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I am in high school but soon I will be going to college. I already have a hard time dealing with the silliness of high school (on an intellectual level), and in particular I have 0 interest in humanities courses (frankly I think literature is pathetic thing to study). I am interested only in maths and science.

When I get to college, I plan only to take maths and science courses and not attend any humanities courses even if they are required as part of the core curriculum. What are the potential ramifications of this assuming the college is one of the prestigious ones like Harvard/MIT. Will a bad grade in humanities course mean less opportunities later on?

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    @PatriciaShanahan But the question title says "... not taking any humanities courses?". – scaaahu Feb 14 '15 at 4:44
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    If you go to a college where humanities courses are required for everyone (which includes the vast majority of reputable US institutions, including, yes, Harvard and MIT) then the effect of not taking / passing those courses is rather predictable: you will flunk out of college. – Nate Eldredge Feb 14 '15 at 5:08
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    English in high school sucked. Whoever invented the K-12 English system really wanted to make people feel miserable. Humanities at universities are typically tolerable. – Compass Feb 14 '15 at 5:48
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    There are a lot of really cool humanities courses that you probably haven't seen in high school. I never did acquire a taste for literature, at least not for its formal study -- but I loved my coursework in philosophy, in history, in music theory, and in Foreign languages. I recommend you keep an open mind. – Anonymous Feb 14 '15 at 6:14
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    @JessicaB I read the question as asking about the postgraduate consequences of either completely skipping or getting bad grades in humanities. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 14 '15 at 12:06
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What are the potential ramifications of this assuming the college is one of the prestigous ones like Harvard/MIT.

I don't think I've ever been in a humanities courses that had more than 30 people in it.

It is likely the professor will take attendance or require participation to ensure that coursework is being done. In most cases, you have to get a certain minimum grade for core as well.

Looking at Harvard's core in Computer Science as an example:

You have to take 7 of these types courses, and receive a passing grade in each of them.

  • Foreign Cultures
  • Historical Study A
  • Historical Study B
  • Literature and Arts A
  • Literature and Arts B
  • Literature and Arts C
  • Moral Reasoning
  • Science B
  • Social Analysis

So if you decide to just skip them entirely, that will be probably 7 x 3.5 credits = 24.5 credits worth of courses. Let's say you pass with a D, a fantastic 1.0 for GPA calculations.

With an estimate of 120 credits for graduation, and As in every other class (95.5 credits), you'll end up with a GPA of 3.39, which is likely to impact graduate school or professional school applications.

If you AP out or something, and end up with only needing 90 credits for graduation, it becomes a 3.18. I'm pretty sure it's all but impossible to get into any sort of graduate program with a GPA that low.

I'd also like to point out that writing skills are typically looked upon positively as well, in both research and academia.

  • +1 for calculations but do employers or grad school programs care about grades in humanities? Why not grades in relevant subjects only? Not quite sure how it works in America – Jack Bauer Feb 14 '15 at 19:41
  • @Jack employers never care about grades, but grad programs usually compare applicants on paper first before offering interviews, and it'd be a pretty horrid thing to just have a slew of bad grades simply because you didn't feel like it. – Compass Feb 14 '15 at 23:48
  • Well yeah I guess, but why aim to get an A+ in some humanities class when you could just pass the class and use your time better for major subjects? – Jack Bauer Feb 18 '15 at 11:00
  • @Jack No one said you should aim for 100/100. 90/100 is good enough at most institutions that don't track +/-. – Compass Feb 18 '15 at 14:09
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Science is not merely something that you do in isolation; science is a communal activity by which hundreds or thousands of people work together on a shared path to discovery. Therefore to practice science you need not only to uncover new truths or at least posit new hypotheses; you must communicate them to the other participants in the institution of science, be it orally or in writing. The most brilliant thinker fails to do science if she fails to convey her discoveries to others. Your humanities will teach you a great deal about how to communicate more effectively; they will help you become a much better scientist.

So in short, what happens if you take no courses in the humanities? You will be a less effective scientist than you otherwise could have been.

