After completing my Bachelor of Humanities I flew to a tiny town in France and taught English in a local high school for a few months. Unfortunately, I spoke almost no French and soon realized that the slow pace of life enjoyed by the French, and envied by most citizens of the world, wasn’t for me. Even cycling around with a fresh baguette in my basket à la Audrey Tautou, albeit with long hair and less charm, didn’t do it for me.
So I moved back to my parents’ house in Toronto and had an anxiety-filled winter trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next. With a lot of Starbucks coffee, research and pro/con lists, I decided to continue my education with a Masters of Journalism at Ryerson.
I completed my degree, while doing three unpaid internships, and immediately landed a two-year contract with the Ontario Government in a communications role. I rotated around various government ministries dabbling in speechwriting, event planning and media relations.
Although I was grateful for that first opportunity, enough time spent staring at a grey cubicle wall made me relate to Office Space a bit too much, so I decided to forge a career in the more exciting and unstable field of journalism.
My degree in humanities was the best possible foundation for my post-graduate life. I believe, in fact, it’s the best possible foundation for any career path (at least one that doesn’t include math).
Knowing how to write well is an invaluable skill in any job, not just journalism. In this digital world, with emails, tweets, status updates, PowerPoint presentations — writing has perhaps never been so important — people will judge you on your written communication skills.
In a job market where you’re up against people who can’t use grammar properly (i.e. most people) you will rise to the top of any resumé heap, or be your boss’ favourite when you use a semi-colon correctly. Trust me, there is always that one British guy in the office or that nice lady on the admissions committee who has a strong opinion on the Oxford comma.
When you fail to irritate them with elementary errors in style, they will be grateful and you will get promoted.
And don’t worry, you won’t irritate them. In Humanities if you don’t write well you will get an essay back covered with comments and notations that tell you your sentences are terrible. When this happens, you will at first complain that the professor should focus on the ideas and content, and ignore your terrible paragraph structure. But then you realize that thinking clearly is writing clearly.
And so you will spend three hours thinking about a single paragraph in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and sleep beside Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and you will get friends who are smarter than you to proofread your essays, and little by little you will improve. By fourth year you will look back on your freshman attempts at essay-writing and weep.
Writing well will also help you get accepted into graduate school, and let’s be honest, you’re most likely going to continue schooling, no matter what your undergraduate degree is in, since it’s a bad economy, and everyone has a Bachelor’s degree, and employers don’t like to train people anymore, etc., etc. Luckily, if you go to Humanities you will be accepted into the program of your choice!
This is not because you will be better educated than most other people applying—although you will be—but because you will:
1. Have excellent reference letters.
2. Be interesting.
1. Your reference letters will be excellent because in Humanities you aren’t one person in a class of 400 or 1500 or even 100. You are a person in a tutorial of 10 with a personality that your professor knows. You have spent four years with the same core group of professors who have read your essays THEMSELVES and who understand your strengths and weaknesses. You have probably debated the Upanishads outside of class with your professor. You have played the guitar in front of your professors on music nights and ate bright yellow cheese cubes with them during their book launches.
The reference letter they write for you will be detailed and thought out, which is a great advantage over those who have a letter based on a template, written by a professor who has had to farm out marking to a teaching assistant or a scantron machine and who can’t quite picture what you look like unless you’re in front of him.
2. Do you know what admission committees don’t like? Boring people. Do you know what they do like? People who have something to write about.
People who have travelled in their third year to a town in Belgium and spent every other weekday morning stumbling out of a cave that called itself a bar, biking back to the medieval nunnery converted into a modern dormitory, showering, dressing and running off to translate some Biblical Hebrew texts.
People who have travelled and learned a language — both of which you will have the opportunity and encouragement to do.
Humanities prepares you for what comes after Humanities because you’re required to take a music class, a science class, a philosophy class, a history class, a literature class — and in doing so you will gain a breadth and depth of knowledge upon which our modern world was founded, and therefore be better able to navigate it.
Danielle Kubes is currently a freelance journalist living in Toronto. She has written for The Globe and Mail, National Post, and Jerusalem Post among others.
You can view her work on her website, www.daniellekubes.com