Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Practicality versus risk with college majors

So many college students face the same dilemma: do what’s practical, or take the leap and follow a riskier passion. For some of the lucky ones, the two go hand in hand: I’ve always been jealous of my friends in the sciences who love what they do, studying something concrete and logical that will likely land them a plethora of job opportunities. People generally accept the sciences as practical majors which will easily move those who study them from point A to point B. It’s usually assumed that these students will face fewer job search struggles than students in the humanities, the social sciences or the arts.

Marsha Gelin/ Collegian File Photo

As a journalism major, I face a lot of opposition for daring to step into a world without definite answers, a world that likely won’t give me a luxurious career with a booming salary, an apartment on the Upper East Side or even a life beyond the sacred Ramen noodle diet. So, what’s the point? Why would anyone choose a field that provides so few guaranteed benefits?

The only reason anyone does anything that illogical is a pressing desire, a passion looking to be fulfilled,  a search for the greatest possible enjoyment in life. How could anyone waste a single second of this short life without contributing a fulfilling piece to the world?

Perhaps I was justifying years of mathematic oppression when I thought, “Why does this matter? What will this contribute? And why am I doing it if I don’t enjoy it?” That attitude, and following one’s passions for that matter, is risky, but it’s also exciting.

My fourth grade teacher once called home to tell my mother that I hadn’t done any of my math homework all year. It was true. Each day I had tossed it into the recycling bin and gotten away with it.

“Why aren’t you doing your math homework?” my mother asked, and I answered honestly: “Because it’s boring to me.” I did learn long division after tutoring – but not without struggle.

“By not doing the logical thing now, you are making things so much worse for yourself later on” is the typical reasonable response to this pursuit of passion. If I’d just learned the way every other kid had, then I wouldn’t have missed so many recesses for tutoring, and I wouldn’t have had to deal with my teacher’s sighs after asking the same question for the seventeenth time.

But I couldn’t do the logical thing in the moment, and I never can, and I’m not sure I ever will, because some of us are eternally mentally adolescent. For a brief moment of passion, we’ll abandon all responsibilities. We know it’s not smart, and it’s not logical, and it has a huge risk of coming back to hurt us later, but we’re willing to take that risk because we see it as the only option. It’s not the risk for its own sake, but for the risk of trusting yourself to do what’s right for you and only you.

Arianna Huffington recently wrote an article that asked, “Are You Living Your Eulogy Or Your Resume?” a perspective piece that made us wonder why we spent so much time perfecting the resume, a task I do find to be important, but not life-defining.

Will people remember us by whether or not we got that promotion, or the small kindnesses like noticing the coworker that often struggles to speak up, or always bringing soup for the friend with a cold, not because they asked, but because you want to? What we want to do doesn’t necessarily have to be an evil, irresponsible, careless action, and is often quite the opposite – thoughtful and heartfelt.

So, to my friends in the arts, the humanities, the social sciences, the everything illogical, I can only hope that you continue to pursue your supposedly impractical talents. You’ll get the inevitable judgment, you’ll make the lower pay, you may even struggle to survive. I won’t graduate to become editor of the New York Times: I may not even become a reporter, but I’ll land somewhere. And for some crazy, irrational, intuitive reason, I can trust that.


Katie McKenna is a Collegian conulmnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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