There’s an interesting sort of ideological chasm that runs through the Corrigan Compound. The Corrigan Clan includes the Himmelreichs (my wife’s family) as well as a bunch of other last names since Clancy’s mother had many sisters and only one brother.

The Corrigans are not that dissimilar from my father’s family. Our parents raised in families on relatively modest means but with a priority on education that caused a significant generational shift in class. Amongst the Corrigan Clan, I am relatively uneducated with my degree limited to a BS in a family where Master Degrees, MDs, and JDs are increasingly the norm.

That’s where the chasm lies. I was raised to look at college as a vocational school. The notion that I would graduate in something unmarketable was relatively unthinkable. I could have done it, but my parents would have pulled the finance rug right out from under me. Clancy was raised in a relatively similar light with the expectation being that they were going to college to prepare for a career or at least for future career opportunities. If their undergrad degrees weren’t worth much, they at least needed post-grad plans that would pick up the slack. Clancy majored in biochemistry and psychology and her sister Ellie in something ecological, but both went on to become a doctor and lawyer respectively.

My father-in-law and Cousin Lester were talking about Zoey, the youngest of the Himmelreich girls. Zoey wanted to go to school and study French. The compromise was that she would study French and International Finance. She had some pretty nice job opportunities straight out of school (and I don’t think it was because she knew French). When she gets back from Africa (where her French is coming in handy, I suppose), she is likely going back to school to major in something.

Uncle Lester made a comment that given her smarts and charisma and beauty, it doesn’t matter what she majors in because she will do just wonderfully. Notably, Lester’s son is pursuing a master’s degree in something with virtually no marketing utility whatsoever. His daughter is still in the BA stage, but appears headed down a similar path though with the vague plans of law school if nothing else jumps at her.

Lester is a lawyer, as is Uncle Hiram. Hiram’s daughter has a degree in English from a small, expensive private school that I’m sure gave her an excellent education but did not provide a brand name that I was familiar with prior to meeting her. The other daughter majored in something equally useless (though given who she went on to marry it turned out to be irrelevant).

So back to the schism. Clancy and I were raised, as were her siblings and a couple of cousins, that college was meant to be vocational. Obviously, Lester and Hiram raised their children with different priorities. My initial inclination was to chalk it up to wealth with the more middle-end of the upper middle classdom that drank and partied at the Corrigan Compound insisting that college degrees mean something marketable and with those at the upper-end of the UMC not being so concerned. There may be something to it, but it’s an imperfect correlation. As was my attempt to align it to political party preferences.

Instead, I think it comes down at least a little to perceptions of the value of money. Or maybe the value of security. The purpose of money to the Trumans, I think, is more about security than anything else. If money is to mean anything, it is to mean aborbing the financial impact of temporary unemployment, a mold infestation, or a broken down car. Without that, they can’t enjoy all the goods that money can buy. Along those lines, the money spent on college is supposed to go towards that security for my brothers and I and if it doesn’t further our security then it is money wasted. While it’s always possible to do well career-wise without a college degree, having that degree (in something useful) provides a degree of flexibility that make the likelihood of finding secure employment greater and the fear of not being able to find it somewhat more distant.

I would guess that Lester and Hiram (or Hiram’s wife, at any rate), view it all a little different. To them, the point of making money is so that their kids don’t have to live their life trying to minimize the fear of unemployment. It’s less about the security that money can buy and more about the freedom. The fact that they have daughters that can marry future breadwinners (as Hiram’s older daughter did) probably helps, though Clancy’s parents wanted to make darn sure that they would not be dependent on any such contingency and Lester’s uselessly-degreed kid is a son… so maybe not.

Now, my inclination is naturally to say that my parents are right and the others are wrong. That security is more important than freedom and so on. That’s certainly that attitude that Clancy will make. Then again, given that those were the priorities I was raised with, that is precisely what I would say, isn’t it? Though there is a point in my life where I might have said differently.

When I was younger, I had visions of maybe moving to New York City and putting my creative talents to work as a comic book writer. I would like nothing more than to be a writer of some sort with comic books being slightly preferable to movies being slightly preferable to novels being slightly preferable to newspapers. And I held out hope that it could happen someday and maybe it might. But it’s unlikely. I hope to get published someday, but it’s extremely unlikely that it would ever be my career.

