Would you ban your college age kids from a major?

by Honolulu Mother

This Washington Post clickbait, I mean article, discusses parents who forbid their college student offspring from choosing a liberal arts major.

Meet the parents who won’t let their children study literature

I assume the parents in question are paying for college. Would you ever place specific subjects off-limits as a field of study for your college-aged offspring? And if so, what subjects?

To me it seems inappropriate and controlling. But, I’m not paying for college yet so ask me again when one of mine announces s/he has discovered a grade-free program of study in Video Gaming as Narrative that involves playing as many games as possible and then discussing them at informal seminars to be held Friday nights over a keg.

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168 thoughts on “Would you ban your college age kids from a major?

  1. Hmmm. Very interesting post, HM. We’ve told our kids there are certain schools we won’t pay for but had not thought about majors. I have to think about this one.

  2. I would not, and I’m currently paying for college. My husband very strongly wanted both our kids to go into STEM related fields. My Dd has dyslexia, so based on things I’ve apparently made up in my head, I assumed it would make sense for her to go into a more analytical type role, as she has some strength there. She changed her major to something in the liberal arts college, which frankly made me nervous because it seems to be the proxy for unemployable majors on this board. She knew we wouldn’t be thrilled but I give her props for 1) telling us, since she could have just done what she wanted and we would not have known and 2) offering to pay part of her tuition herself. It turns out to be a good fit, she’s had some good internships that is she is successful at, and through a position in a major-related organization has made some good faculty connections that will likely help her when job-hunting. She did not have this level of enthusiasm for the original major, so no way to know if she would have been this active. It is her 40+ years of adulthood she is prepping for, so I certainly want her to like what she does. But I do think students need to go into a given major with an eye on the end game of what they will be able to do when they finish school. I don’t think college should be vo-tech, but for the financial investment, there should be some expectation that one is better off for having gone. I would not pay $50k/yr if my student wanted to be a social worker.

  3. I am not certain that DD’s major is the right one for her, but she will need to figure that out. I wouldn’t pay for an ethnic/gender studies major. I think those just scream unemployable.

  4. Parents meddle because the college has become insanely expensive. DS is applying to some state schools as well as some private colleges, but the thought of paying $250K for even an engineering major makes me weak in the knees.

  5. Critical analysis and communication skills, the focus of liberal arts majors, are very much what our country reads right now. There are also periodically articles in WSJ, Forbes, Business Insider, etc in which the author “discovers” (aka Columbuses) the fact that many companies that hire straight out of undergrad prefer liberal arts majors, because thinking is the one thing that can’t be taught in the span of time a new hire has to learn the job.

    But I am well aware of the biases of many on this board, and the refusal to recognize the usefulness of a degree focused on learning how to learn, rather than specific job skills, and I expect that contingent will be all over this.

    Whether banning a kid from playing a sport or a college major, I think part (a very large part) of our job as parents is to teach them to make decisions. Overriding a decision of a kid in college is an admission of failure.

  6. MBT, I can’t believe your daughter is that old. She must be in her third year now? What kinds of internships did she have?

  7. “Critical analysis and communication skills, the focus of liberal arts majors, are very much what our country reads right now.”

    What bothers me is the common implication that those who study engineering don’t learn critical analysis and communication skills.

  8. When I wanted to major in classics, my parents did not explicitly say no, but they gave me the look that says “you are taking out a lot of loans for this and had better be able to pay them back.” Part of me still wishes I had done it :)

    It’s easy for me to say I wouldn’t stop my kids from majoring in something because it is such a long way off for us.

    But like Cordelia, I would strongly discourage them from majoring or minoring in ethnic/gender studies, because I know that some hiring managers view that as a red flag.

  9. My DD#1, who just signed up for SAT and ACT test administration in October, is already clear about what level of income it will take to get the life style she wants. She realizes that there is not always a linear relationship between major, job and income. In general, she is our very analytical child, so her choice would have some reasoning behind it. I’d need to hear that before I could make a final decision.

    However, if the cost of college (school plus major) is significantly more than the salary, then I’d have pause. My personal data – an adult decided to go back to school and get a BA in psychology. The inital “reason” was that she had an associates, but more jobs were requiring BA in the qualification AND these jobs paid more. The “reality” is that she paid for a private online degree, which has gotten her over the hoop for the qualifications screen in some cases, but so far (3 years out), none of the jobs she has been offered and/or taken have needed the BA nor have they paid any more money than if she didn’t have it. If you do some online research for her career choice and degree, you would quickly find this reality holds true in the data.

  10. What bothers me is the common implication that those who study engineering don’t learn critical analysis and communication skills.

    Haven’t we agreed in the past that engineers do tend to have weak interpersonal skills?

  11. I agree with Saac about allowing a young adult to choose their own major in college. I might try to influence the decision about the selection of where to apply, but I hope to allow my child to make her own choices once she leaves for school. I remember some posts on TOS when one of the regulars studied dance?? or something similar in college. I think I agreed back then that it was a waste of time and money. Fast forward, 10+ years and my thinking has changed because I don’t think a major should define what you do with the rest of your life. The majority of the classes that I took were not accounting classes, and I am sure that it is the same for a dance, gender studies, advertising, or any major that one of us might think is a waste of money. I don’t want a country full of engineers and accountants. There are so many other skills that can be developed in college such as the ability to think critically and to be able to discuss ideas with a group of peers.

    My one exception about choice of majors and sports is football. I never understood the fascination with football, and I can’t even watch it at all since viewing Concussion. DD plays soccer, and there are more and more articles about the risks associated with kids playing soccer. She is very much a recreational player, but she has seen several friends with sprains and breaks that were the result of a fall on the field.

  12. “Haven’t we agreed in the past that engineers do tend to have weak interpersonal skills?”

    Perhaps, but that’s more likely a selection bias. And I don’t think that even the most ardent English professor is going to claim that a humanities degree is intended as a cure for social awkwardness.

  13. One of the smartest people I know was a Women’s Studies major who also got her pre-med requirements out of the way. She is now a doctor. If I recall correctly, she was also accepted into Harvard for undergrad. I took an intro to Women’s Studies class and really enjoyed it. The class improved my critical thinking and writing skills. I learned a lot, and I definitely didn’t think it was a waste of a class. Maybe Women’s Studies majors don’t get a job as a Women’s Studies worker, but they do learn a lot of useful skill such as writing, communication, and critical analysis.

    I work in the bowels of corporate America as Rhett calls it, and I would rather take a new college grad with strong liberal arts skills and train them then someone with a generic business degree. I’m continually astonished at the lack of critical thinking and problem solving skills by most people at the worker bee level.

  14. I have always said to my kids that I will not pay for a major that ends “studies.” DS2 started as a pre-XXX major and changed that to a real biological sciences major since he didn’t see the point of a “pre” major when doing well in his major, graduating with that degree, and doing well on MCAT/GRE/DAT, whatever he ends up choosing, will serve him just as well.

    Now there’s paying and then there’s PAYING. To build on Sky’s comments…if a kid wanted to major in classics and I’m paying in-state tuition, well, that’s a different story than if the price is $30k+++ at a private, even if it’s the top classics program in the country. (Spoken from one who took introductory classics A/pass/fail and ended up earning an A in the class. I really liked it). And a BA in Classics, XXX cum laude / with honors, will probably serve the student as well as, if not better than, a degree in e.g. Communications (really, no offense intended, just my opinion).

  15. Milo,

    Right, if I’m looking for someone to develop my accounting software I hire a nerdy awkward developer and if I’m looking for someone to sell my accounting software, I hire the good looking, personable, ex-jock poli-sci major.

  16. Rhett – Maybe, but not all engineering students are nerdy and awkward, nor are all poli sci majors good looking jocks, or even outgoing and personable.

  17. Maybe, but not all engineering students are nerdy and awkward, nor are all poli sci majors good looking jocks, or even outgoing and personable.

    Sure, that said, stereotypes exist for a reason and can often be a real time saver.

  18. I agree that critical thinking skills can be obtained in disciplines outside of liberal arts, and that students coming out of HSS with liberal arts degrees are employable. In my admittedly limited view, students coming from less well known schools or flagship state schools, a liberal arts grad has more work cut out for them to get a foot in the door. The articles you reference have been around forever, but I think they apply to the top tier of grads. And I think that the analytical skills obtained through a liberal arts degree are highly dependent on the quality of the instructor, and to some degree the peer group in class discussions. My DD is an English minor and occasionally live-tweets one of her classes, which is hilarious. And Saac, she is year 5, partly due to change of major, change of college within university, and change of university.

