Despite the nationwide concern regarding the "crisis in humanities," Harvard humanities graduates have successfully found jobs in a diverse range of fields.
Despite the nationwide concern regarding the "crisis in humanities," Harvard humanities graduates have successfully found jobs in a diverse range of fields. By Annie E. Schugart

The Humanities at Work

The universe of higher education often bemoans a "crisis" in the humanities, with supposedly dwindling numbers and few job prospects. At Harvard, humanities concentrators face a crisis of choice, attempting to balance their passions with factors like stability and employment. For Harvard graduates, the question is not so much whether you’ll get a job with a humanities degree—it’s where.
By Nathan A. Cummings and Jalin P. Cunningham

UPDATED: October 29, 2015, at 6:22 p.m.

Yenching Library is tucked away on a quiet corner of Divinity Street, far removed from Harvard Yard’s daily bustle. It’s not easy to find, which seems fitting for the evening’s theme—we’re here for a career panel on jobs for humanities concentrators. The event’s host, Josh E. Stallings ’17, shakes our hands as we walk in. He’s glad we’ve finally found our way here.

The panel is made up of five people: a professor, a postdoc, a graduate student, and two undergraduates. Their audience, apart from us, isn’t much bigger. The students who are here, though, are quiet and attentive, scrutinizing every word from the speakers onstage. They’re looking for answers.

Students engage in a career panel about jobs in the humanities on Oct. 15. The consisted of five people: a professor, a postdoc, a graduate student, and two undergraduates.
Students engage in a career panel about jobs in the humanities on Oct. 15. The consisted of five people: a professor, a postdoc, a graduate student, and two undergraduates. By Marinda R. Horan

When we meet with Stallings later, he does his best to explain this mentality.

“If you go to a talk with some CEO of some company,” he says, “they say: ‘Oh, you don’t have to know what you want to do when you come out of college—I worked in a McDonalds; I was a barista for three years; I went to grad school.’ So they take this very circuitous route, and they valorize that.”

He considers his words before speaking. “Students, and I think Harvard students especially, are not really enticed by that version of the story. I don’t think they’re comforted by that. I think they want to have certainty.”

To some degree, this is a problem born of opportunity. Despite nationwide concern over a “crisis in the humanities,” Harvard grads are able and encouraged to seek out careers in virtually every field, from fine arts to finance and everything in between. Recent humanities alumni have found homes in diverse and far-reaching careers with roots in both humanistic and quantitative skills.

Yet the hypothetical CEO Stallings speaks of isn’t all wrong. The variety of options awaiting humanities concentrators also prompts a crisis of choice, as they attempt to balance their passions against factors such as stability and future employment. Making this choice often requires compromise and adjusted expectations as well as a willingness to think outside the box.

For Harvard graduates, the question is not so much whether you’ll get a job with a humanities degree—it’s where.

Alive and Kicking

With 19 degree programs and a multitude of Harvard-sponsored institutions ranging from a Byzantine and pre-Columbian library to an entire center dedicated to the study of Islamic architecture, Harvard has a wide array of resources at the disposal of current humanities concentrators. Outside the classroom, the Harvard Undergraduate Humanities Initiative, a group that offers humanities students career resources and aims to foster community, hosts events like the jobs panel in Yenching.

The division isn’t shrinking, either. University President Drew G. Faust’s $6.5 billion capital campaign has been undoubtedly beneficial to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which received the largest monetary gift in Harvard’s history last spring. Yet some emphasis has been placed on fundraising for the arts and humanities as well. With the launch of Harvard’s newest concentration in Theater, Dance, and Media at the start of the 2015 academic year, the University’s humanistic side continues to grow.

Despite the administration’s support, however, humanities degree programs have seen a recent decline in concentrators. Slightly over 12 percent of the Class of 2019 indicated interest in an arts or humanities concentration in The Crimson’s freshman survey. More than twice that number said that they planned to pursue a degree in just two departments: Government and Economics. Graduates’ academic interests have echoed this pattern—data from the University shows that 14 percent of matriculants from the Class of 2014 concentrated in the humanities, an 8 percent drop from just 10 years prior.

Students and faculty flow in and out of the Barker Center, home to the Humanities Center at Harvard, on a Monday morning.
Students and faculty flow in and out of the Barker Center, home to the Humanities Center at Harvard, on a Monday morning. By Annie E. Schugart

This trend is even more pronounced outside Cambridge. Nationwide, the percentage of humanities degrees awarded to undergraduates have dropped by nearly half since the late 1960s, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

One frequently cited reason for this drop is the supposedly anemic job market for arts and humanities majors, as opposed to the options available in pre-professional fields such as engineering or computer science. Studies tend to support this link—recent graduates who studied engineering during their undergraduate years have unemployment rates about 5 percent lower than those who pursued the arts.

