Anthropology is The Worst College Major: A Rebuttal

[photo credit: toothpaste for dinner comic]

I follow a few online resources geared toward anthropologists. The Yahoo group Anthrodesign is an energetic email list with academics and applieds alike, asking real world questions, making global connections, and sharing stories. I also like to read a Collection by Fran Barone called anthro, which is probably the only reason why I might consider calling myself a "blog reader."

About a year ago, the big story in anthropology was the debate of its standing as a science. More recently, the big issue is whether or not anthropology deserves the number one spot for worst college major for your career. Kiplinger's recent slideshow (glitchy, ugly, difficult to navigate, ergo not worth the time I will actually spend to scrutinize) confidently states in its accompanying blurb that "[i]f foreign cultures are your thing, a major in international relations promises both a higher salary and lower unemployment rate."

One dimensional, uninformed, and clearly only using success metrics from websites like to find all the world's anthropologists and pay scales, I decided to add to the plethora of rebuttals out there (this is my favorite) with my take on why I find anthropology to be one of the best college majors for one's career. Below are my top 3:

  1. Anthropology taught me how to write. While some students in college took test after test, I was writing essay after essay. As a biological anthropology major, many of my exams were lab practicals sifting through bone fragments. Rather than selecting a multiple choice response to what I was seeing, these practicals were accompanied by essay writing: describing what I see and interpreting what might be happening or what might have been. These writing skills have been fundamental in my career because I must clearly communicate my thoughts and tell compelling stories.
  2. Talking to people is second nature. I don't feel anxiety, stress, or self-consciousness when I speak to people. I have found this to be particularly useful when presenting my work to a room full of people who should know more about what I am saying than I do. This skill has also been useful in my work, the cornerstone of which consists of talking to people.
  3. I didn't need to become an anthropologist. In my introduction to cultural anthropology course, one of the teacher's assistants proudly declared that in order to find a job as an anthropologist (e.g.. in academics), someone would have to die. It took me a while to reconcile this fact: I was studying toward a seemingly non-lucrative career, yet it was a field I truly loved. I know physicians, economists, musicians, chefs, film directors, and even real-life anthropologists.

Kiplinger's snapshot analyses is not only inaccurate but borders on irresponsible. Take a peek at some of the other college majors deemed worst for your career. In my opinion, those considered the worst teach critical thinking, require bravery and a bit of risk to pursue (all admirable qualitites in the workforce), as well as spark innovation, and new ways of problem solving. Maybe those are success criteria by which we should be examining college majors.