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    I really think doing scientific research, talking to classmates and professors about science topics, and publishing papers will teach me a lot more about conveying ideas and communicating with others than will reading Kant or writing some dopey philosophy essay. No? – mynameborat Feb 14 '15 at 5:37
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    @mynameborat: With that attitude, yes. – Corvus Feb 14 '15 at 5:39
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    Then don't write a dopey essay. Take some philosopher whose ideas you think are bunk, and write an essay ripping him to shreds. This kind of thing, if done well, is typically welcomed by philosophy professors. – Anonymous Feb 14 '15 at 6:25
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    While I agree with your underlying point, it should nonetheless be considered that some engineering and related disciplines have to spend a fair amount of effort to make students forget much of what they have learned and practiced about writing essays in humanities-like contexts. At least in my experience, what was praised as an elegant writing style for philosophical debates, poetry interpretation etc. is generally considered negative for technical or science-related documents, where simple language and little variation in synonyms or sentence structure are often preferred. – O. R. Mapper Feb 14 '15 at 10:26
  • @mynameborat: It will teach you different things, which may be more or less useful in different situations. Knowledge isn't a linear order. – Nate Eldredge Feb 14 '15 at 19:11
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I think, to be very honest that you have wrong expectations of college life. The goal of college education is to offer a holistic educational environment that helps you to become a better person overall. This means you have to challenge yourself in subjects you never heard of and presume you are not interested. For example, it is fashionable to understand how to design a computer interface that could act interactively with its user like iOS Apps. What kind of menu should I use? How should the user understand the functions of my software? But there is no such class offered ten years ago in most universities. The courses offered by the university that is mostly relevant to you would be graphic design, art history, photography, architecture, etc in the art division of the university. So if you miss these classes, you will miss an opportunity to become someone you could be, guided by an expert much more experienced than you are. My point is not original - it has been well articulated by Steve Jobs in his famous graduation speech.

To me, it is precisely that a subject is "far away" from my current field that makes it worth exploring in college. I am far from perfect and if I can remedy some of my deficiencies during college life, why should not I do that? For example, a health dose of history and literature (like knowledge of the Biblical literature) makes my trip in Europe much more enjoyable. To look at the painting of Da Vinci or Michaelangleo in the Vatican and do not know how to begin appreciate it properly would be a shame. I am not advocating for learning everything just because it might show up once at some crucial moment in future. But I think it is at least helpful to know what one's weakness is. And obviously I would not know how much I do not know unless I step into the classroom listening the actual lecture. The better the university is, the more diversity they have in the classroom and the more individualized the education will be. Unless you are sure your interest with humanities is negative infinity, such that no positive input would be able to change your attitude, I think it is not too late to start from zero now.

  • I have reworded it a little bit. I do think this is the real purpose. – Bombyx mori Feb 14 '15 at 9:03
  • @Compass: It may not be the goal of every student, but I think it's usually a goal of the college (perhaps among others). If you read university mission statements you'll often find something along those lines. – Nate Eldredge Feb 14 '15 at 17:10
  • @NateEldredge You know, it's really weird to come into a thread and realize you wrote a comment at 4AM in the morning and don't recall why you said that. So I'll go ahead and delete my comment. – Compass Feb 14 '15 at 19:06
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    "The goal of college education is to offer a holistic educational environment that helps you to become a better person overall." - I don't know if this applies to other countries, but going by German curricula, this is not true. We focus heavily on a core subject, and higher education has stopped being about education as a holistic goal, it generates experts and formally trained professionals now. If anything, the assumption that higher education will try to make you a better person seems to be a wrong expectation. – G. Bach Feb 14 '15 at 19:58
  • @G.Bach: Note that offering "a holistic educational environment that helps [students] to become [better persons] overall" (emphasis by myself) is one part of this topic (which is definitely present in Germany, as well), whereas the question whether students are automatically forced to use that environment (by requiring certain non-core-subject courses), or whether a large emphasis is put on the students' own responsibility by leaving it up to everyone's individual choices whether or not to make use of that holistic environment, may well be answered differently in different places. – O. R. Mapper Feb 14 '15 at 21:05
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A fun fact: when I was in high school, I rejected mathematics as a silly and useless field that nobody would ever actually use.

