Your major or your life?

When I think back on it now, it’s kind of amazing that I went to college and graduated.   If I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn’t.   I’d bump Plan B up to first position and go backpacking across Europe.

My approach to college was lackadaisical, at best.

While my high school classmates were busy meeting with their advisors and applying to multiple colleges, I was dumping college brochures in the trash by the cartload.  (I’m sorry, did you say ‘recycling’?  Surely you jest!)   The only reason I looked at the brochure from Earlham College was that I’d never heard of the place before, wondered how you pronounced it,  and they mistakenly sent me a brochure about their off campus study programs and I thought, “Hey, go to Europe and get college credits at the same time!”   Not that I had any idea what I would do with said college credits.

So I applied to only one institution of higher learning.

I remember an advisor telling me, during a required meeting, “You can’t apply to just one school!”   Which I thought was pretty stupid.  Of course I can.  Just watch me!

Going away to college was exciting; you know, living away from home, meeting new people…    I majored in English and German.   Mostly because I liked speaking German and I liked books.

When people heard what I was majoring in, they would inevitably say, “Oh, a literature major!  What do you plan to do, teach?”

“No I do not plan to teach.  I like German and I like books.”  Such a response always seemed to provoke nervous laughter.


I wish I’d had someone like Dale Stephens & UnCollege, or Blake Boles or Michael Ellsberg around back then to point out to me that living away from home, meeting new people, reading books and speaking German were all things I could have done without paying a college tens of thousands of dollars to do it.  (Now the cost is often in the hundreds of thousands.)

I suppose I can be happy that at least I spent my time in college taking classes in subjects I enjoyed, unlike a lot of students (especially, it seems, today) who choose their major not based on their passion but on what they’ve been told will guarantee them a job and a good income.

Getting a degree in something just for the money you will supposedly make is, in my opinion, a doomed enterprise.   Because what if the market for that job dries up and leaves you with a useless degree in something you don’t enjoy in the first place?  At least I have a useless degree in a subject I like.

I know, how about we stop spending so much money obtaining useless degrees, irregardless of the subject?  How about we travel, or apprentice ourselves to learn a trade, or start our own business?   How about we find out what we want to do first, and then pursue it in whatever way is best?

Why don’t we stop thinking that we have to choose the ‘right’ major to have a successful life?   Or that we need a major at all?

New York Magazine this week has an article about law students suing law schools for misrepresenting their career prospects.  (Oh the irony!)

Another article in the Sunday Times talks about the growing availability and popularity of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which offer exactly the same information as courses taught in prestigious universities, with one difference;  the online course is free.

More and more it seems the smart thing to do is ditch the major, create your life.

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