It is a time of desolation. The land is empty and wasted; the air reeks of fire and brimstone. Cockroaches the size of golden retrievers prowl in the night, waiting for unwary travelers, while they themselves are preyed upon by Volkswagen-sized rats. In these dark times, it is a small comfort to know that some semblance of the food chain still exists. Remember you learned about that in Bio 200? Yes, at least your education has paid off in this way, you think, as you crouch beneath an overturned pickup truck and watch as a hapless English major is carried off by a swarm of mutant bugs.
When the danger has passed you get up and continue. You are making your way to the City. You have never been there but you have heard about it—it is a golden land of opportunity, a fertile haven of gainful employment where even Neuro/Dance majors such as yourself can find paid entry-level positions at nonprofits.
A shadow passes over and you instinctively run for shelter. But it is only a Techno-Zeppelin, piloted by engineering grad students, humming its way over the wasteland on anti-grav boosters. You catch a glimpse of the cockpit, where the pilots laugh and chug champagne straight from the bottle. Oh, you think sorrowfully to yourself, why did I not choose such a career path as this, where I too would be able to drift peacefully over everything, secure in the knowledge that when I landed, I would find a well-paying job with a secure future and many benefits?
But you trudge on. Relying on your memories from Intro Astronomy, you find Polaris, the North Star, and use it to guide your path. After days of hard traveling, living off of cactus flesh and rocks, you reach the City. You are overjoyed. Oh, the buildings shine so brightly! The public transit runs so smoothly!
But you soon realize that the City is not the paradise you once thought it was. You are forced to share your tiny hovel-apartment with seven studio art majors. Sometimes when the snoring subsides you can hear the lonely interns call to each other in the night. Resumes drift through the streets like tumbleweeds; it is not uncommon to see people dressed in garments woven from them.
You send out a blizzard of job applications, written on rat skin that you have collected and painstakingly tanned and dried. For weeks you subsist on carpet lint and acid rain, caught in tarps hung out your window and neutralized with a homemade alkaline solution. Thank you Chem 102!
Eventually you receive a response to one of your applications and, overjoyed, you put on your only suit and rush to the interview an hour early. But the instant you set foot in the building a trapdoor opens and you tumble into a pit. You straighten up to find ten other liberal arts grads, all dressed in identical suits, staring at you. You realize you will have to fight them to the death. As you begin to circle each other, balling your fists and squaring your skinny shoulders, you think, "Good thing I took the Aikido Exco."
So yeah, this is pretty much what life after college is going to be like. Bummer, right?
Naw! I'm just joshin' with you. Actually, you will probably not have to wander a post-apocalyptic wasteland, fighting off mutants with just your wits and accumulated useful lessons from your Oberlin education. The outlook is a whole lot brighter (even though that actually sounds pretty cool), and we have the numbers to prove it.
"Okay," you ask, "so what does actually happen to Obies after they graduate?" To answer this question, I went to the (extremely kind and helpful) people at the career services office where, in addition to inviting me to set up an appointment, provided me with the data from the 2012 Senior Survey. In this survey, Obies were asked "What do you expect to be doing next fall?" Those who responded answered thusly:
Full-Time Employment: 52%
Graduate/Professional School: 26%
Fellowship/Gap Year: 14%
So there you go. No vermin. "Okay, sure," you sputter, "that sounds pretty good. But I'm an art history major! What if I can land only the lowest paying jobs and I'm doomed to waste away making frappuccinos with my arthritic fingers til the day I die, slumped over on the espresso machine like a sack of Colombian House Blend?" Well, hold the phone, dude! Listen to this quote from a piece published in the New York Times by my homie Edwin W. Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at the National Institute of Colleges and Employers:
"It can hardly be denied that students who graduate in a career-oriented major like accounting, engineering or computer science have a decided advantage in the job market immediately after graduation... But [this] advantage... may be short-lived... liberal arts graduates frequently catch or surpass graduates with career-oriented majors in both job quality and compensation. A longitudinal study conducted several years ago by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that the wage differentials that existed between career-oriented majors and academically oriented majors were all but eliminated within 10 years after graduation." 1
So yeah. Don't even worry about it. In fact, liberal arts kids might even have better prospects in some high-paying fields. In 2012, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that applicants that majored in the humanities had better chances of matriculating in medical school than students of biological sciences, physical sciences, and math or statistics. And, according to a UC Berkeley Law School informational packet, "The most popular undergraduate majors of students admitted to law schools are political science, economics, business administration, history, English, and rhetoric." Pretty liberal artsy.
If you're not yet reassured about your educational choices, here's some irrefutable anecdotal evidence to really wrap it up. Of the graduated seniors I know, this is what they are doing:
- Teaching English in France/China/Germany
- Doing internships at cool places like this http://www.sitkacenter.org/
- Graduate school for creative writing
- Graduate school for photography
- Medical school
- Freelance writing
- Getting married (??!)
- Full-time job as a software developer
- Working with community gardening on an Oberlin Creativity and Leadership fellowship
Expert and extremely intelligent individual though I am, I cannot claim that this closes up the whole issue. The debate over the value of a liberal arts major raises philosophical as well as statistical questions: Is income level positively correlated with happiness? Do liberal arts majors live more meaningful, intellectual lives? Was it really worth it to take that intro astronomy class? But that mess is a whole different discussion. Here's one answer we are fairly sure of: Your future prospects are not nearly as bleak as you might think. They're actually probably pretty good. And, more importantly, odds are you will not have to fight off giant rats.
So at least there's that.
1 A search for the raw data to back up this claim proved unsuccessful due to the fact that the website of the Center for Education Statistics is not operational cause of a government shutdown or something. Dang. But it's in the New York Times, so, you know. I trust it.