  19. Back when I led tours of my SLAC, one of the things I tried to emphasize about our Special School was the relatively small proportion of classes one took in the major. In general, students took 8-10 classes (out of 32 required to graduate) in their major. Other colleges and universities may have students taking 16-24/32. It is a vastly different college experience, and I thought that prospective students should see that as a defining feature (or flaw) of the college. The college (like many SLAC) was decidedly anti-professional – there were no students that lead to any kind of certificate or competency in a certain field (no accounting, nursing, teaching). Uniformly, we were not learning directly applicable skills.

    I think there is a certain luxury in that and I hope that I can help my kids afford such luxury. We are in a position where we would pay full sticker price at my alma mater ($250k) and I don’t think that the quality of education is that much valuable that other, less-expensive options that I expect will be available. However, I would be happy to have them go to a different school and major in something that fascinated them – whether it’s ecology, history (ewww!) or womyn’s studies. There were many ethnic studies students at my college, a number on par with the dance, theater and art majors. Many double majored (or minored) in something else – history, econ, international relations. i don’t think this was due to parental pressure, but more the ease of a double major and the practical benefits. Everyone seems to be decently employed these days, so I think it works out okay, for a certain level of student.

    I’m sure I mentioned this before, but my major was in Art. No minor, no second major, no “pre-med studies”. I used my elective time to take pre-med pre-reqs. I’m confident that the major (combined with very high MCAT scores) made me a unique and desirable med school applicant.

  20. I have ongoing conversations with my kids on different majors, length of time spent in study, general discussion of cost and typical income. I have also pointed out that unless you can make a living out of your hobbies, they are just that. After that it is up to them to pick in accordance with the lifestyle they want.

  21. Based on past comments, I think most people on this board would not forbid a liberal arts major, but would not pay $250K+ for an undergraduate SLAC education. So, there’s a form of control, but the control is not exercised over the selection of a major, but the selection of a college.

  22. I told my DD who is a senior in high school that she can major in anything that she wants but that she has to have a plan for what she would do with that major. Luckily, my non-nerdy, non-awkward DD, who happens to have both great analytical and thinking skills, has decided that she wants to study engineering.
    I am shocked at how many of her friends have no clue as to what sort of career that they want, yet they are all going to college because that is what is expected of them. I have stressed to DD over the years that it is ok to delay college until you know what sort of career you want to pursue.

  23. My experience of parents pushing kids…
    My friend got great marks in the state exams and it was expected that she would go into a STEM (fits into the expectation that girls who are good at Math and Science must end up in STEM). She didn’t want to go and ended up in the liberal arts college where she had the highest entry marks that section had seen in a while. In rebelling I think she really underperformed her potential because in the rush to defy her parents she didn’t think through her future career path at all, just that she didn’t want to take a STEM major.

  24. a liberal arts grad has more work cut out for them to get a foot in the door.

    I agree. If they go that route they are going to need to be a little entrepreneurial*.

    For example, if you’re a poli-sci major maybe minor in statistics and volunteer for your local state rep. re-election campaign. Maybe help with their social media outreach and add it to your resume. When the consultants tell Acme Inc they need to hire some kids to build up their social media presence – that keyword is really going to jump out on the resume.

    * which is of course anathema to most totebaggers.

    Keeping in mind the reason STEM pays well is the vast majority of people don’t like it and aren’t good at it. If you kid’s skill set is fashion merchandising and working at Wayfair or Converse, I don’t know that pressuring them into particle physics is really going to get you anywhere.

  25. I am shocked at how many of her friends have no clue as to what sort of career that they want, yet they are all going to college

    You need your ticket punched.

  26. but would not pay $250K+ for an undergraduate SLAC education

    Yes. This is what I anticipate we will struggle with. I think there are some really wonderful SLACs out there, but I can’t wrap my head around any college degree being worth that much.

  27. I am shocked at how many of her friends have no clue as to what sort of career that they want, yet they are all going to college

    You need your ticket punched.

    At eighteen, your opportunity cost is fairly low, since you have no dependents and few skills. Like Rhett said, you need to get the ticket punched. You have to eat and sleep somewhere, might as well use the next four years to improve your employability.

  28. “I have always said to my kids that I will not pay for a major that ends “studies.” DS2 started as a pre-XXX major and changed that to a real biological sciences major”

    Our rule is no majors that start with “pre.” If you want to be a doctor, major in bio or chem; if you want to be a lawyer, major in English or history or economics or poly sci.

    I think we have a lot of false comparisons here. I would be happy with my kid getting any kind of degree that requires actual hard work. Engineering, English, classics, history, any pure science or math, economics or poly sci, etc. What I have concerns about are the sort of bastardized career-prep degrees, like “communications” or “business.” My mom’s 30+ years of experience is that “communications” majors tend to be people who couldn’t cut it as an English major.

    But whatever my kid chooses to major in, they are going to go in with the understanding that we will not be supporting them post-graduation, so they need to pay attention to career prospects with any degree and make sure that they are going to be happy living on that kind of salary. So far both kids seem to understand that — DS is not an issue as he naturally gravitates to techie stuff; DD may very well not stick to the current desired med school path, but she is extremely focused on what it takes to Adult and so is unlikely to invest $250K in a degree that gets her a $20K job. We don’t anticipate any loans, but I would not cosign a big loan to fund a major with low pay and minimal chance at advancement (e.g., early childhood education).

    And finally, no matter what my kids major in, I hope to God they find time for some weird stuff — what is college for if not the chance to try underwater basket-weaving or ultimate frisbee or art history of the pre-Roman era? Life is about more than a job, my kids are fortunate not to have to scrape by, and college is their best chance to be exposed to things they may never even have heard of.

  29. My kids can major in whatever they want. What is the point of working ourselves to the bone if the kids can’t goof off a bit and have an easier life.

  30. Told DD#1, we paid through a state program for 4 years of tuition and fees at a 4 year in state school. The plan will pay something, but less than 100% if she chooses any other school. That amount is our contribution to tuition and fees (not books, housing, etc.). If she needs more for tuition, she just needs a way to pay for it…work, loans, merit aid, financial aid, etc. Next spring/summer as she starts getting more serious about exactly where to apply, we will get the specific information about how much the plan will pay for those options.

  31. “She didn’t want to go and ended up in the liberal arts college where she had the highest entry marks that section had seen in a while. In rebelling I think she really underperformed her potential because in the rush to defy her parents she didn’t think through her future career path at all, just that she didn’t want to take a STEM major.”

    How is getting the highest entry marks “underperforming her potential”?

    FWIW, I went to college in a similar era, where there was a lot of focus on “employable” skills. And yet I managed just fine in my career as an English major.

    Friend’s son just graduated with I think Econ or Poly Sci major. He was offered two fellowships for Ph.D programs at like $25K/yr plus full tuition; one program also guaranteed employment each summer, while the other (the one he chose) will pay for him to develop his own idea and go abroad somewhere each summer to do the research. He will probably end up as a policy wonk in DC.

    The key is to find something that you can be good at and then put in the effort to do well. All of which is a lot easier when you actually enjoy what you’re doing.

  32. LFB, your two examples there both have The liberal arts grad going on for more degrees. I think the concern is for those who want to work after a four-year college degree

  33. “college is their best chance to be exposed to things they may never even have heard of.”

    Okay. It’s time to get new glasses, contacts and the like. When I read this line of LfB’s, I honestly read it as: “College is their best chance to be opposed to things they may never even have heard of.”

    I thought that was the most insightful, perceptive and witty observation that LfB has ever made! (And she is hard to top!)

  34. LfB – she was the best student entering the liberal arts program but after her degree went into a line of work that didn’t require that degree. Another of my friends was forced by her parents to do a degree in business. She hated it and actually wanted to do something art related so after her business degree she took jewelry design. Her family still supports financially but it would have been better off, doing what she wanted in the first place.

  35. Communications majors include those seeking a concentration in journalism, advertising, public relations, medical communications, and various other fields. Is there a chance your mom’s condescension comes from a bias towards English degrees?

