American/United States Studies/Civilization  Interviews


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dotWhat to Expect

Are you interested in women's history? How about the history of newspapers? Or hair art? American studies programs cover all this and more. Students have a wide variety of options.

Ann Birney has a degree in American studies from the University of Kansas. She says that the best thing about the program is the freedom students have to pursue their own interests.

"You can work on virtually any topic, anything about change in American culture over time," she says. "My colleagues have studied county fair buildings, newspaper history, the history of girls' basketball in Iowa and hair art!"

However, she cautions that freedom can be a drawback.

"Because [the program] is so flexible, you have to be a self-starter, self-motivated, and really have a sense of what it is that you want to study."

Birney says that undergraduate students can pursue a variety of interests and still do American studies at the graduate level.

"Really, anything relates [to the field], although some American history is a must," she says.

Gail Ballantyne studied American studies at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She has since moved on to reporting for a television station. She says that she wanted to get a more wide-ranging education than what she saw offered in journalism schools.

"I wanted something that would give me a broader background in English, politics, history and art history, so I chose American studies."

She says that her program had two classes that were specifically categorized as American studies. The rest of the major "borrowed" classes from the history, politics and English departments.

How to Prepare

Former University of Kansas student Paul Haughey suggests high school students join the school debate club or another activity that develops public speaking abilities. He also advises first-year university students not to agonize too much over picking a major.

"Take classes you're interested in," he says. "Graduate schools [and] employers don't care if you have a 4.0 -- they look for well-rounded students who like a challenge."