Every few years, Forbes Magazine releases a dream-crushing list that numerically outlines which 20-somethings are most likely to end up moving back to their parents’ basements after their college graduation.

Forbes’ “The 10 Worst College Majors” list details, based on median salaries and unemployment rates, which college majors are “least valuable.”  The most recent list was published in 2012 and based on data gathered in 2009 and 2010 by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.  With close to 800,000 views, the article is the top Google hit for a simple “worst college major” search.

Many faculty and students in these supposedly “useless” majors feel that such generalized lists (the worst major game is not unique to Forbes) are neither accurate nor useful tools for determining a degree or career path.

“They reflect the fact that in our society today the pendulum is swinging too far in the direction of measuring the value of a college education in dollars,” Timothy George, University of Rhode Island history department chair, said of the list in an email.

Forbes Magazine Worst College Majors

  1. Anthropology and Archeology
  2. Film, Video and Photographic Arts
  3. Fine Arts
  4. Philosophy and Religious Studies
  5. Liberal Arts
  6. Music
  7. Physical Fitness and Parks Recreation
  8. Commercial Art and Graphic Design
  9. History
  10. English Language and Literature

Original list can be found at: http://www.forbes.com/pictures/fgek45hg/the-least-valuable-college-majors/

“I think [these lists have] an impact on students choosing majors, but I don’t think they accurately represent the options available to students with these majors,” Kerri Whitney, a senior music education major, said.

“I think [these lists have] an impact on students choosing majors, but I don’t think they accurately represent the options available to students with these majors,” Kerri Whitney, a senior music education major, said.

Some, like Associate Professor of Anthropology Kristine Bovy, believe that lists like these are simply not accurate because they do not account for students who do not intend to pursue their major as a career path.  “A lot of our majors don’t end up becoming anthropologists just like a lot of philosophy majors don’t end up being philosophers,” she said.

Junior anthropology major Sophia Weaver does not intend to pursue anthropology as a career. Rather, she is studying it out of interest. She feels that the interdisciplinary thinking and the perspective on humanity that her anthropology major has encouraged have made her, if anything, more employable.

“I think college in general, especially undergraduate, is about learning about yourself and how to work and learn as opposed to learning a specific profession that you’re going to devote your life to,” Weaver said.  “My major has given me a good perspective on what it is to be a human. I think just finding something that has made me passionate is great.”

Jake Santos, a sophomore double major at URI, took on his secondary education major in part to supplement the supposed lack of employability of his history major.  “I knew even though education majors can struggle to get a job, they can find one,” he said.

Though Santos acknowledges the difficulty of finding a job in the field of history with only a bachelors degree – “There is writing historical novels, getting a PhD and being a historian,” he said – he still thinks Forbes’ strictly monetarily evaluated list downplays the value of the majors it identifies.

“History is the story of where we’ve been, it’s what we’re doing, how we’ve changed,” he said. “Money is essential to surviving in this society, but at the same time, is it worth it if [you’re not doing] something you enjoy?  For me personally I know I’m not going to be making a huge chunk of change every year with my job, but I know it’s going to be incredibly fulfilling.”

Because the list only assesses people who are gainfully employed full-time, year-round, it also does not account for many of the paying jobs available to graduates of the majors it deems “invaluable.”

According to Whitney, a individual from URI’s music composition or performance program could be performing five nights a week, “Which is excellent,” she added, but still be technically unemployed.  Similarly a graduate from the film/media program could direct a film for six months out of the year but still be unemployed according to Rebecca Romanow, interim director of the department.

Romanow worries that lists as “incredibly unclear” as Forbes’ could deter students from pursuing a potentially lucrative career.  She assumes that number two on the list, “film, video and photographic arts,” refers strictly to narrative filmmaking and not to programs as comprehensive as URI’s film/media major.

“Our majors do work and are very employable because we emphasize that our film major is not just about making film but also about the critical study of film,” she said.  “The combination of the creative and the critical makes them wonderfully marketable candidates.”

Ultimately, George believes that a college education should “enable students to explore and develop their potential, to be effective citizens, to adapt to a changing world and a changing workplace over the course of their lives, and to better understand and improve not only themselves and their communities,” something he thinks history does well.  Could these lists actually be deterring students from pursuing interests in fields because they do not read the clarifying fine print?

“I have a few friends who are in other majors who could very easily get into the [music] program but opted not to because they were afraid of not getting a job because of lists like this,” Whitney said.

“I hope [these lists] don’t have an impact but unfortunately they probably do,” Romanow said. “Bad press is bad press.  The only way to combat that is to acknowledge that it’s bad press, explain that it is incorrect and misdirected, and make your voice heard to your audience.”

Bovy, a zooarcheologist, has never regretted ignoring the lists.  “My dad is an engineer, both my older brothers are engineers, and I’ve always been happy with the choice I’ve made,” she said. “The great thing about anthropology is I’ve met amazing people because it is all people who are passionate about it.   I’ve never ever wished I’d chosen a more lucrative path.”