  36. if you want to be a lawyer, major in English or history or economics or poly sci.

    Or philosophy!

  37. So much depends on the kid. A friend’s daughter is majoring in music at a university that I consider mediocre but that has a really strong music program. This kid is ambitious as hell, and in addition to doing all the summer programs at Berklee and so on, has self-produced an album, and goes to ASCAP conferences in L.A. to try to make the right connections, and just generally is trying to make it in the industry. She seems different from other kids who major in music because, you know, they love music, but have no clue what they’re going to do with it.

  38. Sigh. What drives me nuts about these articles is the presumption that liberal arts majors and better critical thinkers (whatever that is). In fact, it is the opposite in many cases. Liberal arts majors are allowed at most schools to completely ignore mathematics and science, two of the great achievements of human intellectual thought. On the other hand, STEM majors always have to take literature and other liberal arts. I think STEM majors are much more well rounded. As for critical thinking – I have heard many teachers make the statement that kids have to learn literature so they can learn critical thinking. Um, what do they think scientists are doing when comparing research methods or analyzing results from experiments done by other scientists? What do they think engineers are doing when they are analyzing and deciding among different solutions that must conform to many real world constraints? Come to my class when I am teaching data modeling and you will see lots of critical thinking as the students learn to analyze a problem scenario in depth and create competing models.

    Personally, I think all liberal arts majors should have to take real science and math courses in addition to their literature and history courses, so they can be truly well rounded.

  39. Major typo – this is supposed to read “Sigh. What drives me nuts about these articles is the presumption that liberal arts majors ARE MORE WELL ROUNDED and better critical thinkers (whatever that is). I

  40. And to Rocky’s point, I also think so much depends on how much student loan debt they will graduate with. The average student loan debt is $25k, with a payment of $280. For a pre-crash petroleum engineering major, no issue at all. For a social worker or entry-level retail manager, that is going to make things very tight.

  41. Rhett said “Haven’t we agreed in the past that engineers do tend to have weak interpersonal skills?”

    Um, interpersonal skills are not at all the same as critical thinking skills. I have met many people who are wonderful at making friends and influencing people, who also have no ability to analyze and who would follow any crackpot theory because it sounds nice

  42. I think that anyone majoring in a liberal arts program needs to assume he or she will be going to grad or professional school, and have a financial plan for that.

  43. “What bothers me is the common implication that those who study engineering don’t learn critical analysis and communication skills.”
    In most places, perhaps, but given the very strong bias on this board, there is no way that holds up.

  44. My one exception about choice of majors and sports is football. I never understood the fascination with football, and I can’t even watch it at all since viewing Concussion. DD plays soccer, and there are more and more articles about the risks associated with kids playing soccer. She is very much a recreational player, but she has seen several friends with sprains and breaks that were the result of a fall on the field.

    http://www.concussiontreatment.com/concussionfacts.html#sfaq9

    “Soccer is the most common sport with concussion risk for females (50% chance for concussion)”

  45. Majoring in a liberal arts program can be fine for people who are high energy and willing to put extra work into preparing for a career. It is dangerous for low energy people. For example, we have a relative who majored in lit at a regional school, and then went on for a MA in lit at a state university. He is now 35 and works on weekends setting up classroom IT at a for-profit school, His wife, a teacher, mainly supports them. I don’t see any plans on his part for getting into another line of work. He would have been far better off choosing accounting back when he was a freshman.

  46. I have met many people who are wonderful at making friends and influencing people, who also have no ability to analyze and who would follow any crackpot theory because it sounds nice.

    So, senior management?

  47. Majoring in a liberal arts program can be fine for people who are high energy and willing to put extra work into preparing for a career. It is dangerous for low energy people.

    That is exactly right. I would also add for those who have weak interpersonal skills, are poor interviewees, aren’t at all entrepreneurial, etc.

  48. “Is there a chance your mom’s condescension comes from a bias towards English degrees?”

    Well, of course. She does teach in the English department, after all. :-) She taught Freshman comp for a number of years; her observation was that the A students ended up as English majors, and the C students became Communications majors. I would also say her bias is in favor of a “pure” liberal arts degree rather than an “applied”/”career training” liberal arts degree.

    Re: advanced degrees: I guess it depends on what your kid wants to do. If they want a career path that will take them into management somewhere, they’re probably going to need an advanced degree at some point, regardless of their major (unless they want to run their own small business, in which case they should just major in business and call it good). Unless they have a special skill or niche (e.g., if you manage to be an on-air personality at a network, you don’t need an MBA).

    But I have a limited data set here. I grew up in a very academically-oriented family, where the only paths I knew were Ph.Ds or professional degrees (even my dad, the first generation in his family to go to college, has a Masters). In both my family and DH’s, the people with advanced degrees have done signficantly better financially than the ones without (well, except my mom — she is where she is from saving). In fact, as well as DH has done with a Ph.D, I am confident that he would have been a VP 2-3 years ago if he had an MBA after his name (both because he’d have learned to speak their language better and because the MBA’s totally don’t trust the Ph.D’s to get the business side, even though he actually does). Both of my kids are likely headed down that same path — DD because she will want to run the world one day and make lots of money (e.g., MBA), DS because he just wants to invent stuff and so will likely naturally gravitate to a Ph.D. So from the bubble in which I sit, it looks to me like the path that takes you past the entry-level job is likely the one with the advanced degree at some point, and you position yourself best to get that degree by taking challenging classes and doing well (i.e., college is the new high school). But ITA that I’m in a highly-academic bubble and so am interested in reading others’ perspectives here. Obviously, the third path is entrepreneur, and the tech craze is making a lot of multi-millionaires without the need for any degree at all, much less a Ph.D.

    And I totally wish I’d said what PTM thought I said.

  49. I wouldn’t ban a kid of mine from a particular major, because I value having a relationship with them too much (refusing to pay for college because of some transgression or another is a surefire way to sever ties with your kid – I have seen it happen). But I would have many long talks, and probably do a lot of nagging about it. Already, I have had some discussion with DS2, who loves history as much as I do. I have pointed out to him that the job that history majors are most likely to end up in (I read this in some article on careers most likely taken by different majors) is law. His eyes got this big, horrified look. Hopefully, that nipped in the bud the idea of actually majoring in history! He would make the worst lawyer ever!

  50. Have you all seen the information that says what you learn in college will be outdated (at least in some majors) by the time you graduate? If that is true, then it seems like the benefits of college are some base-line information, showing you can learn even when the information isn’t laid out in a trail of bread crumbs, and you can apply critical thinking to more complex information or problems. It still seems like technical degrees – accounting, engineering, computer science, medicine, law, architecture – expect you to have some level of skills walking into an entry-level job.

  51. “Liberal arts majors are allowed at most schools to completely ignore mathematics and science, two of the great achievements of human intellectual thought.”

    Really? Not at any liberal arts school worth its salt. Mine required all majors to take a core curriculum to satisfy the “well-rounded student” obligation. That just sounds fluffy to me.

  52. “It still seems like technical degrees – accounting, engineering, computer science, medicine, law, architecture – expect you to have some level of skills walking into an entry-level job.”
    Absolutely, but it is also expected that you can learn, and learn fast. At least that is the case in computing fields. And in computing, employers don’t pay for training. You are expected to keep up on your own. I think this is true in engineering and medicine too. I can’t say whether or not it is true in accounting

  53. I wish LinkedIn would do some data mining and produce a list of college majors and subsequent careers. That would be interesting to see.

  54. MM – probably depends on the school. The SLAC I attended had graduation requirements where students had to take a certain number of credits in math/science+lab, a full-year of a foreign language, writing requirement, humanities requirements, and physical education. I enjoyed being in classes with other majors, because they approached problems differently and provided new ways of thinking about the problem or topic.

    I remembered looking at the requirements for one college that I had been accepted to where you had to declare your major by the end of your freshman year. There was very little opportunity to take classes outside the major once on the major track. I knew I wouldn’t be able to lock in that quickly. I was glad that I didn’t have to declare a major until the end of my sophomore year as it gave me time to explore what I was interested in.

    I definitely view college more as a consumer good. It would have been much more economical and efficient of me, knowing that I was staying in my state, to go to a regional school and major in business.

  55. A couple of quotes/thoughts from the article.

    “You might not expect college freshmen to understand that careers don’t proceed in straight lines, but surely their parents ought to.”

