I finally turned in my schedule yesterday. It’s done. The dean’s assistant handed me a receipt stamped with the date “Sept. 13, 2016” after two weeks of frantically scouring Yale BlueBook and running between overlapping classes.
Prior to turning in my schedule, I constantly worried about whether my courses were “well-rounded enough.” As a philosophy major, I always wonder about how my academic and extracurricular choices affect my curriculum vitae. We live in a world where everyone, from opinion columnists to employers, tells us that we should focus our interests on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In her New York Times article “Making College ‘Relevant,’” Kate Zernike describes how common it is for liberal arts institutions to cut humanities programs in order to replace them with programs that are more “pre-professional.”
The need to consider how our academic choices affect our resumes only becomes more acute when you are a student on financial aid. I wonder if my introductory Latin class or my seminar in the philosophy of language will really expand my employment opportunities. Some of my fellow classmates who share my passion for the arts and the humanities consistently assert their plans to go into academia or theater; others, who have similar interests, find themselves taking less academic risks for the sake of their resume or their law school applications.
It is so much more difficult to take risks when you find yourself worrying about financial stability post graduation. I refused to take a math class during my freshman year, despite my love for the subject, because I was paralyzed by the fear of failure. Spinoza became my security blanket as I avoided classes that were not related to the humanities or philosophy. Even though such courses don’t typically fall into “pre-professional” categories, I refused to branch out because I knew that I would do well in philosophy. Law school, consulting and finance all care much more about GPA than they do about a liberal arts education. The pressure to consider graduate school and earn the respect of our peers therefore encourages us to mold ourselves into two-dimensional archetypes. We retreat from academic rigor and intellectual interests because we want both to improve our career prospects and to craft a compelling narrative for ourselves.
Overcast predictions about the economy only exacerbate these worries. We are told that we should do what we love, but that isn’t so easy for those of us who have to work student jobs or worry about the student income contribution. In fact, these considerations hindered my academic growth so much that I refrained from taking a math class for an entire year.
Yale should make every effort to provide students with resources to pursue their academic interests. That includes reducing the student income contribution and better publicizing scholarships and fellowships for lower-income students.
But ultimately, we are the ones who must make the leap. Although I tire of hearing my more-privileged classmates tell me to “do what I love,” we really don’t need to let financial and economic considerations stifle us to the point that we are afraid to take a single class outside our comfort zone.
What is more, the liberal arts augment pre-professional ambitions. Philosophy students have the highest LSAT scores in the country and develop critical-thinking skills that buttress computer programming. Abstract algebra may not be necessary for consulting, but the ability to analyze complex mathematical concepts and formulae can improve economic literary and problem-solving abilities. An art history class can inform graphic-design choices at Google or Facebook — Steve Jobs claimed a calligraphy class in college inspired much of Apple’s fonts and typography.
Taking academic risks is necessary because these risks can help us develop intellectually, emotionally and, yes, professionally, even when the benefits aren’t immediately apparent.
Eventually, we need to cast off the security blanket.
Isis Davis-Marks is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .