Balancing practicality and creativity: don’t rely on your humanities degree

You’re a college student who is currently marching through the academic fury. You chose to be a writer in lieu of being in the STEM program. In other words, a less reliable source of income. You’ve heard the horror stories about humanities graduates working minimum wage jobs, despite their enhanced knowledge. It makes you wonder if these writing and literature classes are worth your time and effort.

Fast forward to the day after graduation. You have a portfolio of classwork, a 2-month internship, and a desire to make a living with your newfound Bachelor’s degree.

But what’s the next step? Where do I begin working? How can I prove my usefulness to potential employers?

As someone who has graduated and still finding his place as a recent college English grad, I’m here to address the anxieties and struggles you may be having. All of which I believe stems from the pursuit of a piece of paper.

Don’t let your degree define you

Hyperbole aside, ask yourself if your degree is worth the wait. Worth the amount of debt you will inevitably be placed in. The difficult professors, the cram sessions for exams, and the occasional class changes.

There’s more I could add, but the sentiment remains. It’s more than enough for any one person to handle. Yet we’re told that after completing the credits, our only guarantee is our degree that will get mailed to us after graduation. No job offers, no career path clearly defined, and no promise of a stable income source. That’s up to you to deal with.

It’s for these reasons that I believe a degree is more of a trophy. You work hard for it, but it’s best placed in a location in your house that you can look at every once in a while. Sure it has value and prestige, but it’s more of a symbol that you are willing to work hard without question. That you have the dedication, knowledge, and skills to benefit the company you want to work for.

Which again, isn’t a bad thing in theory. But when there’s thousands of graduates in the same position as you, it has to make you wonder if you have what it takes to rise above the crowd.

From Engineering to English

To illustrate this, I want to share the story about how I went from Engineering to English in a span of a year.

After completing my AA degree at Broward College, I subsequently went to University of South Florida to get my Bachelor’s degree. Of course, I had to declare a major.

My first instinct was English, specifically Technical writing. I did some research and figured that it would provide me some useful skills post-college. I could be a freelancer and write for a living. It seemed like I had my whole college career planned out.

Up until then orientation. And last minute, I thought it would be a good idea to switch to Information Technology. I really can’t tell you why I did it, but it happened. So in August of 2014, I started taking Engineering courses. And for the most part, it wasn’t that bad. I got good grades first semester and I finished second semester with my GPA still intact.

It all changed summer semester. I remember taking 2 classes, but one of them was a real challenge. I’ve taken difficult classes in the past, but this one had to have been the worst. I think back to the anxieties and desperate prayers I would send just before exams and project deadlines. I needed at least a C- to pass the class. While I managed to make it out by the bare minimum, I knew that I couldn’t handle the coursework going forward.

I mean, I passed the class. Surely I could have made it.

But during summer semester, I was wrestling with what I wanted versus what I convinced myself I needed. I knew I didn’t want to be an engineer, but I was already in too deep. How could I convince people about my decision to leave this major? What would be a worthy replacement? Is it worth the risk?

Before I could fully reflect on these questions, I already sent in my major change request. A year after my hasty decision to be an Engineering major, I switched to English. This time, I had to trust my instinct and rely on my talents to push me through my last semesters. And sure enough, I graduated with a B.A. in English, with a concentration in Professional Writing, Rhetoric, and Technology.

So I know from personal experience how difficult it is to decide on a major. But the main takeaway from my story is to go with what you feel best serves your interests and talents. Even if it seems unprofitable, don’t waste your time trying to be something you’re not. It will save you a lot of time, stress, and money in the long run.

How to present yourself

First impressions are everything. And being an English graduate, you already are at a disadvantage. Due to the theoretical nature of the humanities, businesses have a tough time equating creativity and practicality. So instead of worrying about gaining unrelated skills, you’ll have to present yourself in a way that highlights what you learned in school and how you can be a worthy asset worth investing in.

Here are three main factors that will make you more appealing to potential employers and clients:

  • Knowledgeable: You have to be the smartest person in the room, even if you’re not. So when focusing on a particular industry, be sure to know as much as about it as you can. Read books, look for blogs, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, etc. Knowledge is power.
  • Reliable: When people hire you, they’re not just hiring you for your skills. They’re hiring you. So in addition to being useful, be reliable as well. Arrive early, always have something to offer, and listen before you act. The trust factor is key to consistent work.
  • Unique: When sending your applications, the person on the receiving end doesn’t know you at first. And it’s worst when people use templates and come off as disingenuous. Your best asset is you. That doesn’t mean that you should get too comfortable and start using slang or inappropriate language. But make each application unique to the situation and pay attention to what they are looking for. It’s more work, but it will pay off.

Not the end, but the beginning

So you can’t find a job with your degree. You added your Bachelor’s degree to your resume, but still no response. Do you just call it quits and work a regular job? Or go back to school under a different major and hope for the best?

No, you start from scratch. You’re no longer a humanities major who can write long essays and analyze information at a faster rate. Now, you’re an upcoming writer who is looking for opportunities and and a chance to be established.

You create a blog where you post consistent content. You create a Medium account and share your knowledge and experiences. You work on your LinkedIn profile and make as much connections as possible. You essentially become your own boss.

Look for any opportunities online or locally, and go for it. Fix up your cover letter and resume to meet each specific needs. Keep working at it until something happens. Then do it again.

Will this make your problems go away? Not exactly. But it will give you perspective and even some change in your pocket. If no one will give you the opportunities, then you create your own.

You didn’t make a mistake

You may have heard this out of concern from loved ones. You may have told yourself this out of fear. But as a former English major, allow me to reiterate it.

You didn’t make a mistake.

I’m sure it may seem like that now. You’re not making as much money as your friends or getting as much job offers. You’re still unemployed and no one is able to get you to where you want to go.

I’ve been there. And still am. I don’t know when I’ll actually start having income again. I don’t know if any of my creative pursuits will bear fruit.

But I’m not giving up. Neither should you. The most successful artists had to start from nothing and build their way up. There are no shortcuts or cheat codes to the process. You keep doing it, no matter what.

The main takeaway that I want you to walk away with is to focus on “doing,” not “thinking.” You can think about what went wrong in college. You can think about your dream job. You can even think about how you want to leave behind a legacy. But without action, you will be stuck in your thoughts and never get anything done.

Continue writing. Continue creating. And continue being you.

You may have professional standing with your degree, but you can only be a better you by putting in the effort.

So get to it. You have a world to change.

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