    I agree wholeheartedly with this.

    “For me, there’s nothing more depressing than meeting incoming freshmen at Mason who have declared themselves as accounting majors. ”

    Hey now! There is nothing wrong with Accounting, and there are certainly kids who have enough exposure to Accounting concepts in HS to know that is a path that they may legitimately want to take.

  56. Really? Not at any liberal arts school worth its salt. Mine required all majors to take a core curriculum to satisfy the “well-rounded student” obligation. That just sounds fluffy to me.

    Likewise. I had to take math and science. Fortunately statistics counted for math.

  57. “Really? Not at any liberal arts school worth its salt. Mine required all majors to take a core curriculum to satisfy the “well-rounded student” obligation. That just sounds fluffy to me.”

    Times are changing. Lots of liberal arts schools are dropping all math requirements. And no one takes real science anymore – it is all general “scientific inquiry” as part of the core curriculum. I hate the whole core curriculum thing in general – it is just an excuse to water things down

  58. MM – No disagreement about learn and learn fast. Just making the point that some majors must come to the first job with something more than being a quick learner.

  59. @MBT-
    “But I do think students need to go into a given major with an eye on the end game of what they will be able to do when they finish school. I don’t think college should be vo-tech, but for the financial investment, there should be some expectation that one is better off for having gone.”

    I completely agree. There is a balance there.

    There aren’t many majors that I would write off an unemployable without having a further discussion about what the career opportunities actually are with that background. I also don’t think pushing a kid into something “employable” really works. If your heart isn’t in it, it’s hard to be successful anyway.

  60. BTW, among the schools that do not require a math course: Brown, Amherst, Earlham, Grinnell. Of course, specific majors, usually STEM majors, will require lots of math. But your gender studies or literature majors can escape with no math

  61. PTM – I was thinking about things I had to learn in my first job (not an attorney, but dealing with legislatures) about how to do legal research that the attorneys already knew.

  62. MooshiMooshi, what US universities don’t include STEM classes in their gen ed requirements?

    “he analytical skills obtained through a liberal arts degree are highly dependent on the quality of the instructor, and to some degree the peer group in class”
    I’d agree with that, to some degree, but point out that learning calc would also be difficult with poor instruction.

    “I think the concern is for those who want to work after a four-year college degree”
    Who, on this board, will need their kids to support the family as soon as they graduate? What’s the rush to get to a job and not do a path that includes another degree? The rule of thumb I’ve always heard is that if they won’t pay you, they don’t really want you. I know that isn’t true for some professional degrees, but wouldn’t they be able to help a student find work to support them (sleeping on a mattress on the floor or hand-me-down furniture and, as Meme says, “eating beans”) through the program that would also be helpful in finding a position later? I’m not saying everyone should go to grad school (I don’t even think everyone should go to college), but being able to start your FT career in your early vs mid or even late 20s seems like an odd way to decide on a field–unless you need to start paying for more than yourself right then.

  63. “You might not expect college freshmen to understand that careers don’t proceed in straight lines, but surely their parents ought to.”

    That is a bubble quote. So many of my kids classmates think that there are only a few paths and that if they don’t know what those paths are they shouldn’t go to college. And their immigrant parents can’t help them.

  64. I recall in my first job (involving math and numbers) one of my colleagues who performed very well was a graduate of Holy Cross College. I hadn’t heard of it before but I later learned that it is a highly ranked liberal arts college. It is probably in the expensive SLAC category that has been mentioned on the Totebag.

  65. MM, this is from the requirements for the first university you claim doesn’t require any math or science. As it is The make-your-own-major university, it is most likely to meet your claim. Your turn to do the next.

    https://www.brown.edu/academics/college/degree/sites/brown.edu.academics.college.degree/files/uploads/Lib-Learning-Goals_0.pdf

    Experience scientific inquiry
    Evidence is also a central aspect of scientific inquiry.
    The interpretation of natural or material phenomena
    requires a unique combination of observation, creativity,
    and critical udgment that hones your inductive reasoning,
    sharpens your ability to ask questions, and encourages
    experimental thinking. Understanding the nature
    of scientific findings, along with their ethical, political,
    and social implications, is also critical to an informed
    citizenry. As you plan your course of study, look for opportunities to experience
    direct, hands-on research.

    Develop a facility with symbolic languages
    Symbolic languages make it possible to think abstractly
    across many disciplines. Linguistics, philosophy, computer
    science, mathematics, even music, are among the
    disciplines that have developed symbolic systems to
    make theoretical assertions about their objects of study,
    or to imagine alternate realities. Courses in these
    areas will teach you what it means to conceptualize
    systems and structures that have the potential to
    reframe our notions of time and space.

  66. I know Holy Cross well. It has a very strong math department, with tons of math majors. Most of them go on to jobs in those high priced consulting companies. It is like there is a direct pipeline from HC to companies like Deloitte and Bain. Was your colleague perhaps one of those?

  67. saacnmama – Not support the family, but support themselves, maybe. DD#1 will enter college in two years when her dad is 70, DD#2 will enter college when her dad is 72. Four years later, he will be 74 and 76 respectively. Given his current health issues, the percentage of budget allocated to health care is growing each year. By the time DD#1 graduates (6 years from now), it is likely he will be in assisted living.

    Does that preclude them from an advanced degree? No, but it likely means there would be limited to no parental financial support.

  68. “Really? Not at any liberal arts school worth its salt. Mine required all majors to take a core curriculum to satisfy the “well-rounded student” obligation. That just sounds fluffy to me.”

    Many if not most liberal arts (and other majors such as social science and communications) degrees from schools below the top tier elites have watered down their course work so it is quite fluffy and fails to teach those valuable critical thinking skills. OTOH, most STEM degrees, even those from lower tier school, have maintained standards. (Maybe MM will dispute that, though.) Therefore, I would be reluctant to pay $250k for a liberal arts degree from a lower tier private college, but I would be willing to pay that at a top ten school. For example, I doubt I would pay top dollar for an ethnic studies degree from a lower-ranked private college, but I would be happy to pay state school tuition for that degree. As was said, the kid needs to get his ticket punched.

  69. Saacnmama, those are learning outcomes, not course requirements. You can twist learning outcomes into anything you like. What do they actually REQUIRE? Looking at their page labelled “The Brown Degree”, the only actual requirement I can find is two courses in writing.

  70. What’s the rush to get to a job and not do a path that includes another degree?

    You’re in a good position to answer that.

  71. MM – I thought she said history but a math minor is not ruled out. I see DD going to a college like that.

  72. The rule of thumb I’ve always heard is that if they won’t pay you, they don’t really want you

    I’ve never heard this outside of certain PhD programs. Certainly not law, medicine, MBAs, MFAs, MHAs, MPHs, M Eds, PharmDs – none of these graduate degrees pay or support their students.

    Who, on this board, will need their kids to support the family as soon as they graduate? What’s the rush to get to a job and not do a path that includes another degree?

    My kids don’t have to support the family, but we certainly expect them to support themselves.

  73. Totally disagree that liberal arts majors need to plan on grad school. Lawyers and doctors, yes. Those fortunate few with the right skill set to land a tenure track or research position need a PhD. And as sacc correctly noted, if you don’t get funding for a PhD program, you shouldn’t be there. But you all know many successful people in the business world who have “just” a BA. Our two older kids have liberal arts degrees and have worked in legal services, insurance, and software management. One is indeed supporting a family. His best friend in college was a history major who works for a DC think tank. Other DS is able to live independently in an expensive big city hipster area. His best friend in college majored in three languages and is working for the CIA. There are a number of employers who actively seek out liberal arts majors on campus because many of the business majors lack solid writing skills.

    That said, ITA with LfB that the relevant metric is not the particular content of the major, but the degree of rigor. Unfortunately, most of the majors that end in “studies” were not designed with rigor in mind but trendiness.

  74. What’s the rush to get to a job and not do a path that includes another degree?

    Saac, a whole lot of kids in college WANT to get started on life and a job. It is exciting to feel like you are finally starting in adulthood and making your own money, and can quit living like a broke student. Many careers don’t require an advanced degree,and MBA programs prefer candidates with some work experience. As we’ve discussed here a number of times, many fields have a glut of over-educated and under-employed graduates, so it does not make sense to invest a lot in additional time and money pursuing them.

