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Rhetoric

Overview

Major in winning arguments.

Description

Ever tried to convince your parents to let you stay out past curfew? How'd that go? Chances are, you quickly discovered that saying, "everyone's doing it" doesn't get you what you want. Instead, it likely got you this response and (the corresponding paternal lecture):

"If everyone jumped off of a bridge, would you?"

Alas, if only you'd chosen to major in rhetoric. Not only are people with rhetoric degrees A+ argument-winners, they also get to enjoy a lot of really fun jobs when they graduate. These fine folks become lawyers, journalists, cultural critics, and more.

At an abstract level, pretty much anything can be considered an argument. Newspaper articles, the clothes we wear, the way food is arranged in the grocery store—all of these objects and actions are designed to be coercive. They're designed by people to send particular messages.

Like, don't vote for that presidential candidate. Or, Orange Is The New Black. 

Rhetoric classes will teach you how to decode all of these messages. How to engage with the Oz behind the curtain of everyday things. Soon, you become a hyper-aware human, a kind of superhero who is acutely attuned to the myriad arguments of everyday life.

But what can you do with all that fancy book-learnin'? Become a lawyer, for sure. After a whole lot more schooling and expensive tuition bills, that is. If that's not your bag, though, your outlook may be bleaker. Are your primary interests are sitting around, geeking out over all the signs and symbols in the world, and dissecting the ways in which humans make meaning?

Then you're out of luck. That's also known as "unemployment," Shmoopers.

We recommend you head into teaching English or pursuing writing instead. And when you're applying for those jobs, you'll probably have to explain what your rhetoric degree is all about; lucky for you, with a rhetoric degree in hand, you'll be fully equipped to argue your way out of even the most complex of paper bags.

Famous People who majored in Rhetoric

  • Socrates 
  • Tom Anderson
  • Atticus Finch 
  • Judith Butler: Okay, so she doesn't technically have a degree in rhetoric, but she's a master rhetorician herself. So we're giving her an honorary one. Mighty sweet of us, right?
  • John Quincy Adams: Adams also doesn't have a rhetoric degree proper. Back when he was in school, there was no such thing. But he was a solid enough rhetorician to argue his way into the White House and into a job teaching rhetoric at Harvard, we think he deserves an honorary degree as well.

Percentage of US students who major in Rhetoric:

1.74% (Full disclosure: This is actually the statistic for the Communications major. Rhetoric is such a unique snowflake that we're not exactly sure how many majors are out there. Maybe there's truly only one…)

Stats obtained from this source.