There was always the thought that it was something I could do but at the least I needed another vocation as a fall back. What I don’t think I fully appreciated was that there really is a tradeoff between one or the other. By going to college and getting a degree in CIS, I was more-or-less charting a path that did not include New York City or Los Angeles and attempts at being a writer. If anything does happen, it’ll have been due to the luck of marrying who I did. But ultimately, the caution that directed me to get a conservative and marketale degree made making any sort of “leap of faith” that moving to NYC or LA would entail virtually impossible.

And what use is money if not to afford your kids the opportunity to follow their dreams?

It’s an attractive thought, but one I can’t buy into. Maybe because buying into would mean that the decisions I’ve made have been wasteful. But I think it has more to do with my rejection of the implicit lesson that I associated with what Lester was saying: You’re smart; you’re talented; the world will figure something out for you. Maybe there is a point on the economic spectrum where you really can expect that sort of thing. Maybe Lester’s kids and Clancy and I were actually raised at or above that point in the spectrum.

But for good or for ill, I was taught the lesson that the world owes you nothing and will take from you whatever you have unless you do what you have to in order to prevent that from happening. Our children will likely be raised in a better financial position than we were. Perhaps a good enough position that the fear of falling will not be enough to keep them from following their dreams with a reckless abandon. I really don’t know what to think about that.

Category: School

About the Author

14 Responses to Your Money or Your Major

  1. Peter says:

    You can major in electrical engineering and still study 18th-Century art in your spare time.

    You can’t major in 18th-Century art and still study electrical engineering in your spare time.

  2. Linus says:

    My sister and I were definitely raised more like Lester and Hiram’s kids than you and Clancy. She’s been somewhat of a princess, graduating with a degree in Psychology from a small liberal-arts school and lots of debt (which Mom, Dad, & her new husband have helped her pay off). I was a bit more practical, especially in choosing to go to a school that paid half my way, but I still bounced around from Physics to Chemistry to Geology and ultimately decided I didn’t want to be a Geologist. I doubt her degree has helped her get the jobs she’s had, although she’s back in school part-time for her masters and she plans to go into counseling. Even though my degree isn’t directly related to my work, I wouldn’t have my current job without a science degree.

    You could say our degrees are expensive pieces of paper, but we used our college years to figure out what we really wanted to do. In my case, I think it took a lot less time to do this in school than it would have out in the job market. So I think I got a lot out of it – at least commensurate with the cost.

    One benefit of the Lester/Hiram approach is the confidence and self-esteem it can build in young people. I’ve always felt like I could do pretty much anything I set my mind to, and so far I’ve been pretty successful at that.

    Peter, do you know enough about both electrical engineering and 18th-Century art to be confident of your statement? Seems pretty biased to me.

  3. PeterW says:

    What do you mean when you say that a practical degree meant that you couldn’t do the bohemian thing? I sure think you could have; the only difference would be a few years of lost time. What your practical choice *did* do, however, is raise the opportunity cost of such a choice. As a high school graduate, you could either do art or at best get a low-level job with hope for promotion. As a college graduate with a CS degree, you could either do art or get a much better job.

    So what looks like closing off a path is simply a reflection of how you were (potentially) materially much better off after college.

  4. ? says:

    Mrs. ? and I both got the Lester/Hiram approach growing up. Her parents more closely approached, or approached more consistently, Lester/Hiram levels of wealth, but the messages were similar. There was alwyas the expectation that we would go to college, and during my disinterested elementary school years, my poor performance was pointedly shown to be a threat to that expectation. But there was no guidance as to how to choose a college or major. It was always, “Do what you enjoy,” or something.

    Mrs. ? majored in liberal arts, and regrets it. I kind of stumbled into engineering as a high school freshman, for which I am grateful. Both of us counsel our daughters to think practically about choosing a major. We’ve never hurt for money, but we don’t have the kind of wealth and connections in which we could launch our daughters in, say, publishing careers after they got English degrees.

    This probably won’t be a problem. Our older daughter wants to be a doctor. Our younger daughter wants to be a, um, cowgirl. I wonder if that’s a union thing.

  5. trumwill says:


    That’s right, at least up to a point. You can teach yourself a lot of the stuff, but in some (though not all) cases the lack of formal university certification will lock you out. But if I had a kid that taught himself or herself how to program computers, I would be mildly more indulgent of a less worthy degree. My friend Kelvin got an English/Philosophy degree but learned computers back and forth so he’s doing okay. Then again, I’m not sure how I would feel about bankrolling a university education that didn’t assist him in making a living. Come to think of it, I don’t know how I would stack up “the college experience” against the five years in the working world if they forewent it. I’d have to think about that.