These statistics are often bemoaned as the offshoot of a “crisis” in the humanities. Yet Stallings, the founder of the Harvard Undergraduate Humanities Initiative, cautions us against applying labels too generally. Specifically, he cites Harvard’s name brand as a mitigating factor for humanities students entering the job market. “We’re graduating with a Harvard degree,” he points out. “And really, no matter what it says below Harvard University, it’s going to have clout in various different places in society.”

Against a broader national dialogue of “crisis,” Harvard students find themselves in a unique position. While this anxiety remains a factor in determining their choices of concentration, they can also count on Harvard’s prestige when considering their future employment.

The Finer Things

Leah Reis-Dennis ’13 and Caitlin M. Ballotta ’14 haven’t moved far since graduating. Both work in the Barker Center across the hallway from their respective alma mater fields, History and Literature and English. Although they aren’t graduate students, both still spend their days reading poems.

Leah Reis-Dennis ’13 and Caitlin M. Ballotta ’14 work in the "Poetry in America" office at the Barker Center. Their day-to-day work ranges from close reading poems to coordinating legal agreements with artists’ estates.
Leah Reis-Dennis ’13 and Caitlin M. Ballotta ’14 work in the "Poetry in America" office at the Barker Center. Their day-to-day work ranges from close reading poems to coordinating legal agreements with artists’ estates. By Annie E. Schugart

Three years ago, when neither of their jobs existed, none of this would have been possible.

Reis-Dennis and Ballotta work as producers for “Poetry in America,” the popular HarvardX course taught online by English professor Elisa New that examines the works of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and countless others. In this role, they enjoy a rarity among the post-college workforce: careers that are still directly tied to the scholarly interests they held as undergraduates.

Working for the course, where Reis-Dennis serves as executive producer and Ballotta as an associate producer, involves putting to use many of the skills acquired during their collegiate years. Neither has a “typical day.” Their work ranges from close reading poems to coordinating legal agreements with artists’ estates, and even the odd exchange with one of the course’s many celebrity guest stars—from poet Claudia Rankine to hip-hop star Nas.

Leah Reis-Dennis ’13 works in the office of the "Poetry in America" course, located in the Barker Center. During her time at Harvard, Reis-Dennis concentrated in History and Literature.
Leah Reis-Dennis ’13 works in the office of the "Poetry in America" course, located in the Barker Center. During her time at Harvard, Reis-Dennis concentrated in History and Literature. By Annie E. Schugart

Reis-Dennis has been involved with the course from the start: New was her senior thesis adviser. She notes that while Harvard graduates in the sciences and social sciences have long been given opportunities to collaborate with professors after graduation, the idea of similar work in the humanities is still new and evolving.

“We have four people working full-time,” she says. “That’s a lot of jobs we’re creating for graduates of the humanities.”

Four hundred miles south in Washington, D.C., Jessica C. Salley ’14 is hard at work on another of Harvard’s new humanities initiatives. As a post-graduate fellow in communications and outreach for Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard’s Byzantine and pre-Columbian research library and collection, she manages new initiatives designed to foster connections with other institutions and the general public.

For Salley, a former Crimson multimedia chair and joint History and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations concentrator, one of the greatest perks of working in the humanities is its gentler schedule. “I think that’s generally true of humanistic people. They prefer the finer things in life. The time is just as valuable to have on your own as money could be.”

If these jobs—substantive, yet rooted in Harvard’s humanistic tradition and resources—seem too good to be true, that’s because they often are. “It’d be a little idealistic for me to say that you can find your dream job right off the bat,” Reis-Dennis acknowledges. “I like to joke I’m the only person who studied poetry in college who’s now making a living working in poetry.”

Amanda Peery '14, an English concentrator, opens a book to read in her office at Harvard University Press. Peery said than a career in publishing “doesn’t start in college at all in the sense that you will have a job lined up when you graduate from college... There’s no straight path like there is for finance or consulting.”
Amanda Peery '14, an English concentrator, opens a book to read in her office at Harvard University Press. Peery said than a career in publishing “doesn’t start in college at all in the sense that you will have a job lined up when you graduate from college... There’s no straight path like there is for finance or consulting.” By Annie E. Schugart

Even those interested in a more traditional path into the humanities, such as publishing, may face limited job options upon graduation. Amanda Peery ’14, a former English concentrator, remembers the fierce competition she faced when applying to her current position as an editorial assistant at Harvard University Press.