  75. “the job that history majors are most likely to end up in (I read this in some article on careers most likely taken by different majors) is law.”

    Not history teacher?

    One possibility to recognize for almost any major is teaching. One reason I don’t think I’d rule out any major for DS is because he’s looked into that possibility; he’s talked to several of his teachers about teaching as a job and as a career and has an idea what that would take.

    OTOH, one of his teachers did tell him that one reason he’s able to teach is that his wife is an MD.

  76. “if the price is $30k+++ at a private”

    We would be happy if our kids’ college costs were in the $30k/year range; that would indicate they’d received large amounts of aid.

  77. Finn said “Not history teacher?”
    Not according to the article I read, which stated that the most common career outcome for history majors is lawyer. Remember that lots of K12 history teachers have an education degree, not a history degree.

  78. “they are going to go in with the understanding that we will not be supporting them post-graduation”

    Our approach will be a bit different. We’ve got a slug of money put away for DS, mostly from his grandparents. If he gets into a HSS that doesn’t offer significant aid, he’ll need to decide whether he wants to tap that money to attend, versus attending a lower tier school offering significant merit aid, in which case he’d preserve much of that funding for grad school, or some other use (e.g., down payment).

    DD will have a similar choice, although her slug is somewhat smaller because her grandma died, ending the annuity payments that were the source of much of both slugs.

  79. “or example, we have a relative who majored in lit at a regional school, and then went on for a MA in lit at a state university. He is now 35 and works on weekends setting up classroom IT at a for-profit school, His wife, a teacher, mainly supports them. I don’t see any plans on his part for getting into another line of work. He would have been far better off choosing accounting back when he was a freshman.”

    Why would a low-energy person who has no interest in Accounting be any more successful with an Accounting degree than he is now? This is what I don’t understand. For the love of God, Totebag Parents, don’t dump a bunch of incompetent Accounting majors on me that don’t have any interest. They will not be successful at that either.

    I had to take math and a hard, lab science as part of my core program. I was taking math anyway (Calc & Statistics), and I took lab Biology for non-majors. So watered down a bit, but we still dissected a rat. It wasn’t all about how we FEEEEEL about the rat. It was one of my favorite classes.

  80. MM, so learning the stuff isn’t what you’re looking for, it has to be a class? I don’t understand.

    Anon at 12:53, that’s why I pointed out that grad school can often be self-funding, either through an actual assistantship. Med school doesn’t have TAs, but it would be possible to get a research or teaching assistantship in something like chemistry or bio. One of the lawyers above gave an example of a research job they had. Given the broad variety of things lawyers do, I would think there must be jobs related to them that a law student could do.

    MM. what happened to architecture? If he hates the idea of going into law but it aligns with his interests, why not have him look at the many things a law degree prepares you for other than arguing for a living?

    Just heard a news report about the pipeline break in Ga/Ala. Like others I’ve heard, it presented the spill simply as a cause of rising gas prices for a while. An engineer could fix the leak, but deciding to use something else is unlikely to fall within an engineer’s brief. An environmental studies major could gather information on the various systems damaged; that information, bolstered by info on the very uneven effects of pollution on people depending on race and income, could be marshaled by a liberal studies major in arguing for non-monetary forms of value.

  81. Scarlett, I think more liberal arts majors than you might realize go on to graduate or professional programs of some kind. That doesn’t have to mean law school or a PhD. One of the fastest growing areas (and lucrative too) in higher ed is graduate “professional education”, which typically means online or evening masters in some job skill area or another. Programs in hospitality, homeland security, healthcare administration, and other fields like this abound. And of course, many liberal arts majors work for a while and then get MBAs.

    Look at all the choices offered by Arizona State, from very traditional looking choices to programs like Healthcare Innovation
    https://asuonline.asu.edu/online-degree-programs/graduate

  82. That said, ITA with LfB that the relevant metric is not the particular content of the major, but the degree of rigor.

    Having gone to clown college, you’ll have to walk me through this. What is the value of the rigor* other than signaling?

  83. Saacnmama, you have been around universities enough to know that “learning outcomes” have all the force of corporate mission statements. I prefer to see a little more evidence that actual learning is happening, and while a specific course or set of courses is not perfect, you can usually get a little more sense as to whether there is some actual content or not.

  84. MBT, sure, there are plenty of great things you can do with a Bachelor’s. I understood your earlier post to be saying that if someone was really interested in something that would require a grad degree, they should avoid it in favor of getting on with life. That’s where I came in saying that if they like it that much, why not study it longer. I’m assuming that the love of that subject would make up for anything they disliked about student life.

    Rhett, I worked for a year between undergrad and my masters, started the PhD before the master’s thesis was finished, was FT university instructor before the diss was done, and of course continued on as assistant prof.

  85. ” Fortunately statistics counted for math.”

    Many colleges do not count stats, including AP stats, as math for the purposes of meeting application requirements (e.g., 4 years of math).

  86. MM, the way that page is set up, it clearly directs the creation of a major, which is not purely the student’s decision. And I completely disagree with you that a course title tells you anything about what is included, and certainly not about how much is learned.

  87. mostly from his grandparents.

    So why the hell are you always obsessing about NMSF status? And why do you and WCE spend half your time gloating about how high-paid you are, and the other half moping about how you can’t afford to send the kids to college? Also, I can’t get over how many people I know in Silicon Valley are using the Bank of Grandparents to fund the kids’ college.

  88. we have a relative who majored in lit at a regional school, and then went on for a MA in lit at a state university. He is now 35 and works on weekends setting up classroom IT at a for-profit school,…Why would a low-energy person who has no interest in Accounting be any more successful with an Accounting degree than he is now? This is what I don’t understand.

    Pursuing a undergrad and grad degree in lit is like trying to become a professional singer or actor or athlete. There are a tiny number of jobs and unless you’re well into the 01.% of ability it will never happen for you. Out of the 2 million accountants in the US, being the 1.25 millionth best accountant will still let you pay the mortgage and raise a family.

  89. “I hate the whole core curriculum thing in general – it is just an excuse to water things down”
    “I hate the whole core curriculum thing in general – it is just an excuse to water things down”

    I was looking at the Columbia core recently, and was a bit surprised that it does not include any math requirements.

    OTOH, given their applicant pool, perhaps they are assuming that most of their students will have completed at least one year of calculus before matriculation.

  90. “So why the hell are you always obsessing about NMSF status?”

    One of the benefits cited by the college counseling office: “bragging rights.”

    But it really does open the door to a lot of merit aid opportunities. And while there is that slug of money, it’s not close to big enough to pay for a HSS undergrad degree or law school or med school, let alone more two or more of those.

  91. So why the hell are you always obsessing about NMSF status?

    Many folks here tend toward the brilliant but quirky and introverted. I think they have a hard time warping their head around the careers that are available to those who are less intelligent but also less quirky and introverted.

    In some bizzaro world there is a totebag blog populated successful ex-jock sales douches and douchetts who are convinced that success is all about athletic ability, social skills and looking good.

    Both are of course well worn path’s to success.

  92. athletic ability, social skills and looking good

    And it’s interesting for the kids who have that AND the interest and ability to be on the calculus track to split their energies and talents. But those who succeed at both end up as the Rhode scholar types.

  93. “What is the value of the rigor* other than signaling?”

    What is the value of anything other than signaling? It’s not *that* you’re signaling, it’s *what* you’re signaling. The signal for a B.A. or B.S. from a rigorous program is “I’m smart, I write well, I work hard, and I make my deadlines.”

    Most entry-level corporate business-ey jobs are so generic they can be done by anyone. What they want is someone who will put in the effort to learn the business, who is smart enough to figure it out, and who has the work ethic to make deadlines. Because those are not quantifiable skills, a B.A. or B.S. from a rigorous program provides an excellent signaling mechanism that the holder of the diploma has those broader characteristics that the business needs.

    You graduate with honors from this school — http://www.sjc.edu — I don’t expect you to have any easily quantifiable skills. But I’d sure as hell hire you anyway.

  94. “In some bizzaro world there is a totebag blog populated successful ex-jock sales douches and douchetts who are convinced that success is all about athletic ability, social skills and looking good.”

    Nah. They can’t write for shit.

    What you’re looking for is called “happy hour.”

