parents, maybe a liberal arts degree is not such a bad thing

Parents, you tried, heaven knows. You did everything you could to assure your daughter chose a college and a major that would pinpoint a predictable career path and a self-sustaining livelihood. But then she went and graduated with a liberal arts degree. What the hell?

You may have pointed her to a study a couple years back by the venerable Princeton Review that shows that the most popular majors are business, psychology, nursing, biology and education, trailed by English language and literature, economics, communications studies, politics and government, and computer and information sciences.

After you hooked her with the fact that English literature made the list, you tossed in that the most profitable majors are engineering, economics, physics, computer science, statistics, biochemistry, math, construction management, information systems and geology.

When she rolled her eyes, you may have quoted a longitudinal study conducted several years ago by the National Center for Educational Statistics that found that the wage differentials that existed between career-oriented majors and academically oriented majors might take 10 years to eliminate (via Edwin W. Koc at NYT).

When that failed, you tried rational arguments (aka threats) about how long it might take to see a return on your $100K investment in her education if she headed into anything other than finance or law or healthcare.

Forsooth, your dear darling daughter chose what she was passionate about and is now graduating with a degree in English literature despite your efforts. “What the hell are you going to do with that degree?” you asked her time and again. And woe to you when she answered, “Oh, I have so many choices, mom,” adding that she thinks she might travel for a year before she decides.

Note to daughters: if your parents taught you to value yourself from cradle to cap and gown, and to gain valuable experience volunteering and working through your tenure in college, now is a good time to thank them. You are far ahead of the curve.

Note to parents: if you taught your daughter how to accurately value her innate strengths, accomplishments and experience and to negotiate her benefit in the hands of her potential employers, congratulations are in order. You are also ahead of the curve.

So parents, not to worry. When your daughter is done counting turtles in Costa Rica, Steve Jobs advice may still ring true at Apple:

I’ve said this before, but thought it was worth repeating: It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.

Filling the Gulf Between Passion and Value

Much has been written about Gen Y’s preference for passion-fueled careers. It’s reported that graduates today are less concerned about nailing the best salary, and more intent on finding jobs in companies whose missions match their values and work-life fit. 

And that’s a good thing. We want our daughters to be happy and love the work they do. But passion and value don’t have to be mutually exclusive. No matter if your daughter is angling toward Warner Brothers or Ringling Brothers, learning to negotiate a first salary is a skill that will continue to produce benefits across all levels of life far beyond the first negotiation.

For our daughters, failing to negotiate a first salary could mean not only a loss of up to $1 million over her career, but a much longer student loan and credit card payback trajectory. According to Suze Orman, the social and economic impact of failing to negotiate added to student debt could mean our daughter lives at home for several more years, carries her debt into marriage, opts to stay in a job she’s miserable in just to keep a roof over her head, postpones her first home purchase, adds stress to her relationships, and the list goes on.

Three Things to Get Your Daughter for Graduation

Negotiation training: for many college graduates, negotiation training was not a core requirement of their college curriculum. Enroll your graduate in any number of workshops or online trainings (yes, ours would be a good place to start). Not only will she learn interest-based (win-win) negotiation, she will walk away with lifelong skills that foster workplace and family communication, and make her more valuable to potential employers.

Financial Literacy Training: Buy your graduate Suze Orman’s The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke, or Manisha Thakor’sOn My Own Two Feet.

Professional Development Coaching: In addition to sorting out options and creating goal setting and accountability habits, a worthy coach will be adept at helping your daughter translate her life and work experience (even if it’s all volunteer work), into soft and hard skills that have bottom line benefits to her potential employers.

So parents, do let your daughters grow up to be liberal arts majors. Just don’t forget to give them the education their education didn’t give them (sorry for rubbing salt in the wound).