Working Girl Says: In Defense of a Liberal Arts Major

TWG Liberal Arts  

By Alex Laughlin

I’m a senior at the University of Georgia, whose journalism school was recently named one of the best in the country. When I grow up in five months, I want to be a journalist, but here’s the catch: I’m not a journalism major. I’m a women’s studies major, which is arguably the least employable major…ever.

It was tough for me to write this piece without getting too preachy. Three years into my fledgling career and I’ve had to defend my decisions on countless occasions, resulting in a laundry list of reasons I’ve done what I have. Unfortunately, my first draft of this piece sounded something like “JOURNALISM MAJORS ARE LAZY AND CULTURALLY ILLITERATE AND J-SCHOOL DOESN'T PREPARE YOU FOR THE REAL WORLD.” Clearly this couldn’t stand.

But I wanted to address the elephant in the room, to clear the air in hopes of an honest discussion of the state of journalism education. So check it out. Here are my top two reasons to major in liberal arts:

1. To educate yourself academically. I knew I wanted to be a journalist when I came to college, but I also knew I wanted to spend these years expanding my mind to the world. A major in journalism would teach me to write, which I already knew how to do, while a liberal arts major could force me to question my assumptions and beliefs. In women’s studies, I learned the importance of rhetoric, critical thinking and historical context, and I got to perfect those skills in 20-page analytical papers (which were terrible, but I’m glad I had to write them). I read authors that wouldn’t ordinarily get attention in the mainstream media and I learned the significance of cultural literacy. Most importantly, I learned how to approach the nation’s most sensitive issues in a tactful way.

My peers in the J-school are by no means ignorant to these issues, but they’re certainly less prepared as whole to engage in a dialogue about them. And just throwing this out there: if those in the media aren’t equipped with the vocabulary to engage in the most heated debates, how does that reflect the general public?

2. To learn the craft professionally. Because I chose not to major in journalism, I knew I’d have to work twice as hard to make up for my unconventional major. It’s served me well, as I’ve had five awesome internships and national-level clips, while some of my peers with journalism degrees are graduating with maybe one or two clips from student publications under their belts.

Also (and this is the big thing), journalism is not a craft one learns in a classroom. That it’s taught in classrooms is simply a way of legitimizing a career path that would otherwise terrify parents more than it already does. The few journalism professors I’ve taken were cynical about the formal education system and urged students not to rely on the classroom for experience.

Freaked out underclassmen often ask me for career advice because they believe those darn naysayers who spew nonsense about the death of journalism.  I’ll tell you what I tell them (and myself): Don’t believe them. The jobs are there for the people who bust their asses, sacrifice and constantly look for ways to improve. The most frustrating part? There’s no “right way” to get where you want to go. You’ve just got to spend your college years working your butt off and absorbing the world as much as possible. If you do that, you’ll be just fine.