  95. @Denver, I should have clarified that I meant pro football. I can no longer watch pro football. I barely watched college football before the movie, but there is a lot of football on the TV in my house. It is the same when we see friends and relatives on Sundays. I just leave the room because I don’t want to watch any more.

    I know about the statistics for soccer, and specifically for girls soccer. My issue is with the NFL.

  96. Pursuing a undergrad and grad degree in lit is like trying to become a professional singer or actor or athlete. There are a tiny number of jobs and unless you’re well into the 01.% of ability it will never happen for you. Out of the 2 million accountants in the US, being the 1.25 millionth best accountant will still let you pay the mortgage and raise a family.

    I will disagree with this in regards to musicians. There are a ton of musicians (I have no idea if they majored in music, if they even went to college) who make a decent living giving lessons, playing weddings and bar mitvahs, small gigs in bars, etc. It’s certainly a less secure path than accounting, but it’s still very possible to do.

  97. There are a ton of musicians (I have no idea if they majored in music, if they even went to college) who make a decent living giving lessons, playing weddings and bar mitvahs, small gigs in bars, etc.

    That’s certainly true here. They’ll sometimes turn up to the middle school band concerts as alums who’ve come back to join in with the kids on something or do a special number. I remember one trio that turned up, youngest member only a year or two out of high school, had a daily gig playing for the wedding chapel at one of the hotels. And of course with all the hotels, they like to have regular live entertainment. (But those aren’t the most famous of the middle school’s musical alums — they have one who headlined the Superbowl halftime a couple of years ago. Now he’s an example of the lighting-strike model of success.)

  98. Rhett and LfB, walk into any bar or restaurant in midtown or downtown on a Thursday/Friday night and that’s where loads of these successful people will be after working all week in financial services. They could be the guy you played lacrosse with in HS, or the son of someone that you play golf with on the weekend etc etc. Many of the people that are working in financial services, even post financial crisis could barely pass calculus. They’re great managers, or they’re great sales people, or people just like to work with them so they’re successful at work. They build strong networks and they usually manage to land another job even when times are tough.

    I just attended a reunion of some people from my bank training program. The attendees were mainly the training class folks and their spouses, but the person hosting the party also invited one of our favorite managers. The people in the program were recruited from top 25 undergrad schools, but the manager went to a local school in a NY borough that most of you never heard of because it’s filled with local kids from Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. He doesn’t have a masters, but he started in the early 80s in a risk position and worked his way into the business side. Great personality, great golf player, and just an al around nice guy. People love to be around him. He’s been in banking for over 35 years, never unemployed and he manages 1000s of people. He is an excellent manager, and he is smart enough to know that he is not book smart. He always hires smart people to work for him because he knows that he doesn’t understand 3/4 of the technical stuff that is going on. It is one of the first things he says in a meeting; put this in terms that I can understand and then he makes notes for himself so he can speak intelligently to his managers.

  99. Following on Denver’s comment at 2:19, there are plenty of art, music, and gym teachers in local districts around here who have a decently-paid (with benefits) teaching position at a public school, and then they also pursue their own personal artistic/musical/athletic interests on their own time as well (or they supplement their income with private lessons, coaching, etc). It seems like not such a bad way to live.

  100. Oh it all feels like day trading. Like trying to game the market.

    We’ll pay for college. They can study what they want. Saying otherwise is like saying “We’ll pay for a wedding but only to Steve or Ralph. You want to marry Jim, you are on your own.” I’ve lived long enough to see that life is weird and crazy and paths change and open up where you never would have expected them. There is this weird idea that if you just make all the right choices, there is a safe destination. If you just go to a good school and get a good degree you will be ok and that is not necessarily the case. I know enough people who are well paid enough but dread getting up on Monday and wish their life away 5 days at a time to know that the best outcome is finding that sweet spot where compensation and passion or interest or whatever you want to call it, meet. I know highly educated people who can’t find a job and people with a high school degree that are killing it. My greatest desire is that my children will find a vocation that they are excited to get up and go to and provides them with enough. Enough that they can be comfortable and safe. Enough that they can have adequate health insurance and a nice vacation every year. No one really knows what the best, hot career is 10 years from now. Odds are it is something we haven’t even thought of yet.

    And the STEM, makes me crazy. So many people think that a STEM degree is some kind of golden ticket. If you are into STEM, it may well be. If you are pushed into STEM or think it is some kind of safety net you are well likely to be a mediocre STEM person who might have been better off being an English teacher. Remember in the 80s when it was computers? Oh, that’s it. “Computers are the future. Study that!” We ended up with more computer programmers than we could ever need and a lot of them stank at it and ended up jazzed to be doing Y2K work.

    In summation, you can’t know what will happen. Try to find something you enjoy and that you are good at and try to be prudent eg: if you are going to major in dance, maybe minor in business or accounting (at least you can manage the business side of your dance studio). There’s no safety net, there are no shortcuts. You’re gonna have to work regardless.

  101. Try to find something you enjoy and that you are good at

    Ideally something most people don’t enjoy and aren’t good at.

  102. “I wish LinkedIn would do some data mining and produce a list of college majors and subsequent careers.”

    I think the value of this would be limited. So many people have majored in things unrelated to their career. e.g. Our former CFO was a French major, but he “got” business and so made a career of it, getting his MBA along the way.

    I want to make one other point, absent reading much of this afternoon’s comments. In the olden days, like when Rocky, Cordelia, SSK and I were embarking on our college careers we had three basic choices if we were going to a state school:
    > CC, free except for books, and we could use that to launch our bachelor’s degree pursuit – or – get an AA in cosmetology (like my sister did), auto mechanics, other trades and start working at ~20.
    > Cal State Schools (there were ~ 40 of them, one in your neighborhood) $100/semester tuition where, yes, you could major in English, History, Poli Sci etc, but you could also get a degree, and possibly certification (CPA) in engineering, accounting, forestry…things you can actually start doing as a ~22yo
    > UC schools $700/year tuition. No actually practical degrees except for computer science or engineering that I recall, but lots of liberal arts and hard sciences. Then, often, you ended up going to grad school. Not always, often.

    I think the requirement that so many entry level, basic, jobs like receptionist have a bachelor’s has really fueled the “a 4yr degree is good for everyone” mantra and because of it, many kids end up at 4yr schools when they should go do something else until they grow up. Really.

  103. Moximom +1

    This reminds me of a story that a professor of mine had related one day. She and her husband had a rental property and they had a renter who was a musician. When he filled that in on the rental contract they were worried that he wouldn’t have a steady income for rent so they asked if he thought there would be any issues making rent with such a variable job. His response was well my father wouldn’t let me be a musician so I had to get a back up job. I am trauma surgeon at prestigious hospital X and do Y number of shifts there at month so rent won’t be a problem. He identified as musician and didn’t tell people he was a surgeon unless it was specifically necessary.

    My kids will have decades of work and I hope they can find professions that will fulfill them and not just going to a job they hate every day because I wanted to control their lives and thought my plan for them was the only plan.

  104. But Fred, that’s my point. I want to see what the philosophy majors (or whatever) actually wound up doing.

  105. I love what Moxiemom said and completely agree with it. I would like to think I’d be totally cool if my kids announced an out-there major, and a big part of me thinks I would be. But I admit I was incredibly relieved when they chose engineering and nursing, and the enormity of my relief might belie any claims I have to total coolness on this topic.

    usuallylurks – that’s a great story

  106. “I wish LinkedIn would do some data mining and produce a list of college majors and subsequent careers. ”

    They do some of it by school. https://university.linkedin.com/content/dam/university/global/en_US/site/pdf/alumni-tool-final.pdf

    A quick search: Sarah Lawrence creative writing majors top three areas of employment are media/communications, education, and arts/design. The top three employers are Huffington Post (not surprised!), NYC Dept. of Education, and NYU. Graduates overwhelmingly concentrated in the greater NYC area. Broad brush stuff, but still useful information.
    https://www.linkedin.com/edu/alumni?id=19020&facets=FS.100586&keyword=&dateType=attended&startYear=&endYear=&incNoDates=true&start=0&count=10&filters=off&trk=ta-chg-school

  107. “I think the requirement that so many entry level, basic, jobs like receptionist have a bachelor’s has really fueled the “a 4yr degree is good for everyone” mantra and because of it, many kids end up at 4yr schools when they should go do something else until they grow up. Really.”

    Yup, completely agree.