“I just saw it one day, and I applied within five minutes of seeing it, which was really important,” she recalls. “A typical job opening in publishing will get, like, 500 applications in two days.”

In the face of such competition, humanities majors in search of jobs like this may need to adjust their expectations. A publishing career, for instance, “doesn’t start in college at all in the sense that you will have a job lined up when you graduate from college,” Peery continues. “You absolutely will not, if you go into publishing. There’s no straight path like there is for finance or consulting.”

Ballotta experienced this firsthand. She had no long-term job prospects lined up at graduation, save for a summer internship at Dumbarton Oaks. After that three-month position, as well as a part-time nannying job, Ballotta’s career in the humanities began to take shape.

“It kind of just fell into place,” she said, adding that she first landed a job with “Poetry in America” after a spontaneous meeting for coffee with New.

Caitlin M. Ballotta ’14 currently works as a producer for the course "Poetry in America." During her time at Harvard, Ballotta concentrated in English.
Caitlin M. Ballotta ’14 currently works as a producer for the course "Poetry in America." During her time at Harvard, Ballotta concentrated in English. By Annie E. Schugart

Not everyone is as lucky. Jobs like those under the HarvardX umbrella, the direct offshoot of one of Harvard’s degree programs in the humanities, are few and far between. Those who do attain these coveted positions are well aware of their fortune.

“I think it’s rare to go home and feel like you’ve contributed something valuable to the culture,” Peery says. “And I think just being able to appreciate that, and being able to have an ideal like that...is something you will have more support for as an English major.”

Going Pro

For those still intimidated by the humanities’ broad boundaries, there’s always another option: graduate school. Traditionally, law school has been the standby for humanities graduates looking to put their skills in argumentation and synthesis to work. Yet job prospects for law graduates today are notoriously bleak—according to recent surveys, nearly 20 percent of law graduates nationwide from 2010 are currently working in jobs that do not require a law degree.

Meanwhile, law’s more scientific cousin, medicine ,is booming, as the field races to keep up with a projected shortage of more than 90,000 doctors by 2020. Amidst this broader context, more and more Harvard students are opting for a seemingly unorthodox combination: the humanities pre-med.

It’s not an obvious marriage. The humanities pride themselves on teaching general skills—“how to write, speak, read, interpret large corpora really well,” according to English professor W. James Simpson. Medicine, on the other hand, requires a laser-like focus to scientific detail, as well as a rigid career structure. Can the two really coexist?

Evidently, yes. When we speak with Matthew E. Growdon ’07 over the phone, he’s glad to outline his journey from History and Literature to an internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Growdon, a former Crimson design editor, has long been intrigued by the humanities’ applicability to medicine. He wrote his thesis on the phenomenon of shell-shock in World War I, studying early psychiatrists’ and neurologists’ attempts to define this condition.

Located across the street from the Lamont Gate, the Barker Center is home to the Harvard Center for the Humanities.
Located across the street from the Lamont Gate, the Barker Center is home to the Harvard Center for the Humanities. By Annie E. Schugart

It may seem like a tenuous connection, but Growdon’s given this a lot of thought. Medicine, he tells us, is a fundamentally humanistic practice. The humanities’ analysis of the human condition contributes well to a sense of empathy with patients—as he puts it, an ability to see them “almost as works of literature, that I’m stepping into on a day-to-day basis.”

“There are ways in which I’ve been very grateful for that skillset,” he reflects. “As opposed to a deeper knowledge in, say, biochemistry.”

What about the notorious pre-med requirements? Growdon would tell us that they’re simply not as intimidating as we’re led to believe. He describes himself as a “stealth pre-med” in college, taking a prerequisite here and there, never sequentially. Although he graduated without completing the requirements, he finished the remainder while working for three years at a clinic before applying to medical school.

“Pre-med requirements are really seen as like this megalithic thing that you have to get through, that has some bearing on medical practice,” he tells us. “But really, not all that much.”

Pankaj K. Agarwalla ’04 agrees, to a point. He’s further along than Growdon, now a sixth-year neurosurgery resident at Massachusetts General Hospital. A former classics concentrator, he delivered his year’s Latin oration, entitled “De Hominis Harvardiensis Decursu,” or “On the Evolution of the Harvard Student.” The theme seems appropriate—Agarwalla himself studied classics at Oxford for a year before returning home for medical school. Like Growdon, he emphasizes the benefits of humanistic study to personal development.

