An Open Letter to a Business Major

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 9:48 PM
An Open Letter to a Business Major by Emma Giering

When I was younger, the list of things I wanted to be seemed to vary depending on the year. From preschool to third grade, I was certain I was going to be a teacher. Third grade to fifth grade I wanted to be a marine biologist (thanks Scholastic book orders). From fifth grade to sixth grade I wanted to be a veterinarian. In seventh grade and eighth grade, I wanted to be an artist. In ninth grade, I wanted to be a lawyer.

It was in tenth grade that my teachers started encouraging me to write and submit my essays to local papers that I began to take an extreme interest in all things related to the literary world. I kept a journal, I saved articles I liked, I wrote short stories, I listened to “This American Life” on NPR incessantly. I guess you could say I never recovered from the desire to be a writer, so when graduation was approaching I finally committed to the field and majored in English.

The decision to major in English was met with mixed reviews. My dad, a bonafide bibliophile, didn’t seem to take issue with this choice. My mother seemed characteristically uncertain, but quietly supportive. My brother, who I do not particularly have a good relationship with, immediately gutted the decision. “You’re going to be a writer?” he would say over many a dinner conversation. “What room in the basement do you want to live in when you graduate?”

I have always had a strong will. If I decide I want to do something, I do it. In fact, sometimes it even seems that people mocking or ridiculing my plans only spurs my interest in pursuing said plan. Such was the case in a class I was attending the other week. Our professor was asking a few random students what they wanted to do upon graduation, and I was one of the few selected. I replied as I usually do, truthfully stating my goals without trying to appear unctuous or over-zealous.

“I want to be a novelist, but I think I’ll pursue a Ph.D. because I’d like to teach at the collegiate level someday.” Then, to my bemused horror, a snicker emanated from the back of the classroom. Not wanting to seem immediately confrontational, I stole a quick glance just as the instructor had turned his attention to the student who had gaffed.

“So what do you want to do?” the professor said to the student. “Make money,” replied the student, leaning back in their chair looking self-satisfied. “I’m a business major,” the student concluded. I rolled my eyes and bit my tongue, and paid attention to the remainder of the lecture.

As a student of the humanities or the “liberal arts,” it only momentarily fazes me when outsiders insinuate that any major in the arts is a dead-end academic endeavor. In my more insecure years, and I’m sure other liberal arts majors can attest to this, it was easy to become a victim to these offhand remarks and grunts of disapproval. Humans are naturally inclined to please, to appease and to not make waves as a means of survival. However, most humanities majors seem disinterested in making waves outside of their social sphere. Sadly, liberal arts majors are often creating for themselves and others in a controlled environment. They are not necessarily fulfilling an economic purpose or bringing wealth to an established system. They are not creating jobs, nor are they producing anything that brings material gain. I think that makes many overly pragmatic, simple-minded people uneasy.

What you gain from the arts is not something quantifiable. Those of us who study the arts seem to do so for the pure truth that seems to be at the essence of the curriculum. The people who I’ve become acquainted with in these fields all seem to value the ability to think for themselves, the ability to communicate effectively and the individual capacity for lifelong learning.

For the student in the back of the class who presumably scoffed at the prospects of my major, you should know that liberal arts majors are excellent evaluative and critical thinkers, reflective readers, astute researchers, subscribers to independent judgment in ethical decision making, advocates for the marginalized and disenfranchised and believers in the importance of posing meaningful questions that advance universal understanding and knowledge. We are not motivated by money.

This article is for the other business majors, and I’m hoping there are but a few of you, that are in school for the sole purpose of “making money.” Some rudimentary research suggests that your goals just might not align with the statistics.

For example, an employer survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicates workplaces most value three skills you are usually more likely to find with a liberal arts education: communication skills, analytic skills and teamwork skills.

What’s more, a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 89 percent of surveyed employees said they want college students to pursue a liberal arts education. It’s hard to stand out from the crowd when more than one out of every five new college grads is a business major, as per the National Center for Education Statistics. What you’re telegraphing when you major in business is that you want to make money, but do you have what it takes to someday earn that corner office?

Not to burst my ignorant classmate’s bubble, but if you’re interested in making tons of money, here’s a wake-up call: in the latest college degree salary survey from PayScale, business is not one of the bestpaying college degrees. When PayScale looked at starting and mid-career salaries of college graduates in dozens of college majors, business came in as the 56th best-paying college degree. It fared worse than such “impractical” college degrees as philosophy, history and American studies.

Let’s be real though. You shouldn’t be going to college unless you’re passionate about what you’re majoring in. If you wake up in the morning and your first thought is of how much you loathe the classes you have to attend, then you’re either in the wrong field or you’re not ready for the personal obligation a meaningful education requires.

Here, my fellow classmate, is what money can buy: a bed but not sleep, a computer but not brains, food but not appetite, finery but not beauty, a house but not a home, medicine but not health, luxuries but not culture, amusements but not happiness, acquaintances but not friends, obedience but not faithfulness, sex but not love.

In truth, I hope you are successful and achieve what you so desire in life. But I hope you know that all things have a cost, even if they don’t have direct monetary value. The cost of ignorance, of assuming your choices for how to approach the future are superior to anyone else’s, is something you’ll pay dearly for if you don’t approach everything with an open-mind.

Emma Giering is the Voices Editor for The Spectator and she can be reached at

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