Why 'practical majors' aren't always the right choice

Critical thinking skills, not just course content, is what matters, says one faculty member

Choosing a major is not the same as choosing a career—and college leaders should help students avoid that misconception, Dartmouth College's assistant dean of faculty for premajor advising argues in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"What is valuable is not the content of a major, but rather the ability to think with and through that information. That is the aim of a liberal-arts education, no matter the major," says Cecilia Gaposchkin.

Why employers love liberal arts graduates

Employers are less interested in students' mastery of their subjects and more concerned about skills such as researching, writing, and analytical thinking.

By linking a field of study to just one career, students "limit their options, and in many cases, their capacity for discovery and intellectual growth," she says.

The recent emphasis on the "practical major" corrodes intellectual college life, argues Gaposchkin. As more students enroll in a handful of majors, professors are stretched thin and programs become formulaic.

Students—and advisers—should look beyond earnings of recent graduates down the road 15 years, she writes.

"A vocational approach to liberal-arts education eviscerates precisely the qualities that are most valuable about it: intellectual curiosity and passion," she writes (Gaposchkin, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/21).

The takeaway: Choosing a major does not equal choosing a career—and students cheat themselves if they pick one they are not passionate about, argues one expert.

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