On empathy, though, Agarwalla isn’t so sure. Although he agrees that “[t]here’s definitely a compassionate and interpersonal and social component” to medical practice, he also cautions against losing sight of the basic realities.

“I have a hard time arguing that the humanities prepares someone better for that than a non-humanities concentration,” he says. “I think that has a lot more to do with just the type of person someone is, just in terms of their care and compassion and professionalism.”

Moreover, it can be difficult to find an after-hours balance between humanities and medicine. Setting aside the time to read novels or attend the symphony isn’t always a possibility for busy medical students and professionals.

Growdon remains optimistic: “I think there are a lot of people in medicine who are receptive and interested in the humanities, in going to museums, in making music.” But he’s also honest about the challenges involved. He tries to read, when his schedule permits, as well as attend the occasional event at Harvard’s Humanities Center.

Agarwalla is taking an even longer view.

The gate to the Barker Center, home to several English and humanities courses, is located across the street from Lamont Gate.
The gate to the Barker Center, home to several English and humanities courses, is located across the street from Lamont Gate. By Annie E. Schugart

“On a day-to-day basis, as a neurosurgery resident, it’s pretty challenging to maintain any outside interests at all,” he acknowledges. Rather than keep up a constant connection, he imagines teaching the classics after retiring from neurosurgery. Yet he’s adamant that they haven’t lost any of their importance in his eyes.

“I think that the material is truly timeless,” he reflects. “I do not think that it is the end of that story in my life.”

By Day and Night

For others, that story cannot wait.

Tomi J. Adeyemi ’15, a recently graduated English concentrator, calls us over the phone at 9 p.m. It’s been hard to set up the interview, given our respective schedules and the time difference. Adeyemi works in Los Angeles, as a data analyst for Legendary Entertainment.

Tomi J. Adeyemi ’15, an English concentrator, works in Los Angeles as a data analyst for Legendary Entertainment. At Harvard, Adeyemi was aproducer for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals and a dancer with hip-hop dance troupe Expressions.
Tomi J. Adeyemi ’15, an English concentrator, works in Los Angeles as a data analyst for Legendary Entertainment. At Harvard, Adeyemi was aproducer for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals and a dancer with hip-hop dance troupe Expressions. By Courtesy of Tomi Adeyemi

“On campus, I did entertainment things,” she remembers. As an undergraduate, she’d been a producer for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals and a dancer with hip-hop dance group Expressions. “That was what I was passionate about, so it matched pretty well with what I was looking to do right after college.”

Yet Adeyemi’s true passion isn’t in entertainment—it’s in writing. She’s currently midway through writing a young adult novel in her spare time and hopes to be finished by December. After that, she says, she wants to move into screenplays.

“I had been writing stories since I was a kid, like since I learned to read,” she says. Eventually, she hopes to live out her early dream of working as a writer full-time.

This juxtaposition between work and play, day and night, is frequently the best option for those looking to follow their passions in the humanities. In particular, those who wish to pursue the arts full-time must often bide their time at a more conventional 9-to-5 job while their books, screenplays, and EPs fall into place.

Adeyemi admits as much. Unfinished novels don’t pay bills. Accordingly, she also maintains her day job at Legendary, after interning at Bain Capital and Morgan Stanley during summers in college. She sees the job as a satisfactory compromise for her long-term goals. “The things I want to do mostly involve writing,” she explains. “So while in a perfect world, I would sit around and do that all day, that would mean I would have to live at home with my parents, and that’s just not the life I want.”

Living at home with parents isn’t an option for Moeko Fujii ’15. Although she was born in Tokyo and retains Japanese citizenship, she is now an MFA candidate at Columbia.

Moeko Fujii ’15 is currently an MFA candidate at Columbia, with her goal of becoming a full-time writer.  She divides her time between workshops and a part-time role as assistant to Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker.
Moeko Fujii ’15 is currently an MFA candidate at Columbia, with her goal of becoming a full-time writer. She divides her time between workshops and a part-time role as assistant to Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker. By Courtesy of Moeko Fujii

“For me, [getting an MFA] was just the most logical decision,” she explains. “If I have a student visa, I can write, as long as I’m not earning money for it. And I already knew what I wanted.”

Like Adeyemi, Fujii’s lifelong goal has been to write full-time. She’s taking a more direct path, dividing her time between workshops and a part-time role as assistant to Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker. Although this day job would be the envy of any young reporter, she’s focusing less on the future than the present day.

