Does this bring back memories?


I never considered an art history degree but knew someone. On career day I’m sure we had a pilot, army recruiter, and accountant in the presentations, but the one I remember best was the traveling salesman. He looked just like bob hope and the job sounded fun. Of course he never talked about the hours of windshield time and the hotels night after night that all looked the same. Plus the only truly good hotel breakfast was in Munich.

IDK about art history, but the whole “useless” degrees because they’re not connected to “careers” is a pretty bad cultural myth, especially so heading into the 2nd quarter of the 21st century.

General statement: the most important thing to learn in college is not how to do specific kinds of things. The “things” of the labor market change so fast these days, that the best thing to do is to learn how to learn. Frankly, the humanities (like art history) and social sciences are far better for that than anything that teaches toward currently marketable, specific career skills.

Personal anecdote: my son majored in theater (useless degree?), though on the tech side - set building, rigging, stage ops, and whatnot. Pretty much everyone I knew said “can’t you talk him out of that?!” I didn’t want to. It’s what he wanted to do. He was both handy and creative.

Fast forward to his graduation - he was in a “theater kid house” with another theater kid house across the street. They all got together and threw a big picnic for the grads and families after the grad ceremonies. Every single one of the graduating THEATER majors, including my son, was late reporting to work because they stayed for graduation.

True, a lot of it was “gig” work, but that’s normal in the culture industries. But it’s going on 5 years and my son basically has TOO MUCH work. I.e. he’s often working 6-7 days/wk, and sometimes having to turn down better-paying gigs b/c he already signed on for another. (He’s got scruples and won’t break a deal for money).

(And also true that I was never too worried because he was a techie - so he came out of college and carpenter and a welder. And, in fact, when COVID largely killed theater for a while, he worked for a friend’s construction company. So there’s that).

By the numbers (not percentages) - which major often has the most people still looking for jobs after graduation? Business. (BBA - IDK about MBA).


Some years ago Hewlett Packard’s CEO had a degree in Medieval History as I recall. She later ran for political office, where such a degree might indeed be helpful, but that effort didn’t end well.

Used to think work from home was insanity.
Go to work? Used to mean something.
I worked at place that sourced cheap parts from China.
Sure, get parts. But you have to assemble them.
In China? Making things is different now.

My son in law has a BA in English Literature. That degree gave him an excellent background in writing proposals and he turned that into a lucrative career. He is one of the foremost managers in his industry. All that for a guy that likes to read books.


When I was in high school I decided I wanted to be a teacher. US History, specifically. I took AP History classes, aced the AP tests, planned to go to college for a BA, etc. Of course, I needed money to live and eat in college, so I got a part-time job at a Chevron station pumping gas and doing minor work in the shop (you remember the good old days…), which wasn’t much different than the job I had at the corner Chevron in high school. By my 3rd year in school the job had managed to schedule me 40 hrs/wk around my school schedule, and a trusting boss and a lead mechanic that was willing to show me things meant I was the Asst. Manager, responsible for daily bookkeeping, bank deposits, and inventory.

When I graduated college, I was watching my friends move back home, ponder what to do for a job, take entry level service jobs just to make ends meet, etc. Meanwhile I had a full time job that allowed me to live alone, provided medical, dental, 2 weeks vacation, and paid holidays.

What does a History degree have to do with being a mechanic? Well, the ability to think clearly and examine a situation helped make me a diagnostic expert. The core requirements included economics, mathematics, and physics. I learned about managing inventory, profit and loss statements and operating costs, and the laws of science that govern automotive systems.

So now, 37 years after graduating high school, I’m still not a history teacher. My wife who was an English Literature major is a VP for Human Resources. What are my 14 and 17 year old kids going to do? Who knows…as long as they never stop learning.


I knew a guy who had a degree in Art History…but it was a dual major. His other major was Architecture. They actually went well together. The classes he took in Art History were geared toward Art of buildings and structures.


It doesn’t matter what you major in as long as it makes you enjoy learning.


Does anyone here remember the show with the art history major. Tom asked her if they taught job skills with that major. When she asked what he meant, he said something like “do they teach you to say: do you want fries with that order?”

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Yeah, let’s not get too far off target. Majors are meant to provide the background information needed for particular occupations. Math and physics prepare one for the engineering field. You wont get the necessary background with an English lit major. Of course an English major can excel in other fields like journalism but they will not have a chemistry or biology background necessary for other fields. Of course people can take further coursework as needed later on but the person with the appropriate major will already have that background. Just sayin is all. College is suffering a lot without making it more meaningless.


France Córdova, physicist, former director of the National Science Foundation. former president of Purdue, got a degree in English from Stanford, took a job technical writing for the Space Radiation Lab at Caltech (she’s now a trustee) (I think she was following her husband.) took an interest in physics, took courses (she was in one of my classes), got a PhD in physics.

Is an old joke. I heard Steven Breyer rehearse it at a lecture, recalling majoring in philosophy.

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Well like I said she went back and got the necessary coursework in physics. She wasn’t granted a physics phd with English courses. My whole point.

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I should have just done the “full disclosure” in my initial post in this thread, but I tend not to talk about my profession in mixed company. LOL.

My PhD is Sociology, and I’m a prof at a middle-level state university. A good liberal arts education is about so much more than “jobs.” We not only need “lifelong learners” (as one of the common phrases go), but we also need thoughtful and informed citizens who can do critical thinking according to sound reasoning and evidence, even if that’s not part of “employment.” (Obvious now more than ever).

But obviously, the costs of higher ed are through the roof (and trust me it’s not to make the faculty rich - the pay sucks unless you’re in admin). And many students don’t truly have any interest in being in college or in learning very much. They just want the “piece of paper” so they can “get a better job.”

So here’s what I always emphasize to my students - don’t really want to be here? Aren’t really interested in learning about the world, and just want a decent job with decent pay? GREAT! The trades are starving. Go apprentice yourself to a welder/electrician/plumber, and/or get HVAC certification, or etc. You won’t bury yourself and/or your family in debt, or otherwise waste a lot of money. But you can make a really good, stable living - doing stuff that’s useful really hard to automate or outsource.

And when I tell them that, I mean it. I’m a first gen student from a small business & blue-collar kind of family/area.

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Math and Physics are required classes in an engineering they are NOT the only ones. You do need a lot of math for most engineering jobs. Physics - maybe not as much depending on what engineering field. Computer engineering doesn’t require much physics past I &II. But most colleges you’ll need a minimum of 30 (or 40) credit hours of math.

In order to do that she definitely would have had to have taken many undergraduate classes in Math and Physics to even be considered for a PhD program.

As ever Mike, your picture of the world is way too black and white and you’re just way too sure of yourself. But little of it in a good way.

Majoring in English didn’t forestall her career, didn’t condemn her to literature.

But she didn’t have to take them as an undergrad. And actually at Caltech you can do anything you can show you can do. I didn’t now her well or her full curriculum. And like all the good schools you can get a PhD without being admitted. I knew a fellow admitted as a grad student in math out of high school.

This should be emblazoned somewhere! :grinning:
Unfortunately, the number of people capable of this seems to dwindle more every year…


There are classes for people with BS degrees take these classes as the graduate level. But the point I’m making is that a PhD program in Physics requires you to have a good understanding of math and physics to complete graduate level work. You are NOT going to be able to just go in and start taking graduate level PhD classes in physics without the Math and science background.

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