STUMP » Articles » Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Womens Studies Majors » 5 August 2015, 07:36

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Womens Studies Majors  


5 August 2015, 07:36

I saw a reference to the following paragraph from Jim Taranto:

Megan Brabec, 24, graduated from college a couple of years ago. She double-majored in political science and international affairs, and she minored in women’s studies and Spanish.

But even with those concentrations, it’s been hard to find a full-time gig.

This is part of Taranto’s “Fox Butterfield, Is That You?” features, which has an explanation there.

The simplest way to explain the Fox Butterfield effect is to replace “But even with” to “Because of”:

School will be back in session soon (and I’m getting my syllabus for my fall semester class ready), and here is my advice for picking college majors.


I could also put in “and enjoy”, but I think most people find that you may like a subject, but if you can’t do all that well in it, you’re not going to enjoy it, ultimately.

I’ve looked at a bunch of different major ranking tables, and they do generally come up in different ways.

Here’s one list from Forbes from a couple years ago, based on starting pay and mid-career pay:

1. Biomedical engineering
2. Biochemistry
3. Computer science
4. Software engineering
5. Environmental engineering
6. Civil engineering
7. Geology
8. Management information systems
9. Petroleum Engineering
10. Applied mathematics
11. Mathematics
12. Construction management
13. Finance
14. Physics
15. Statistics

Thing is, these majors can be difficult to get into to begin with. I saw a drop-out rate for engineering majors (dropping out from engineering, that is, not college) as high as 60%.

This is a good list where majors are ranked by GPAs:

5 Lowest Grade Point Averages

Chemistry – 2.78 GPA
Math – 2.90 GPA
Economics – 2.95 GPA
Psychology – 2.98 GPA
Biology – 3.02 GPA

5 Highest Grade Point Averages

Education – 3.36 GPA
Language – 3.34 GPA
English – 3.33 GPA
Music – 3.30 GPA
Religion – 3.22 GPA

Those lowest GPA majors are harder, if that’s not clear.

I used to teach the “weed out” class of calculus — if you couldn’t do well enough in that, you had no hope of engineering. I can point to people who would like to brush up on their math, but really, most of these majors and related careers involve being very comfortable with numbers. Even marketing people have to be comfortable with numbers nowadays, what with the importance of analytics.


…or just don’t like it.

Don’t worry, all is not lost:

Non-math types can make money, too

Considering how much more money there is in engineering and other technical fields, you might expect students to flock to those majors. In fact, there’s almost no correlation between how popular a major is and how lucrative it is. Psychology is far and away the most popular major despite paying a below-average median wage of $31,500. Highly paid engineering fields, meanwhile, are among the least popular fields of study.

The simple explanation is that technical majors are hard. Not everyone is cut out to be an engineer or a computer scientist. Economic research bears out that interpretation: In a working paper published last year, a group of researchers found that math and science majors were initially popular at a private liberal arts college in Kentucky — until students got their first round of grades.

Fortunately, there are well-paying majors even for the non-technically inclined, although some comfort with math still helps. Actuarial science majors are the best paid of the non-engineering, non-hard-science majors, with median earnings of $62,000. Court reporting, food science and even public policy all have median earnings at or above $50,000.

Oooooh, I have a bad piece of news. You need to know a lot of math for actuarial science.

While some of us actuaries do make fun of actuarial science majors as being weaker than those of us who took a math major instead, you still need to be able to be very comfortable with numbers. One can get a nice job with that background, even if you can’t make it through our professional exams, but you’re still going to be expected to do a lot of number-crunching.

I don’t think “court reporting” is a major, but there are food science and public policy (or political science and related topics) majors. Plenty of business-related majors that don’t require calculus, which can be good.

Heck, even some majors in the humanities can be rigorous…. if you’re at the right school.


I saw this article a while back where a prof was bitching about students hating literature:

The first task is to get the student to want to read literature. Students certainly see the point of wisdom, guidance in how to think about their values and decisions. But professors tend to laugh at such a conception as somehow philistine. Clara Claiborne Park, who taught for years at Williams, devoted an essay to the experience of teaching literature at a community college. At the end of the semester, one farm boy asked: “Mrs. Park. We’ve read what Homer says about the afterlife, and what Plato says, and now we’re reading what Dante says, and they’re all different. Mrs. Park. Which one of them is true?” She recalls her reaction:

“I suppress, just in time, the condescending laugh, the easy play to the class’s few sophisticates, who are already laughing surreptitiously…But the open seriousness on the boy’s face encourages reflection. Who, in this class, is reading as Plato and Dante would have expected to be read? And who is asking the right questions, I and my sophisticates, or this D-level student whom I have just time to realize I shall put down at my peril?”

More sophisticated students usually have in mind some version of what might be called the Wikipedia test. If a book has a point, and the point can be briefly summarized, why not just read the summary? If a teacher cannot give a coherent reason why such a shortcut simply won’t do, then why should the student assume anything important is left out?

There is an obvious proof that the great novelists knew more about human psychology than any social scientist who ever lived. If psychologists, sociologists, or economists understood people as well as George Eliot or Tolstoy did, they could create portraits of people as believable as Middlemarch’s Dorothea Brooke or Anna Karenina. But no social scientist has ever come close.

Still more important: Many disciplines can teach that we ought to empathize with others. But these disciplines do not involve actual practice in empathy. Great literature does, and in that respect its study remains unique among university-taught subjects.