Well, I was wrong, of course, but my points is that subjects as taught in high school are not at all like subjects taught at the university level. Outside of the need to stick to a state curriculum and teach to a standardized test, and in the hands of a skilled teacher who has dedicated their life to the field, a lot of subjects that seem boring and dull can come to life.

Tell you what, when you get to college, take just one humanities course and darn well try to like it. If you don't, at least you gave it a shot. From there, you can try to "cheat" your way through the system---for example, some larger schools offer "History of {Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics}" courses that you might be able to have count as humanities credit. You can satisfy your course requirements and learn more about the great minds in your field at the same time. There might also be classes that have you do literature reviews of a field of your choice--these often count for writing requirements.

Essentially, what I'm trying to say is that not all humanities courses boil down to "reading Kant or writing some dopey philosophy essay." Even at a school as small as mine, there are lots of interesting courses that fulfill the humanities requirements while still letting you work on scientific problems---and some really good courses on just the humanities too, and not taking the courses will cause you to miss out on a lot of potential learning experiences.

  • For the record, my least favorite subjects in high school, math and history, became my two favorite subject in college. I ended up majoring in math, and I still think I was correct to reject what I saw of it in high school as useless. – chipbuster Feb 14 '15 at 6:13
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I have a lot of sympathy with your viewpoint. I grew up in England, so once I had completed the O-level General Certificate of Education, at age 16, I could spend most of my time on mathematics and physics. My mathematics undergraduate program only had courses in various branches of mathematics.

I do read widely, including history and literature, but that is something I do for fun, not something anyone is forcing me to do.

The consequences of not taking humanities will depend entirely on the college and its regulations. In some cases, it would mean no degree, which would obviously mean less opportunities. You should carefully examine the undergraduate programs at each college you are considering for the subjects in which you are most interested, to see which have what graduation requirements.

I don't think Harvard would be a practical choice for you: "General Education, Expository Writing, and the language requirement combined require nine to 11 half-courses, or around 30 percent of your overall program." Graduation Requirements

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It's really simple: if you don't attend the classes, don't do the homework, or don't take the exams, you will flunk the course. (Unless of course you are a football or basketball player at certain schools.) If you flunk enough courses, or any of the required ones, you will flunk out of the university, which means you will not get a degree. The ramifications of this are that you won't get any sort of job in your field. 'Required' means just that.

What you may be able to do is to take some of the lower-level courses by examination*. Other courses can be quite interesting, and a good way to get easy As. And, if a social life is of any interest to you, the female/male ratio tends to be a LOT higher in humanities than in science & math (or at least it was when I was an undergrad).

*I did this with several of the basic ones like English 101/102 and US history, but I was over 30 at the time, and had spent the intervening years in the military and building my first business.

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It depends on what your eventual life goals are. For example, if your intent is to pursue some line of "automatic" scientific employment, like running tests in a lab according to pre-set procedures, and if that is all you plan to do in life, then avoidance of humanities courses probably won't harm your plans. On the other hand, if you plan on engaging in more adventuresome forms of employment, such as being a research scientist, or even worse, an academician, then an absolute avoidance of humanities is deleterious to your goals. This does not need to come in the form of official coursework, but it needs to happen somehow.

I do not mean to imply that knowledge of the latest au courrant theory of literary interpretation is intrinsically useful to your career as a future scientist, but lit-crit is not the whole ball of wax when it comes to the humanities (with due apologies to any lit-crit readers out there). The noted astrophysicist Arthur Eddington was one of many practicing scientists who made substantive contributions in the area of epistemology, and actually understanding (vs. merely memorizing the math) the issue underlying De Broglie-Bohm theory vs. the Copenhagen interpretation calls for a grasp of metaphysics. Insofar as your actions as a scientist have unavoidable consequences, with respect to other humans, life-forms, of physical structures, you cannot avoid consideration of ethics, and the study of history as a means of validating your conclusions regarding those ethical principles.

By "cannot avoid", of course, I mean "cannot rationally cannot" -- you can do whatever you feel like at the moment.

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