THE BLOG
02/24/2012 11:32 pm ET Updated Apr 25, 2012

Hope for the Humanities?

Last Friday, I broke out my one decent business skirt, printed out 50 -- yes, 50 -- copies of my résumé and headed to Dillon Gymnasium for the Career Services Internship Fair, confident that my depressing losing streak of applying to internships was about to reach its end. My two friends, both prospective computer science majors, hoped that Mark Zuckerburg would be manning the Facebook table. Turns out he wasn't. I, a prospective English major, hoped that someone would be looking for an intern with a passion for writing and reading. Turns out they weren't.

In fact, I left the fair feeling even more discouraged than I had before. I wasn't ignorant of the fact that today's job market is catered toward young technological minds. Nor was I unaware that financial companies clamor for brilliant economics majors. But when the most extensive writing opportunity I could find was taking notes at a corporate board meeting, all of a sudden the prospects of becoming an English major were not so enticing.

And I'm not alone. Even in fields that would seem much more concentrated in the humanities, there seems to be a push for technologically minded applicants. Faridah Folawiyo (Princeton '15), who has been applying to magazine internships, agreed. "When I was trying to apply for internships in the fashion world, there were some that I had to discard immediately because they required advanced technological skills, which is something I never expected in the fashion industry," she said. Humanities majors are slowly falling by the wayside in fields that were once catered to well-versed writers and literary scholars.

So where does that leave us poor humanities majors? After the internship fair, I was confident that the answer was a single-room shack with a dozen cats, using my unpublished manuscripts to light fires for warmth. Granted, freshmen are not exactly in high demand as interns, but my concern is that even three years down the line, when I need a full-time job, I will still be struggling to find one suited for my talents.

But after speaking with other humanities majors and thinking honestly about my situation, I believe there is hope. It is not that humanities majors are unwanted these days, just that we have to redefine how we market the skills we've acquired in immersing ourselves in critical thinking and analytical writing rather than numbers and figures. Instead of priding myself on an in-depth reading of Sir Francis Bacon, it's more applicable that I recognize my resulting ability to understand the complexities of language and my ability to articulate my impressions of a work. Businesses need these skills just as they need quantitative minds. Maria Devonshire (Princeton '12), a comparative literature major, said, "Attention to detail and analytical thought are essential tools for a degree in the humanities. If businesses limit their hiring pool to candidates with quantitative skills, they ignore the potential of creative and personable candidates." We humanities majors are learned in the art of thinking, and no well-dressed, intimidating internship coordinator can tell me that is not a desirable and worthwhile skill.

So call it cliché, but I'm following my passion. I've been told if you love something, you'll make it work. If I'm passionate to the point that I can't be discouraged, then I will find an internship or job that's meant for my talents, and in that environment I will thrive. This isn't to say that I'll step off Princeton's campus and into a job at The New Yorker. I just know that I don't have to head in the direction of Wall Street to feel that my education was worthwhile. I may not make as much money as a computer programmer or financial consultant, but I will work hard wherever I end up, applying what I love to what I do, and perhaps afterward The New Yorker won't seem so unattainable.

It sounds idealistic, I suppose, but we humanities majors know we've found something substantial to hold on to, even if the internship fair did shake my resolve for a moment. We're not ignorant of the job market. We just know what we love. As my friend and fellow columnist Susannah Sharpless (Princeton '15), a prospective humanities major, said, "Language is absolutely the most important thing in the world, and I feel completely justified in my decision to spend my life immersing myself in it and trying to understand how it affects me and those around me." When I tell people that I'm an English major and the response is often a subtly condescending, "Oh, that's great. But what will you do with that?" it is undoubtedly disheartening. But, in the end, I'll do exactly what everyone in every other department does. I will keep applying until I find a job. It may not be with the same assuredness of a computer science major, but it will be with the confidence that the skills of communication and creative thinking that I have acquired through the humanities will never be out of demand.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Princetonian.

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