  108. Are those grads actual employees of Huffington Post? A lot of the people who write for Huffington Post are doing it for free

  109. Trip report – Snake and Columbia River Cruise. We returned today. I can wholeheartedly recommend some sort of Lewis and Clark/Columbia Gorge trip by automobile or boat or bicycle to everyone in any family situation. I’ll comment on the cruise aspect in a separate post/paragraph, since the only guest under 60 was with her 80 something mother.

    We flew into Spokane via Portland on Alaska. Usual great on time service, but the main cabin seats for the cross country leg are a bit cramped. Planes are always full.

    The next day we were bussed to the embarkation port in Clarkston WA, across from Lewiston ID at the confluence of the Snake and the Clearwater. Very dry and little vegetation around there. First day I just went to the Nez Perce national park and hiked around. DH took the Hells Canyon jet boat. Giant Walmart and Costco in a tiny town – people drive many hours to stock up. Very low prices.

    Next day we docked beyond the confluence of the Snake and the Columbia in Richland WA. I went kayaking, DH went to the Hanford B reactor where plutonium for the A bomb was produced. There were few residents at the time in that desolate region, and they were mostly relocated and a govt town built, with hydropower from the Depression era Columbia River dams harnessed for the war effort. Next stop was supposed to be The Dalles, OR, but it was closed for two weeks of treaty (1855) protected Native American fishing rights. Much of the earliest conservation effort (predating the dams) to hold back the overfishing of the salmon population by commercial interests was effective because of federal court enforcement of those fishing rights. So we went to Stevenson WA where the desert had given way to an evergreen forest, and took a great side trip to the Western Antique Aeronautical and Automobile Museum. Amazing stuff – 80 percent of the items displayed are in working condition and we toured the restoration workshop. I got a ride in the rumble seat of a 31 Ford. Got a picture of a 1951 Vincent motorcycle, not a Black Lightning, though.

    The following day we took an all day bus trip. Started at Multnomah Falls, then Bonneville Dam complete with fish ladders, had lunch prepared by the ladies at a Grange Hall (the building was purchased in 1942 by the Grange from the Japanese American Assoc when the Japanese origin orchard owners were all rounded up), then a trip to Timberline Lodge, site of a famous speech by FDR and halfway up Mt. Hood. Then a winery. To this point on the trip there was not a cloud in the sky. The final day was in Astoria OR, near the coast, where it drizzled and we just hung out locally.

    We disembarked in Vancouver WA across from Portland, too late to catch the non stop to Boston, so we rented a car and drove down through Salem OR (best brunch ever at the Sassy Onion) with a side trip through farms and covered bridge country to a state run fish hatchery. At the hatchery DH (who is 5’4” in his shoes) said hello to a gigantic fellow with a Vietnam cap. It turned out they were in the same division, but only overlapped by 2 weeks – DH got out just before the Tet offensive. He was astounded anyone from out of state even could find the hatchery. The visit had been suggested by our host later that afternoon – a certain engineer with a 3 boys whose noses were stuck in books when they weren’t horsing around, a toddler girl and a slobbery black lab (nice husband, too.) Sampled some elk. No issues this morning with TSA flying back at 7 am, but we got to the airport early just in case.

  110. + a million to Moxie’s comment.

    I’ve said before that I have a sibling who went to the “right” school, enrolled in the “right” classes, and…failed out. This has definitely shaped how I view things. I think it’s my job to give them the right foundation, and the opportunities to grow and learn, but their job to do what they will with it (and live with the outcome of their own decisions).

  111. The cruise itself exceeded our expectations. We had already ratcheted up our geezer travel standards after being pleasantly surprised by our Quebec Road Scholar trip, but many of the fellow travelers were very prosperous, including a quarter of the boat taken by a Florida yacht club – grandkids at Hotchkiss and Groton type yacht club. I kayaked with a minority owner of the Red Sox. All retirement age except the daughter mentioned above, and 100% white. (Unless you are extreme alt right, and DH and I don’t count as white). There was a documentary filmmaker (several PBS shows) who was our lecturer. The nightly shows were squeaky clean but extremely professional. On today’s topic, you can make a living as a musician or performer – but it is hard work and you can’t be too fussy. The staff were friendly and competent. The food was good, not great, and plentiful, the one area where expectations were met but not exceeded. The stateroom was spacious and the water was hot. I enjoyed the engine room tour. The paddlewheel functions as an 8% supplement to the propellers and in a pinch could get us back to home port. There were “free” excursions at every port, but a realistic expectation is that the bill for premium excursions, mandatory tips, hard liquor and sundries would be 500 a person in addition to the basic cruise cost. We also ate on shore one night, and I ordered some wine (you can ship into MA now).

  112. HM,

    I wonder if she’s descended from both:

    The house’s name honors two notable men who shared the name “John Winthrop”—the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, as well as his descendant, an 18th Century astronomer who was both a Harvard professor and president of the university. The house shield is from the Winthrop family coat of arms: a lion with three chevrons in the background. In heraldric language, the blazon of the house shield is “Argent three chevrons Gules overall a lion rampant Sable.

  113. Moxie, yaaaaasssssss!
    On kids having majors or careers we’ve never heard of: my dad struck out 3x with having a child go into medicine. Two out of five grandkids have finished college. One came close, with great grades as a chem major, but decided to get a divinity degree. So now it’s up to my kid and his two cousins. One, really, looking at their capabilities. My son has never, ever responded positively when I ask him about being a doctor. From the things that interest him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a bio-medical engineer. When my dad started out, his specialty was just branching off from EENT. Biomedical engineering is an emerging field now. I don’t think it existed as an option when I was in college (although the wife of one of my profs did help design one of the first big replacement hips). Or maybe he’ll do something I’ve never heard of.

  114. Rhett, you think maybe she included the long-ago governor but felt that also throwing in the Harvard president ancestor would be a little too much?

  115. How do I add a picture. Found the groom on LinkedIn – Google Robert Stevenson Eagle Investments. Handsome chap.

  116. SM, biomedical engineering has been around for quite a while. When I was in school, it was an area of focus within the EE dept, and I took one class.

  117. HM,

    With the founder of a state and an industrial fortune as ancestors a mere Harvard president is hardly worth a mention.

  118. Biomedical engineering was a big major when I was an undergrad. Half my friends were majoring in it. I considered it when I switched majors but wasn’t going to be able to get through it in my remaining 2 years.

  119. Houston, it wasn’t an official premed major at my school, although some of the people majoring in it went to med school. But most didn’t

  120. Mooshi: I was unclear in my post–I didn’t mean that it was an official premed major–I meant that you studied *a lot* of biology/anatomy as part of the major, which to me looked “pre-med-ish”.

  121. On the subject of pre-med– one of DS’ science teachers told him that one way to avoid taking science classes with pre-meds and their grade competitiveness (other than not taking science) is to take classes with the science majors, and the ones that have tougher pre-reqs, because the pre-meds typically take the more introductory science classes. (DS has been considering biomedical engineering and biochemistry as possible majors).

    Ada, any truth to that?

  122. @LFB – the happy hour comment made me laugh out loud.

    Also agree with everything that Moxie said. Did anyone catch the Asian guys in the Emmy’s last night making the comment that they hope some parents will buy their kids a camera instead of a violin?

    Regarding medical school financing – I realize this was a tiny point in the larger discussion, but I want to disabuse anyone of ‘saac’s notion that a med student could pay for school as a TA in anything. Med schools “own” your time in a way that is difficult to understand from the outside. You need me to come in at 5a everyday next week. Okay. Stay til 8p randomly one night? Okay. During clinical years, there would be no way to hold down a job (because of 80+ hours a week of work, frequent schedule changes, and lack of control.). During preclinical years, it would theoretically be possible to hold down some kind of job, though the hours are long then as well. People don’t do it. You are typically scheduled for in class activities from 8 or 9a until 4 or 5p every day, with a few days of required enrichment in the off hours.

  123. @Finn – I’ll only speak to my own experience, but I don’t think that ore med competitiveness is determined by the type of science class as much as the character if the school. In my college, there were two into bio sections, each with under a hundred students. All the premeditated and science people too one, likely evenly distributed. School was not cut throat, and intro classes are often grade on objective criteria instead if a curve, which encourages cooperation. So, it’s hard to avoid the premeds, but I don’t think it matters.

