Should you pursue your passion in college or a degree that would make you money?
Over the last ten years, the number of students majoring in the arts and humanities at the University of Washington has dropped significantly. That’s no surprise when STEM and Business degrees are touted as more valuable.
What do you do when society tells you that the passion or skill you’ve decided to pursue in college won’t give you a sustainable lifestyle?
When Flora Davis was five years old, she made a big watercolor painting of her sister and her mother and hung it up on the wall. Davis is now a junior at the University of Washington, and yes, she’s an art student.
“I just always liked to paint and draw, because it was fun for me. My mom nurtured that,” she said.
I wish I could tell you I know a bunch of students like Davis. But at the massive research institution that is the University of Washington, she’s the only one I can say I know personally.
According to an article by the Seattle Times, the number of computer science and engineering majors has increased by 106% over the last 10 years at UW. But that’s not surprising. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the 2019 starting salary projection for an engineering major is more than $69,000, but the salary projection for a major in the humanities is about $52,000.
I can’t help but wonder how many of these STEM students sacrificed their passion to secure careers in more financially viable industries.
When she entered college, Davis was granted direct admission to the Foster School of Business, but she soon realized that it wasn’t the right fit.
“There was a point where I broke down,” she said. “Why am I taking this class? Why am I going to force myself to take all of these other really painful classes for something I’m not passionate about?”
Nor everybody is willing to take that risk. Kyle Ting is a business major who is also a musician. He released a song on Soundcloud that went viral, but he keeps music as his side project.
“I feel like I could have done something with that momentum," Ting said. "That’s my biggest regret, trying to figure out the time and the space to make music. It's difficult in college. It comes to the question of if I should have just dropped out and done music."
“I hear a lot of STEM students coming through our doors, saying 'I want to learn about this too,'" said Holly Arsenault, the outreach adviser at the University of Washington School of Drama.
Arsenault said forty percent of drama majors are also doubling with majors in the sciences, engineering, business, and more, and that there’s no reason that anybody studying the arts and humanities should not have wonderful career prospects.
“There’s more research coming out saying that even tech companies really need people who are able to communicate, people who are able to think creatively, people who are able to empathize. Those are skills that the arts and humanities provide,” Arsenault said.
We often think about a college degree as a ticket to a job. We don’t often think about it as an experience and opportunity to develop our passions. But at the end of the day, you’re the one sitting in those classes. You get to decide what’s important to you.
For Davis, pursuing her bliss is just as important to her as future security.
"If your interests and your talents align," Davis said, "that is something you need to pursue, because you’re always going to wonder what if? There’s going to be some days that are harder than others, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your happiness now for potential happiness in the future.”
This story was created in KUOW's RadioActive Advanced Producers Workshop for teenagers, with production support from Kamna Shastri. Edited by Marcie Sillman. Find RadioActive on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and on the RadioActive podcast.
Support for KUOW's RadioActive comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center.