"What do I do with a History major?"
The question students should be asking instead
Last Thursday I complained that colleges like mine are giving in too easily to what Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner call a transactional model of higher education, in which learning primarily serves the end of professional preparation rather than personal transformation.
A day later I caught myself giving in to that model myself, when I talked to a prospective student who opened our interview by asking, “What do I do with a History major?”
I’ve had so many conversations like this over the last ten years that I unthinkingly reverted to my standard spiel. “Many of our students become social studies teachers,” I started, handing him a sheet summarizing the results of our most recent alumni survey, “but the most popular field is actually business.” (It’s true: we consistently find that about 30% of our graduates end up working in various jobs in the corporate sector.) But after I went through the rest of the list — higher ed, government, law, nonprofits, ministry, health care — I told him that the key is that studying history provides skills that all employers want. We even conclude our major with a seminar that adds problem-solving and teamwork to the typical list of humanities-honed skills: research, reading, critical thinking, writing, and speaking.
It’s all true. And yet I shouldn’t have given in so easily.
I should have said this instead:
“I know why you’re asking that. But know that you’re more than ‘what you do.’ You should be asking, ‘What kind of a person will I become by studying history at Bethel?’”
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