Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Slumped

Last week in Stern dining, a freshman stated “I just don’t think people would respect me as much if I majored in the humanities.” A few weeks into Stanford, he had already picked up on the underlying difference in respect we have for academic disciplines. Sitting at a table with a friend RAing in Zapata, I felt my sophomore struggle: deciding a major while being at peace with the future repercussions.

After a wide-eyed freshman year, sophomore year is here. An upperclassman once told me that the biggest transition was the jump from freshman to sophomore year: Greeks have self-separated, athletes can room with athletes, and freshman year friends have solidified.

There’s more work, a different social scene, and for the other half of the sophomore class California has lost its newness. Walking around the activities fair, my friends sat behind the booths.

Sarai (a sophomore like me!) got 40 plus likes on her declaring Symbolic Systems status; by the end of the year, we’ll all make a decision. The Class of 2016 is no longer the newest banner in Old Union, and we’ve gone and integrated into the larger Stanford community.

Since coming back to school, I’ve been trying to figure out what academic trajectory I want to be on and what major will also lead to a happy, healthy life. Stanford has a plethora of opportunities, but it sometimes feels like the default career opinion is computer science and engineering and of the remaining majors, there aren’t many humanities people that aren’t trying to be a doctor or lawyer.

As an undecided major, it’s hard trying to figure out what is it that you want to study and what options that leaves you with after graduation.

When I came to Stanford, my name became the source of good-natured jokes referencing McKinsey; to be honest, I didn’t know that consulting existed in high school.

At Stanford, one default option is consulting or finance. I don’t think many of us come to college with the intention of dating PowerPoint and Excel; however, for a chunk of us, these relationships happen.

Rob Reich, a Stanford professor in Political Science, and Ezra Klein, a blogger for the Washington Post, have both written on how Stanford and its peer institutions send its students rushing into finance and consulting.

The pay is high, there’s a set precedent on how to get there, and like Stanford, the acceptance rates are low, and the club is exclusive. Klein’s opinion is the post-grad flee to Wall Street is partly due to universities failing to teach students applicable skills in many undergrad classes.

Elite colleges produce intelligent liberal arts students with terrifyingly disciplined work ethics who have no idea what to do next. According to these writers, the finance industry profits from this confusion, attracting students who didn’t intend to work in finance but aren’t sure what they want, so it becomes the next step.

My resident tutor from last year worked at such an institution over the summer, and his commentary was that this path is a way for people who care a lot about money to make it given they don’t have a more creative way to do so.

A senior in my dorm talked about his investment banking internship hours from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. There was about one girl for every 20 male interns, but fortunately, it didn’t feel uneven, because all the secretaries were women.

To be honest, I feel a little cheated right now. Our generation has been told do what you love, but as I grow up, it’s become apparent that not all academic disciplines are equally valued.

Everyone in our student body is amazing, but the average graduating BA student from Stanford has a starting salary of $33,251 while the BS makes $76,785. For the humanities to gain further respect at Stanford, more incentives need to be there, but for now, I’m not surprised that the freshmen are scared of the humanities. I am too.

Contact McKenzie Andrews at andrews7 ‘at’ stanford.edu

About McKenzie Andrews

McKenzie Andrews writes as an opinions columnist for The Stanford Daily. Originally from Nashville, McKenzie is a sophomore pursing a B.A. in Economics. She interns at the Graduate School of Business, serves as the Financial Officer for a Christian student group and competes with the traveling Model United Nations team. She covers global and local issues that affect the Stanford student body.
  • Guest

    Good stuff McKenzie.

    I’d like to think a large part of that salary disparity is self-selected. Many of my humanities major friends who have graduated would see it as a kind of “selling out” to be in a job making more than $50k. The entry level jobs in the areas they are passionate about just don’t pay nearly as much.

    I have a BS in engineering, but I’m looking at minimum wage this winter and–if things pan out–a $2800 a month job after that (the former working in education, the latter a highly technical job that few qualify for).

    In other words, it’s not the degree you get, but what you decide to do with it and how (generally) qualified you are. It just so happens that a lot (but not all) of the people who get BS degrees end up in high-paying professions. I have friends with BS degree who are unemployed because they didn’t have a good GPA, or who are unemployed because they didn’t have the drive to apply for jobs during their senior year.

    If I wanted to, I could have probably spun an English major with a CS minor into a lucrative job at Google, or a history major with a few economics classes into a lucrative job at Goldman Sachs. I know this because although I don’t often apply for things, when I do I generally get an offer.

  • imo

    Major in what compels you and minor in something you know will be useful if all else fails. Next problem?

  • Stanfordmom

    I went into consulting but for me it was mind numbing and lacked purpose so I didn’t stick with it. Better to do something that motivates you intrinsically. Not for the money.