debt.

Chris’s Take

Awesome points Lauren!

As someone with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and a Master’s degree in Business, you’d think I’d be on the opposite side as Lauren here, but I think she really nailed the key determinants for success. How well you do in your career is more dependent on your interest in the work and passion for the mission than the major you happened to study in college. If you don’t have these, it doesn’t matter what your major is. If you do, you can make just about any major a financially successful one.

What did you major in? Or maybe you don’t have a college degree at all. Does it matter? What do you think is most important - the major, the prestige of the school, or your excitement and work ethic?