“What are you studying?”

“What are you studying?” (sic.)
“Russian literature and Slavic Studies,”
“Oh? What’s your career path?”
“Oh, you know, cabbie, hot dog vendor, drug delivery guy.”

The preceding quote is from director Greg Motolla’s (Superbad) coming-of-age film, Adventureland. While I highly recommend the movie and found the protagonist of the movie, an archetypal anti-hero, to be refreshing in lieu of modern day teenage films, I wanted to speak on the aforementioned quote.

The University kind enough to accept me as an Undergraduate student offers over 160 majors spread across all imaginable disciplines. These majors range from fields as peculiar and arcane as Medieval Studies and Wildlife & Fisheries Science to the more boilerplate college degrees: Political Science, Economics, etc. Far and away the most popular degrees on campus are found in the Business School (Finance, Management), as well as other professionally-oriented Majors (Nursing, Education.) This represents a seismic shift in University culture and a concerning Gen-Y trend: America’s best and brightest are straying away from their platonic intellectual pursuits in favor of “marketable” majors with safe career paths waiting for them at the end of the tunnel. [1]

Studying management techniques and the merits of derivatives trading is all well and good for those genuinely interested in the subjects at hand. However, more often than not, I’ve found many of my cohorts expressing their primary motivation in their degree’s career path to be fiscal.

The allure of financial success and/or the desire for wealth cannot be ignored as a significant factor behind this seismic shift. The fault is largely blameless, as modern day media surrounds us with stories of instability, foreclosure, and unemployment amidst one of the largest recessions in American history. An academic paper recently published theorizes on the culture of “growing up” amidst a recession [2]:

“Using time and regional variations in macroeconomic conditions to identify the effect of recessions on beliefs, we show that individuals growing up during recessions tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort, support more government redistribution, but are less confident in public institutions. Moreover, we find that recessions have a long-lasting effect on individuals’ beliefs.”

Despite the bewilderment and pessimism which exists amongst America’s college-aged youth, trail-blazing “Russian Literature” majors still exist, though few in number (Harvard has 14.) In turn, enrollment and popularity continue to increase in Business, Nursing, and Educations Colleges across the country.

Personally, I lament the rise of the Undergraduate Business School. Prior to the advent of the Undergraduate B-School, students could, and would, seek out any undergraduate major they pleased, with the knowledge that a Law/Business degree could come further down the line. At countless high school graduation parties, the number one piece of advise dulled out by well-educated and knowledgeable adults was to “expand your horizons” while “taking interesting classes.” Unfortunately, as enrollment and popularity have continued to increase in Business Colleges across the country, teenage children have become effectively forced determine their life’s path at an entirely too young age.

*Disclaimer: The opinions and attitudes expressed in this essay are unequivocally my own. Before you lambast my perspective, understand that I can only write from my own experiences. Obviously, I only go to one American University. Nor do I consider myself the voice of my generation, far from it.

[1] This is not an isolated occurrence, nor is it merely occurring in less prestigious schools. Anyone with any sliver of doubt can easily reference CollegeBoard.com.

[2] Hat-tip Paul Kedrosky

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