There are a lot of reasons to choose a college major, but perhaps the worst is that it’s “practical.” Or so argues historian Cecilia Gaposchkin, who coordinates pre-major advising at Dartmouth University:

Cecilia Gaposchkin…the premise of the “practical major” is corroding college intellectual life. As students flock to the two or three majors they see as good investments, professors who teach in those majors are overburdened, and the majors themselves become more formulaic and less individualized. A vocational approach to liberal-arts education eviscerates precisely the qualities that are most valuable about it: intellectual curiosity and passion.

“The big majors,” a political scientist at Dartmouth told me recently, “collect a lot of students who aren’t really interested in the subject, and, because of the class sizes, those students lose out on highly individualized instruction.”

(For the record: a typical upper-division history course at Bethel enrolls 8-15 students.)

Gaposchkin goes on to make hopefully familiar arguments about the value of a seemingly “impractical” major like history: that it cultivates the ability to think, rather than the acquisition of information that will soon be obsolete; that the skills and vision employers most value are actually taught very well in fields like history; that mid-career salaries are actually quite strong for graduates in those areas.

So how should you pick a major? Follow your interests, advises Gaposchkin:

By releasing students from the pressure of the practical major and allowing them to study what they are sincerely interested in, we allow them to become smarter, more creative, and more able. This is what potential employers value, not course content that is likely to be obsolete once they have finished training the recent graduate.

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