You Majored in What?

By Ryan Manning — I graduated from college with my degree in Latin (with History and Art History minors). Before that, I was a Linguistics major, and an English major. Needless to say, I have been told a few times that I have the worst taste in majors and that I could stand to study something a little bit more practical.

But here’s the thing:  while I might not necessarily be in a career that directly relates to my undergraduate degree, I certainly make use of my major every day.

A degree program in Latin is probably a little different than one for a more modern foreign language like Mandarin, French or Spanish. Because Latin isn’t actually spoken, there is hardly any emphasis placed on pronunciation, conversation, or translating words or phrases from English into Latin. Instead, most of my time was spent pouring over pages of ancient texts, translating from the original Latin into English in a way that preserved the original meaning of what I was reading. From this, I learned so much about critical thinking and analysis, and by understanding the subtle differences in meaning between 6 or 7 different words for “to see,” I was better able to understand the importance of nuance and a mindfulness to place everything in a greater cultural context. These skills not only served me well in writing papers for grad school, but also in the way of problem solving and approaching situations with a logical and detail-oriented perspective.

Now, majoring in Latin can easily lead to spending long nights in the library (and the Classics section is always in the darkest, dustiest part of any library) with one’s only company being a thoroughly used Latin-English dictionary. Surely, spending four years like this does not easily lend itself to the constant interpersonal interactions that come with a career in student affairs (or many other fields).

Thankfully, I was hired to be an RA for my junior year. As an RA, I learned how to apply critical thinking skills to working in a very real setting, and not just in understanding the subtle social commentary of Vergil’s Aeneid. My work as an RA taught me more about working with people, about understanding others’ emotions and better managing my own, than I could have probably gotten in any other setting. After my two years as an RA I felt that I could deliver a one-two punch of thinking and feeling to be successful in many fields: I strongly considered Law School, or a career in advertising (much more attractive now that I’m watching Mad Men). But ultimately I found that Student Affairs was best for me, so that I could help students a lot like me make the most of their passions in the classroom by finding ways to apply them through involvement on campus and in the community,

So I guess the moral of the story is: There’s nothing wrong with being a Liberal Arts major, because (if you’re finding ways to best utilize those transferable skills), when someone asks, “What can you do with a Latin/Linguistics/English/ History major?” you can say “Anything I want to.”

1 Response to “You Majored in What?”

  1. 1 Lori (ADMIN) July 29, 2011 at 9:49 am

    As a fellow Latin scholar, this post really resonated with me. Those critical thinking skills really make a difference; it’s why liberal arts majors are so often sought out in the job market. They really have the smarts to make a difference in the world, regardless of which “useless” major they choose!


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