Sunday, October 3, 2010

How to Convince Your Parents That Your "Worthless" Major is Worth Something

Guest Post by Tim Handorf

When I was an undergraduate, I knew from the very beginning I wanted to study English. Most of my friends were tepid in their own choices, and changed majors several times before settling with subjects like Economics or Psychology. Others wanted to study something else but were influenced by their parents to study a major that would provide more immediate material gains.

When I told my parents my intentions to study English, my father deadpanned, "That's all?" I asked him what he meant by that, and he responded, "Why not minor in English and study something else more useful, like Business?" I was taken aback. I didn't know how, exactly, to respond to his question.

Of course, in a way, he was absolutely right. Studying literature or creative writing for its own sake doesn't result in obvious job prospects. Eventually, however, I formed a coherent enough argument favoring my choice of study, that even my parents -- a very traditional bunch -- eventually supported me wholeheartedly.

One thing to remember when you decide to throw your lot in with literature or writing is that chances are, you won't become a world-famous novelist. At the same time, however, no one goes or should go into a university literature or writing program with the idea that pursuing fame and fortune is our natural next step.

We do it because we do care about the written word. We understand that taking in the world and its details and expressing it clearly, thoughtfully, even creatively, using our own signature mark, is meaningful, even if we don't eventually do it to earn our daily bread. That is not to say that we cannot always dream. And the carefully study of letters is a necessary first step in finding our own voice. We cannot, after all, pen something extraordinary without knowing what has come before.

To counter the old folks' assumptions that paying a lot of money for a college degree only to end up as a starving artist is quite easy. What I did was throw at them some of the latest research. Parents love research. For example, take Daniel H. Pink's book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Pink, a former speechwriter for Al Gore, who now writes for several leading publications analyzing future trends in business and technology, argues that we are now moving beyond the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. By this he means that those who have developed the capacities for empathy, creativity, and are able to take information and discern some meaning from it will be most successful. And are these tasks not exactly what a degree in English or Creative Writing prepares us for?

So if your parents, friends, or even you yourself are struggling to figure out the purpose behind a course of study in literature, rest assured that you will have a host of opportunities, even if you don't end up writing fiction or poetry for a living. If you can synthesize information, if you can communicate it clearly and inventively, then the future is yours.

By-line: This guest post is contributed by Tim Handorf, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities. He welcomes your comments at his email:

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