“What stresses me out is less, ‘Will I be able to support my children in the future?’” she explains. “Because that feels way off—long off. It’s more, ‘What if my writing isn’t good enough?’”

Adeyemi takes this a step further. She sees her day job in data analytics not as a burden, but as an opportunity. “Any person that you would want to watch your movie or see your show or read your book, there’s a million other things that they could be watching, or reading, or doing,” she says. When she releases her own work, she plans to put her marketing expertise to use.

“It’s not about creating something that eight billion people would like,” she continues. “It’s about creating something and being able to reach the maybe, like, one million people that would like it a lot.”

Reis-Dennis understands the difficulty of balancing work and dreams all too well. As an undergraduate, she’d been lead singer for The Nostalgics, a student band, and had planned to pursue a career in music after graduating. Now, with a large chunk of her day occupied producing “Poetry in America,” making music has taken a significant back seat.

Leah Reis-Dennis ’13 and Caitlin M. Ballotta ’14 work in the "Poetry in America" course offices. “It’d be a little idealistic for me to say that you can find your dream job right off the bat,” Reis-Dennis acknowledges. “I like to joke I’m the only person who studied poetry in college who’s now making a living working in poetry.”
Leah Reis-Dennis ’13 and Caitlin M. Ballotta ’14 work in the "Poetry in America" course offices. “It’d be a little idealistic for me to say that you can find your dream job right off the bat,” Reis-Dennis acknowledges. “I like to joke I’m the only person who studied poetry in college who’s now making a living working in poetry.” By Annie E. Schugart

“I’m still figuring out the balance between my day job and my second life, as a singer-songwriter,” she says. “Because most people who are musicians really think of their day job as, ‘Oh, that thing I hate, but I do to pay the bills.’”

But for the executive producer of “Poetry in America,” this couldn’t be further from the case.

“I love what I do,” she explains. “So it’s really easy to just invest all of my energy and a lot of my time into doing this, because it’s not something that I feel is soul-sucking, or that I feel is a direct contrast to my music—if anything, they’re mutually enforcing, and mutually energizing.”

With “Poetry in America” clamoring for her attention, Reis-Dennis doesn’t plan to return to a dedicated music career in the near future. She doesn’t see the balance between work and passion as too onerous. In fact, she tells us, the process has also given her a new sense of perspective.

“I set some very defined goals for myself: I want to produce my demo EP by December, regardless of whether or not I’m doing this job. I need to keep on writing music, producing music,” she says. “And I did. And I definitely learned some good lessons, probably the biggest of which was that I don’t want to do music full-time.”

All the World's A Stage

For many arts careers, though, a full-time investment isn’t optional.

We meet Mark J. Mauriello ’15 on his last day in Cambridge. He’s moving to Berlin the next day, on a year-long fellowship he received from Harvard. It’s interesting to see him off the stage. He’s subdued in all black, but still sports his signature green nail polish. And we’ve caught him in the rare instance when he isn’t rushing off to a performance or rehearsal. “I’m in a moment of kind of taking it step by step, and not having too much of a grand plan,” he acknowledges.

It’s a reasonable pause. Mauriello, who graduated just a year shy of the new Theater, Dance, and Media concentration’s launch, has devoted himself to theater since arriving at Harvard. After starring in the OBERON’s production of “The Lily’s Revenge” as a first-semester sophomore, he stayed affiliated with the Cambridge theater throughout his college years, working as an intern and then later a part-time staff member in their marketing department. From day one, he says, he knew that his interests lay on the stage. {image id=1307245 size=large align=center byline=true caption=""For me, every second of every day is theater,” said Mark J. Mauriello '15 in the fall of 2014. Mauriello was a student actor in ‘The Donkey Show,’ a Midsummer Night's Dream-inspired interactive disco musical.}

His passion for theater was matched in the classroom. Under the mentorship of Harvard’s dance director, Jill Johnson, he crafted his own concentration, fusing together elements of dance, art history, and traditional dramatic performance. It’s easy to see this form of self-directed study as the ultimate embodiment of the humanities—applying academic focus to the art of human performance.

For Meagan A. Michelson ’10, the decision to pursue a career in performing arts was not quite as obvious. Like Mauriello, she’d been a fixture of the Harvard theatre scene, performing with groups ranging from the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players to the American Repertory Theater. She was discouraged from pursuing theater after college, however, when she was repeatedly cast in supporting roles.