When you read a great novel, you put yourself in the place of the hero or heroine, feel her difficulties from within, regret her bad choices. Momentarily, they become your bad choices. You wince, you suffer, you have to put the book down for a while. When Anna Karenina does the wrong thing, you may see what is wrong and yet recognize that you might well have made the same mistake. And so, page by page, you constantly verify the old maxim: There but for the grace of God go I. No set of doctrines is as important for ethical behavior as that direct sensation of being in the other person’s place.

Oh, get over yourself.

Guess what? I have studied more literature since I left school than when I was in it. The problem with many humanities programs are that they have no rigor whatsoever — you don’t have to read all that much, or write all that much, and too much of the focus is gazing at your own navel.

Only rich people should waste $50K/year on something that I do for free, with materials from my local library.

No, don’t go to college to find yourself. You’ve got plenty of time to work yourself out, and really, you should be looking outside your own skull more often than in it. I swear, the universe is much larger than the nutshell that is your brain.

Mind you, neuroscience is fascinating, but it’s also a difficult major.


Today’s whine piece is about student loans and how women in particular are hurt:

With more women attending college and graduate school than ever before, it naturally follows that more women are also racking up student debt. Women are more likely to take out student loans than men, in an economy where college costs significantly more than it did a generation ago. While it’s a significant feminist achievement that women now account for 57 percent of graduates earning bachelor’s degrees, those women are more likely than their male peers to start their careers in a financial hole: 68 percent of those female graduates are leaving school with some amount of student loan debt, compared to 63 percent of men.

Once they graduate—if they graduate—women make less money than men , and so spend a greater proportion of their salaries to pay off their loans. So while their male peers have more money to play with – to put into a 401k, to invest, to save for a home, to put in an emergency fund, to use as a cushion when they take a big career risk – women throw much of their income down a student debt hole that often stretches on for decades.

There is some degree of “choice” involved in the pay gap – insofar as women funneled into certain careers and men into others is a “choice.” More women major in the humanities than in fields like business, engineering and the sciences, which usually lead to better-paying jobs after graduation. Within employment sectors, men gravitate toward high-paying specialties, while women may focus on areas that are more fulfilling or more flexible, but less remunerative.

Remember this list?

Education – 3.36 GPA
Language – 3.34 GPA
English – 3.33 GPA
Music – 3.30 GPA
Religion – 3.22 GPA

Those were the majors with the highest average GPAs…. they’re the easiest. Guess who dominates those subjects.


I’m not saying to not major in elementary education (after all, I come from a family with loads of schoolteachers). I’m saying that if you are going to do that, do it somewhere where you’re not going to rack up a lot of debt.

Go to a community college to get your prereqs out of the way. Look for grants and scholarships. Go to a state school.

Do not go to a frou-frou liberal arts college and major in these things unless your family is rich.


Going back to the original NPR piece, we see this tidbit of info on the too-many-mushy-subjects-major’s boyfriend:

She splits the rent, $925 a month, with her boyfriend, Dan Tothill, who graduated from the University of New Hampshire School of Law in 2014.

And, since then, Tothill’s been applying for a lot of jobs.

“The jobs that I’ve been able to find that are law jobs, one was only offering $10 an hour,” he said.

He hasn’t found a legal job, but, for now, he’s found a full-time job with an insurance company. It’s not exactly what he had hoped, but he has $132,000 of students loans he needs to pay off.

The insurance sector isn’t sexy. Great! That means you’ll have less competition. Go for it!

The whole message I have here is: get over yourself. Working isn’t about self-actualization.

In a review I wrote years ago on the book Fire Your Boss:

The core message of Fire Your Boss is really “Kill Your Career.” (I’m going to guess they thought that title would not sell as many books.) The problem, the authors write, is that many people fixed on the idea of a career are trying to achieve so many things at a job, that they ultimately fail in all their goals —of satisfaction, happiness, even making money.

Pollan’s point is that all of the goals except money can be met more satisfactorily outside of work. For example, it’s better to make plenty of money through your job (in a reasonable amount of time) to pay for the travel you desire, than seek travel through your job. I have many friends who travel extensively as part of their jobs—but they never get to enjoy the destinations because when they get there, they have to work. Plus, you’re not likely to have much control over where you travel to as part of work.

To take this to an extreme, once upon a time I wanted to be an astronaut because I wanted to go into outer space—but that’s a lot of hard work, and I don’t have many of the required aptitudes. Once I heard of Virgin Galactic, I realized that my new goal was to make enough money to pay for a vacation in space.

I’m still saving up for that ticket.

Chapter 7: It’s the Money

Ah, the Jerry Maguire-ism “Show Me the Money” that makes people say “What a mercenary book!” But why not go for a job that gives you the most money possible, for a reasonable workload? They are not saying that people should try to become investment bankers (especially not in this economic climate), but that one should ignore things such as amenities, opportunities for advancement, inflated title or status, as many of these are just ways for employers to pay less for you. As Paul Graham, a noted programming expert, wrote on prestigious jobs:

“If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”

Go for the unsexy job that pays well, ffs. Here’s the Paul Graham piece which I got that quote from.


So let’s break this down:

1. If you’re going to accumulate a lot of debt for going to college, major in something that will parlay to high salary.

2. If you really really want that low-paying major, either have a rich family, or find a cheap way to get that degree

3. Go for jobs that pay (again, unless you’re from a rich family and can mooch off your trust fund)

4. Most of the low-paying majors/subjects can be pursued as a hobby if you’ve got a reasonably well-paying job.

5. Don’t be a dumbass.

Number 5 is useful in so many places, but I figure I might as well throw it in.

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