Contrary to Popular Belief, Humanities Majors are in Demand
As any recent English or history major knows, there is a crisis in the humanities. Seemingly slim career prospects translate into dwindling interest in once popular academic disciplines. From 2012 to 2015, the most recent period in which national data is available, the share of American students declaring their primary major in the humanities, which at Yeshiva University includes English, history, Jewish studies, language, philosophy and music, dropped close to 10 percent, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Does the decline accurately reflect a lack of demand in the job market? Are employment prospects significantly better for college students who retreat from humanities majors altogether? These questions were the focus of “Humanities Majors and the Job Market,” a panel discussion held on Wednesday, March 6, 2019, organized by David Puretz (lecturer in writing), Barbara Blatner (lecturer in English) and Dr. Lauren Fitzgerald (professor of English, co-chair of the department of English and director of the Wilf Campus Writing Center). The panelists included Dr. Benjamin Schmidt, assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, and four YU alumni with bachelor’s degrees in English, history and philosophy.
Moderated by Puretz and Blatner, the program started off with a presentation by Dr. Schmidt, who has published widely about the “crisis” within the humanities. Armed with the latest research findings, Dr. Schmidt noted that since the 2008 financial crisis, students seem to have shifted their view of what they should be studying in what he felt was a misguided effort to enhance their career prospects. He went on to note that even though the number of people majoring in the humanities continues to decline, job opportunities for that group continue to flourish. Given their facility with written and oral communications, humanities majors are experiencing an uptick in demand.
Illustrating his point, the alumni panelists discussed their various paths into the job market and how they made the leap from the endangered humanities major to thriving careers. Joshua Redlich ’12YC, who earned a BA in English, is now a publicist at Random House; Alex Luxenberg ’11 YC is a former English major now working as a client partner at Facebook; Josh Siegel ’15YC went from a major in philosophy to a position as a software engineer at Wink; and Elan Teichman ’16YC, turned a bachelor’s degree in history to an analyst position at Walnut Court Capital.
Countering the notion that STEM is the only safe career bet in today’s economy, they discussed how the skills they acquired in their studies paved the way to a successful career and offered recommendations on how a humanities major can effectively prepare a student for the world of work. As Redlich summed it up, “My least favorite part of being an English major was the one question I was constantly being asked: ‘What are you planning to do with that?’ I’m thrilled that I had the chance to return to YU to tell humanities majors exactly what they can do with their degrees, which is just about anything.”