Instead, Michelson, a “self-proclaimed book nerd” and English concentrator, imagined getting a Ph.D. in English, or fusing elements of English and dramatic arts in a non-performance-based career such as directing or dramaturgy. “I was going to go the more literary, academic route, even if it involved theater,” she says.

After Michelson moved to New York post-graduation, though, she realized that she was happiest in the spotlight.

“I would see shows and think, ‘I have to be up there, I have to be singing,’” she remembers. “I like looking at scripts, I like developing new works, but I have to be performing. That’s what makes me feel happiest, that’s what fulfills me the most.”

Since her realization, Michelson has delved into the performance and audition circuit head on, getting a MFA in musical theater from the Boston Conservatory along the way. Because she was mostly self-taught, she saw an MFA as a way to ensure she would be competitive alongside other professionals.

Meagan A. Michelson ’10, an English concentrator, received an MFA in musical theater at Boston Conservator after Harvard. "Broadway isn’t going to call immediately, and even if it does, what’s next?” she said. “So it’s helpful to have another skillset to be able to teach private voice lessons, or maybe teach acting at a conservatory or liberal arts college.”
Meagan A. Michelson ’10, an English concentrator, received an MFA in musical theater at Boston Conservator after Harvard. "Broadway isn’t going to call immediately, and even if it does, what’s next?” she said. “So it’s helpful to have another skillset to be able to teach private voice lessons, or maybe teach acting at a conservatory or liberal arts college.” By Courtesy of Meagan Michelson

What’s more, Michelson’s degree has given her an alternative plan for when callbacks are slow. While some aspiring actors, like Mauriello, throw themselves into theater unconditionally, it’s more common for college graduates to hedge their bets with a professional degree of some sort, while maintaining an eye toward future career changes.

“You’re going to have to pay the bills. Broadway isn’t going to call immediately, and even if it does, what’s next?” she muses. “So it’s helpful to have another skillset to be able to teach private voice lessons, or maybe teach acting at a conservatory or liberal arts college.”

Finding A Thesis

So what can you do with your humanities degree?

Every Harvard graduate we interview presents us with a different answer. Some have pursued their humanistic interests full-time; some have thrown themselves into business or graduate school. With such a broad cast of characters and perspectives, it’s difficult to draw out a neat and all-encompassing conclusion.

As a humanities professor might say: How can we synthesize and present the information?

For starters, we look back at what patterns we do see. Every graduate we talk to is an extraordinary communicator—articulate, well-spoken, engaging. Each is passionate about their undergraduate field of study, regardless of the degree to which they’ve retained it in their post-college experiences. Almost all of them reference the general skills they’ve gained from studying the humanities, and point out how these skills can be cross-applied to their own careers.

With few exceptions, they agree upon one thing: There’s no “wrong answer” for Harvard humanities graduates entering the workforce. Prior to attending college, Adeyemi remembers believing that respectable graduates could only end up in three different fields: law, medicine, and business.

“If I went to any other college, I probably would have been pre-med,” she says. “But I felt like I had freedom to do what I wanted to do at Harvard.”

Part of this, of course, lies in the prestige and connections within Harvard itself.

Adeyemi, for example, first heard of positions at Legendary Entertainment through an alumnus at the company. Salley, Reis-Dennis, and Ballotta are all employed by institutions directly sponsored by the University, and both Michelson and Mauriello have traveled with Harvard fellowships in theater. And the Harvard name brand, of course, carries implicit clout in any field.

Amanda Peery '14 showcases a few of the books she has work on during her time at Harvard University Press. Peery concentrated in English during her time at Harvard.
Amanda Peery '14 showcases a few of the books she has work on during her time at Harvard University Press. Peery concentrated in English during her time at Harvard. By Annie E. Schugart

Harvard students, in other words, are afforded an almost unique opportunity: to concentrate in any field, without excluding the vast breadth of options awaiting them upon graduating.

In another light, Harvard’s emphasis on a pure liberal arts education creates an environment in which bridging the gap between any field of study and any post-collegiate career becomes less daunting.

“Someone who takes Ec 10 isn’t more prepared to do their job than someone who took English 40. Everything in the real world is brand new if you go to a liberal arts school,” Adeyemi says.

At Harvard, she adds, you don’t directly learn how to make a spreadsheet or write an email. You learn how to read, write, synthesize, and communicate—skills that will apply to life after an undergraduate education regardless of the concentration printed on your diploma.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: October 29, 2015

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the role Leah Reis-Dennis ’13 plays in producing the course “Poetry in America.” In fact, Reis-Dennis is its executive producer, not content director.

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