  6. trumwill says:


    With some kids, you can do that sort of thing. If I had a son like you or my brother Linus, I’d be a lot less concerned than if I had a son like me. If I hadn’t any guidance, I would have majored in theology or philosophy or something like that. The most useful thing I might have considered would have been journalism or political science, neither of which would have landed me well (absent going to law or graduate school).

    Having a science degree, even a broad one, can be useful in its own right. Particularly if the kid is smart. One of my coworkers and my ex-roommate have degrees in physics. The former is a software development testing analyst and the latter got a couple of job offers from chemical companies (though he opted for grad school).

    It is a shame that people have to chart their course at 18 before they really know what they want to do. I would be supportive of a regime in which college education were more general and less narrowly vocational. But that’s not the regime we’re under, so I’m resistant to a kid of mine electing to find himself in college.

  7. trumwill says:


    You are, of course, right. It was the opportunity costs holding me back. In fact, I would have been better suited to go to NYC with my degree than I would have been without it. At least I would have had something to pay the bills while I stalked the people at DC Comics.

  8. trumwill says:


    There’s a reason that my brothers and I are technical. Well, Ollie’s biology degree didn’t help him all that much in getting his database engineering gig, but it got him in the door at a pharmaceutical company that turned him into a database guy. And as I said, science degrees can be useful in their own right. He actually went to college with an eye towards pre-vet, but couldn’t cut it and biology was the easiest landing. My brother and I chose our respective universities in part because of what we had already decided our majors were going to be.

    My wife actually went to college with the intent of being an engineer and ended up deciding to be a doctor. Don’t know that she ever wanted to be a cowgirl, though.

  9. ecco says:

    I don’t begrudge forcing kids to get certain degrees because many jobs these days lock you out with certain credentials. However, I definitely don’t agree with the system the way it is. In some ways, I wish we prohibit people from going to college till they were 25. I think most people would benefit from experience before gaining credentials. Of course, that change is a pipe dream and never likely to be embraced in any possible future. It’s just like most college degree paths in my experience are too focused whether it’s the liberal arts or science/engineering. Most of the science/engineering courses I took were too focused on minutiae whereas its the broader concepts that were more important. I guess this seems a little too negative on the whole college experience because significant growth occurred, but I still think the system could be made better. Likewise, for the people who gain the skills without the requisite degree they shouldn’t be kicked out of the system.

  10. trumwill says:

    It’s a shame that we can’t provide “the college experience” any other way. A whole lot of that comes not from the academics, but of being in close proximity to thousands or tens of thousands of your peers. It would be pretty cool if we could have “young adult villages” (with “young adults” being actual adults and not how we use the term today). But in a way we’re too wealthy a society for that sort of thing. Even colleges have moved away from communal living arrangements and towards single-occupant dormitories and whatnot. Plus, it’s harder to convince people to live in such close proximity without the economic class guards that colleges can provide.

  11. thebastidge says:

    I’ve got some thoughts perking aournd about all this, but can’t get anything concise to op out just yet. I may have to write an etnire post at my own place to express it,

  12. Kirk says:

    “It would be pretty cool if we could have “young adult villages” (with “young adults” being actual adults and not how we use the term today).”

    Here in FL, we have a lot of 55+ communities. If those are legal, I don’t know why you couldn’t set up something similar for youngsters.

  13. Peter says:

    55+ communities have to offer special services for older people in order to be exempt from discrimination laws. These consist of things that help seniors continue to live independently, such as transportation, handyman services, wheelchair/walker rentals, and so on. I don’t see how a “young adult village” could find a similar loophole in the discrimination laws because people in their 20’s do not need special services to live independently.

  14. trumwill says:

    One difference between 55+ and 18-25 communities is that there are not a whole lot of people under the age of 55 that would want to live there. For one thing, they’re awfully expensive with amenities you’re unlikely to need. And who wants to go out of their way to live with senior citizens?

    YAVs, on the other hand, would likely be much cheaper. So you’d get older people wanting to save a buck and you’d get 30-somethings that wish they were 23. So you’d be much more likely to see lawsuits flying.

    On the other hand, I don’t view lawsuits as being the biggest problem. The biggest problem is getting people to accept the limitations. In college, the tradeoff is that you’re living on campus or are closer to classes. And even there, there has been a shift towards less communal living. After college, people with more options will want to exercise those options and the people that lack the options to do that… well, that’s a somewhat more motley crew.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.