Passion over prestige

Science and mathematics are often considered to be the most prestigious majors, despite the tremendous value also present in the humanities.

At some point in a college student’s career, he or she must choose a major. For those of us who haven’t had a clear desire to be a dental hygienist since we were five, it can be a difficult decision.

While the consequences and finality of a student’s choice of major are certainly exaggerated, we generally don’t realize that while we choose. The perceived weight of the decision is enough to cause severe anxiety, and a multitude of factors involved, both legitimate and otherwise, muddy the water, resulting in indecision and error.

One of the most common — and least legitimate — of these anxieties is the consideration of a major’s prestige. A student’s choice of study is, all too often, driven by a desire to impress.

It is undeniable that certain majors are considered more rigorous than others, and an unfortunate circumstance that this impression is often true. The underlying assumption is that “hardness” and “easiness” are characteristics attributed to different subjects. This assumption is more self-fulfilling than true. The math major, for example, is not more difficult than the English major because math is an intrinsically more difficult subject, but because it is considered one, and more work is expected by and demanded of the students.

The entire dilemma  is a vicious cycle. Math, since the industrial revolution, is the most prestigious subject. t The smartest people gravitate to mathematics because of the prestige, so the classes raise the bar to the students’ level. Finally,These gifted students with rigorous educations tend to succeed after school, increasing the subject’s prestige.

While this cycle is great for furthering mathematics, it has the opposite effect on the majors from which talent emigrates. We are doing many disciplines an injustice and are actually slowing the progress of those  disciplines by robbing them of their most gifted students. Even worse, we are robbing these students of the chance to pursue the subject for which they are best suited.

What if we were to interrupt the cycle at the first step? What if we were to promulgate the principle that rigor is brought to a discipline by the student rather than vice versa? Students would then feel free to pursue the disciplines for which they have the greatest aptitude and interest. Work ethic and quality would be emphasized over credentials, and education in general would improve.

Fortunately, this is one of the particular strengths of the University of Dallas student culture. There exist discrepancies in perceived prestige between some majors, but they are insignificant in comparison to broader trends.

My high school, on the other hand, was apparently the accepted meeting place for the local tiger-moms and their progeny. I can give personal testament to the detriment that such a culture wreaks on students.

I suffered through the exact same English class every year from 6th through 10th grades. The only thing that changed was the reading assignments, which nobody did anyway. The same was generally true of any non-STEM class.

UD, however, is an environment in which students have respect for their own disciplines, and those of others. For the most part, there isn’t competition between students to accumulate the most impressive credentials.

Many of our incoming students, though, have had experiences more like my own prior to attending UD. Other students, particularly upperclassmen, should make a deliberate effort to discourage judgements about the prestige of the majors in their interactions with their fellow students.


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