    At the time I applied to school (and I think this is still essentially true), medical school required a year of bio, chem, physics, and o chem. some required calculus (which I satisfied with an AP test). Medical school did not require any upper level science including anatomy, biochem, physiology, genetics. So, the upper division bio classes may have less premeds in them, but the competitive nature probably depends a lot on the school. A large number of my med school classmates majored in bio, chem, bio chem or some kind of double major in bio and chem. They were likely acting very competitive and crazy in their upper level college classes – at their big state schools.

  124. I’m sort of fascinated by Georgina’s and Robert’s mention of their long-ago ancestors. Wouldn’t the first settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the signers of the Declaration of Independence, have a LOT of descendants by now (assuming that they had children who lived to adulthood)? Is it really that special to be a descendant of someone who lived a few hundred years ago, even someone prominent?

    Or maybe I’m just jealous because as far as I will ever know, most of my ancestors were peasants. (And I mean that literally — my maternal grandfather’s Ellis Island record lists his occupation as “farm laborer.”)

  125. On the topic of the Winthrop family, as a teenager I read a book by Anya Seton called the Winthrop Woman, about Elizabeth Fones, who was John Winthrop’s niece (and daughter-in-law). She was born in 1610 and came to Massachusetts around 1630. She ended up getting married three times, and among her descendants are Bill Gates, Howard Dean, Amelia Earhart, John Kerry and Johnny Depp (according to Wikipedia).

  126. At my school, there were 3 science levels: the really easy ones for liberal arts majors who just needed to satisfy their distribution requirements, the mid level ones that were taken by premeds and engineering majors, which were mega competitive, and the ones taken by the science majors. However, a physics major would typically take the mid level bio course, for example.

  127. And I mean that literally — my maternal grandfather’s Ellis Island record lists his occupation as “farm laborer.”

    A while back John Leguizamo had a bit about his modest ancestors and the punch line was, “Apparently, back in Spain, Lequizamo means chamber pot emptier.”

  128. Someone quoted a comment saying that Asian parents should buy their kids cameras instead of violins.
    Here’s an unusual path. My science teacher was very interested in music/performance. In fact she filled in as the drama teacher organizing our school plays. Her son played violin and the cello graduated with microbiology and biochem degrees. He also did two years of law school. He did a certificate course in sound recording and after playing with a few bands ended up composing music for TV serials and movies in the home country. He is very successful and that path was definitely not one I would have expected.

  129. Carrie Tolstedt, the banker at Wells Fargo who is getting the 9-figure payout for cheating the customers, has a B.S. from U. Nebraska.

  130. And John Stumpf has an undergrad degree from St. Cloud State and an MBA from U. of Minnesota.

  131. Teen Vogue and USA Today aren’t particularly convincing sources. Individual colleges may well be working to lower binge drinking rates, but at our university alcohol abuse is a huge problem. And nearly every reported instance of sexual assault involves large amounts of alcohol.

  132. I believe that there is nothing statistically worse about binge drinking compared to the 90’s. There is absolutely nothing new in that opinion piece that wasn’t happening every weekend on my college campus except the videos on people’s phones. Including mixing disgusting concoctions, the “hour of power” and all the stupid drinking games. “It’s the stress”. Yeah, sure. Make that your excuse if you want.

    Does that mean that it’s not a problem? Of course not. It IS a problem. But it’s not a new problem.

  133. but at our university alcohol abuse is a huge problem

    The question would be: is this a trend – is it getting better, worse, or the same? The evidence is that it’s less of an issue than when we were in school.

  134. And it was the same InMyDay, and if you read up about university life in medieval Europe, you’ll find that the 12 and 14 year old boys who were university students back in the Middle Ages were also getting massively drunk and generating town/gown drama and fights and so on.

  135. Binge drinking can certainly be a dangerous problem, but this is such a bullshit, out-of-touch, Totebaggy guess at the underlying cause:

    But there’s something else in the mix, something that pushes them from casual drinking to binge drinking to blackout.

    I think it’s the stress. It permeates everything we do as college students. Many small, elite colleges are insanely competitive to get into in the first place and they remain competitive as students try to outdo one another with grades, scholarships, extracurricular activities and internships. Having been one of those hypercompetitive students, I can tell you that it never feels like enough. The person sitting next to you in class is always doing more and doing it better. I became obsessed with stacking my resume, even more so than I was in high school. I saw it as a reflection of whether I would succeed in life. And I’m not alone. The obsession seems largely driven by fear — fear of a crumbling job market, of not meeting parents’ expectations, of crippling loan debt.

    When I was a sophomore, my friend introduced me to this girl from JMU, the friend of one of the girls he had dated at home. Driving down to Harrisonburg for some weekends, holy shit! that was an introduction to college binge drinking. And — believe me — the kids in this crowd were definitely not stressed out by hypercompetitive academics or what internships were going on their resume.

  136. but this is such a bullshit, out-of-touch, Totebaggy guess at the underlying cause:

    Her explanation might explain why rates are declining but to claim they are the cause is a little ridiculous.

  137. My take on the drinking was that non urban campuses didn’t have places to kids to socialize like night clubs, movie theatres, restaurants. I want to add bars but then the legal drinking age of 21 is was an issue. I felt people were drinking because they were bored.

  138. Urban campuses have tons of binge drinking, too. College students are not drinking because they’re bored by a lack of rich cultural opportunities in the surrounding area. They’re drinking because they want to drink.

  139. “Urban campuses have tons of binge drinking, too. College students are not drinking because they’re bored by a lack of rich cultural opportunities in the surrounding area. They’re drinking because they want to drink.”

    Bingo. And it’s not primarily because of the “stress”. It’s because that’s what they do, and they have fun doing it. At least for awhile or until something happens.

  140. Back in the day, we simply didn’t have the funds to engage in the binge drinking that is possible for the more affluent students at many schools. That is the difference I see. These kids aren’t just drinking free beer at frat parties. They are pre gaming with hard liquor in their dorm and THEN going to drink the free beer at the frat parties. You can’t do that every weekend unless someone is subsidizing it.
    But the other difference I’ve seen is that students who choose not to drink, and are open about it, can find a comfortable social life , both with like-minded peers and others who don’t mock them for their sobriety. At the very least, they are welcome as designated drivers.

  141. Scarlett – pre-gaming at JMU, and that’s where I learned the term, consisted mainly of cheap vodka mixed with generic, reconstituted orange juice.

    At least Thomas Stanley would have been proud.

  142. At my big state school, this is what we used to pre-game before the football games. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punch_(drink)

    It was served in a big (new, specially designated) trash can that was lined.

    For early games, we did kegs and eggs.

    It is a miracle that we all lived.

    I was not stressed out. Nor did I have much money.

  143. Whoops – was supposed to link to the punch with a combo of vodka, run and tequila. Plus whatever fruit people threw in.

  144. Back in the day, we simply didn’t have the funds to engage in the binge drinking that is possible for the more affluent students at many schools.

    Everclear and Koolaid ain’t fancy or expensive. Even broke kids got pretty wasted.

  145. Binge drinking to blackout was definitely done in the 80’s, though more at DH’s school (which was out in the sticks) than mine – but we were more druggie oriented so it probably evened out.

    Stress??? What stress? Campuses are crawling with “student success offices” and deanlets these days. Our tenure trackers are terrified to give an F because the dean reprimands us if our retention rate goes down. Sorry for sounding like a geezer, but students were far more stressed in my day because if you screwed up, you were so out of there.

  146. Scarlett, I had no money at all when I was in college, but I could always find affordable substances. There was a big liquor store that had a house brand of beer that was really cheap. and if you wanted to get sickeningly toasted, there was always Wild Irish Rose. I couldn’t afford to drink in bars though, plus I was underage all 4 years of college.

  147. Yes – cheap liquor and kool aid was definitely a thing when I was in school. And cheap beer and “wine”. I did not have much money, and we got by.

    Do I want my kid to act the way that I did in college? No, not particularly. Do I think there is much I can do about it? I’m not sure. And I’m worrying about little kid problems right now, so I’m not going to waste a lot of energy thinking about it for awhile.

    The college bars always had specials. They still do. Even in the city near DePaul (which is an expensive neighborhood), there are $1 bottle nights, penny pitcher nights, 10-cent wing nights and stuff like that.

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