Message from the Director
The first sentence of LMU’s mission statement indicates the institution’s dedication “to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies.” What it means to provide educational experiences in professional studies is relatively straightforward: the name of one’s major is typically the name of one’s desired job, and the educational experiences involved typically consist in training and credentialing appropriate to that profession. Although liberal education dates back over hundreds of years, its significance is not as straightforward. Accordingly, I have often found myself explaining the nature and value of liberal education to students and their families.
In addition to the other duties I have had over the years, I have been an academic advisor since 1995. So it should come as no surprise that “What can I do with that major?” is a question I have heard countless times. Rather than try to answer the question as asked, I try to coach students into having a more appropriate understanding of what liberal education is. For most arts and sciences students, the realization that the name of their major likely will not be the name of their job can be difficult. This realization requires them to take a more subtle and critical view of what an education is. Getting an education is not necessarily the same as getting a credential that might qualify students for whatever the next step after the undergraduate stage of their lives might be. An education can certainly include such preparation but it need not be restricted to such training. A liberal education should refine one’s powers of discernment such that one would be able to deal effectively with anything that follows one’s undergraduate schooling. After all, a liberal education is one that is appropriate for a free person, a person liberated from the constraints of ignorance: narrow-mindedness; inflated self-opinion; lack of perspective.
I will often ask students (and their parents, who understandably are often the origin of such concerns about the marketability of a liberal education), “What about people in their fifties or sixties who work with computers; what did they major in?” After they offer some plausible answers (along with correct ones, after all, some probably know people who fit that description), they begin to grasp the thrust of my question. Whatever these people majored in, it was not computer science since it would not have existed as an academic field at the relevant time. So one moral becomes apparent to them: the name of your major need not be the name of your job. I then enjoy pointing out another moral that is at least as important even if it is not as obvious. There is a good chance that whatever field one will go into later in life does not yet exist! How can one prepare for such a field? Certainly not by majoring in it! The best way to prepare for the innovations one certainly will face in life is to be mentally agile. There is no one, right major for that. Whatever is to become of people’s lives before they “branch off” and become specialized, they are well-served by solidifying their “tree trunk.” I have found this metaphor to be apt in explaining the nature and value of liberal education. A broad undergraduate education provides a solid base enabling one to succeed no matter what branch of a specialty one chooses. So to those who ask “What can I do with that major?” hopefully, they recognize that a more relevant question could be: “What can’t I do with that major?”
I have found in my twenty-plus years of working in higher education that students tend to do better when they study something that incites their passions and ignites their curiosity. This finding likely does not strike you as being particularly revelatory. Nevertheless, I have found that people still feel ill at ease when their passions do not obviously lead to an identifiable career path. The best, and most practical, strategy to prepare oneself for the world beyond college is to have a successful college career. Success in college can take many forms and is not identified with any particular course of study.
It should be clear that students of all interests can find a home in the Honors Program at LMU; what makes one at home in our honors program is passion and curiosity. Many students currently in the program have pre-professional interests. Many have been pleased to learn that a liberal education can be a suitable preparation for, e.g., medical school. One of my goals is to dispel the notion that the name of one’s major need be the name of one’s job. No course of study, if done well, is impractical. The Honors Program at LMU aims to attract and cultivate students who care about doing things well. No major has cornered the market on how to do things well. Without feeling the constraint of having to find the “most practical” major (whatever that might mean), I encourage students to seek their passions and to do well, and I make it my business to do all I can to enable that to happen. There is no more practical preparation.