Breaking out of the Closet of Conventional Careers
Confessions of a Closet Geek

Hannah Kaufman

Hannah Kaufman

There’s been a subtle kind of discrimination going on, and it’s one that I began experiencing long before I entered Georgetown’s hallowed halls. When people ask me what I am and I respond, I am met with incredulous stares and judgment all around. What am I?

An English and history double major.

I remember a conversation I had with one of my fellow Hoyas on our walk back from Leo’s. He was talking about his big dreams for the future, complete with a colonial-style house and his very own theater room.

“Damn, I’d love that,” I said wistfully. And his response?

“But let’s be real, how can you expect to have that on an English or history major’s salary?”

The question was a small jab made in jest, but what people, especially ambitious Hoyas, don’t realize is that their one-time comments are never really just one time. Whenever talk of school comes up, any student with a major not known for financial success stories can expect the same reaction from their peers and from their elders.

With a list of literary awards on my high school resume, I have been asked by fellow Hoyas how I ever got into Georgetown with such meager qualifications. I have been asked by friends at home why someone as smart as me would make such a mediocre move. Twice. English and history? I couldn’t have at least balanced one topic with a major more directly tailored for a career?

Those of us seeking a more liberal-arts-type education have to justify ourselves in ways that students in other schools at Georgetown often do not. It might feel that the critical comments we receive are reasonable; after all, not being in a trade school indeed makes it more daunting when contemplating my next steps into the real world.

For a long time, I wouldn’t tell my friends or people I’d just met what my majors were. I would have rather told them that I was undeclared than voice the names of the subjects that personally got my brain to change gears. Whenever I did admit it, my cheeks would flush in embarrassment as someone made a snide comment about the diminishing prospects of my future.

I often kept silent so that people would collectively stop badgering me and stop asking me how I’d support myself once I left Georgetown and had to financially fend for myself.

My first semester at college, I had a breakdown like most other freshmen probably face, complete with a round of tears and a pig-out session at Epicurean to quell my sorrow. I severely reprimanded myself for choosing Georgetown. How could I come to such an expensive place only to study such financially dooming subjects? How could I prove my intelligence to anyone if I’d already risked choosing something so fiscally unstable?

But this summer as I’ve begun interning for a literary agency, I finally find myself more at peace with the decisions I’ve made thus far.

When I come to work, I help read manuscripts that will potentially turn into polished books down the line. I am exposed to writers old and new who are dipping their toes into the literary world and hoping like me to come out unscathed. I help maintain a system that delivers something jointly tangible and intangible to people around the globe, online and in print. I know that these words laid out on a page or across a screen will have an impact on someone somewhere, changing perspectives and altering thoughts in a way more profound than money alone can do. I’m just a small cog in a large literary machine, and that position is a humbling one.

Anyone who’s heard of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is probably familiar with the comedic answer to life, the universe, and everything: apparently, it’s 42. That by itself is puzzling enough, but author Douglass Adams leaves us with an even bigger mystery; what in seven hells is the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything that precedes this answer? In his story, the earth was created as a kind of organic supercomputer to address this very problem, and the experience of every human being played a small part in eventually solving that riddle.

I don’t pretend Adams’s novel always accurately portrays the world we live in, but he exposes a very piercing point. Some would say my majors are not the smart answer, others would say they’re not the right answer – before agreeing or disagreeing, I’d first like to figure out during my time at Georgetown what questions I should be asking myself to begin with.

There’s the obvious fear that I’ll regret it when I’m older and might not be able to afford a certain way of living – but perhaps I’m carving for myself exactly the kind of life I want to live, and to be privileged enough to even have that chance leaves me with no regrets.

When I go to work in New York City every day, I look out at the same cityscape as all the head honchos and corporate bigwigs out there. Perhaps it’s not as high up in the clouds, but down at this level I can see people bustling about and I still feel connected to the things that truly matter to me.

By no means am I saying that business students and anybody else in a trade school have it all wrong. What I’m saying is that to tell us, the English and history majors, that we’ll never have it right is unwarranted. To kick us before we’re even down has dissuaded countless would-be artists, writers, and creative thinkers, as it has dissuaded me from embracing what I love over the last several years.

Thus, this inaugural column and its successors shall be dedicated to anybody with a passion they might be too embarrassed to share. It’s for ambitious extroverts doing business by day and grinding away on Clash of Clans by night. It’s for quirky introverts intrigued by the past, present, and future, whether that comes in the form of science, history, English, or anything in between. Perhaps these confessions will not be as revelatory or as far-reaching as Saint Augustine’s, but they have a like-minded purpose in hoping to convince others through my own experiences to embrace a more honest way of life.

Hannah Kaufman is a rising junior in the College. Confessions of a Closet Geek appears every other Monday at


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  1. This is cool and I admire this author. So many Georgetown students are stressed and worried about their future careers, but not only that, they aren’t really pursuing those quirky areas of interest that really excite them. I wish we had more people on this campus like the author, although I wonder how she will view in retrospect what she’s written here when her student loans start coming due.

  2. Yes, people may be a bit judgmental, but who cares? I’m a double major, English and Government, and I have no intention of going into any government-related field. Every once in a while I get a comment, but the perception of others doesn’t matter. I would not call this “discrimination,” there is no discrimination happening, just some passing and partially groundless judgement (not totally groundless though, as people like us are attending a very expensive school to get degrees that often yield not-so-lucrative careers, or careers that have nothing to do with the degrees). Seems to me that this may be a bit too sensitive; don’t put so much stock in the opinions of others, just have faith in yourself to succeed, and if you don’t have faith in your success, then why come here in the first place?

  3. Excellent column. I was an English major, and was met with: “Don’t you already know English?” I think it was supposed to be funny. But I didn’t laugh. As for the financial remarks, how dare people comment on our moneymaking potential. It’s like going up to somebody in her current job and thinking it’s “bad” and saying, “Gee, how are you even paying the rent?” But somehow it’s worse. Why do they have these subjects if we are not “supposed” to study them? When I was applying to Georgetown eight years ago, the hype was, “Med schools and law schools want humanities majors. They don’t want someone who can’t communicate.” Whether or not this is true is another story, but that was the claim. And you know what, Georgetown grad Bradley Cooper was an English major. I truly despise anyone who makes English majors feel bad.

  4. This made me so happy; I’ve been dealing with a three-semester breakdown about my major (I’m in the SFS) and finally settled on International History. I had to fight my parents for it. I feel the need to deprecate myself around others. People never think I’m in the SFS, even after I’ve told them repeatedly, unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) implying that I don’t belong in that school. It’s frustrating as all hell. But your article gave me hope that I’m not the only one struggling with this and that I will find my peace soon. So thank you.

  5. Hello,

    I am currently a graduate student at Georgetown. In my undergrad, I majored in something that is just as “useless” as your two majors, if not more.

    Don’t worry about the practicality of your majors. Do what you love and are good at – the money will follow. And besides, as long as you have the salary you need to live the life you want and provide for your family, what do you even need all that extra income for?

    When I first entered undergrad, we were sent a book with several essays about the Aims of Education, an address given annually to entering undergrads at the University of Chicago. This one, in particular, was very good and I suggest you take a look. It is relevant for you.

    Best of luck!

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