IN A FEW months, I will graduate from George Washington University with a bachelor of arts degree in literature. Judging from the huge lines of students signing up for classes in business administration last September, literature is clearly an unfashionable, if not unwise, choice for a major. How unwise really became apparent a few weeks later when Citicorp rejected my application for a Visa card.

I had pulled the application from one of the boxes posted all over campus, lured by its friendly invitation: "Juniors, Seniors, Grads . . . and Now Sophomores. Give yourself some credit." The application urges you to apply even if you don't have any previous credit history (I have an American Express card) or a job (which I do). It helps if you have at least $1,500 in a savings account (which I do), but all they ask is that you be registered as a college student.

I provided the requested information about my school, major, job, bank accounts and credit history. Three weeks later, the letter of rejection arrived. I had not, they informed me, "compared favorably to other applicants" Why? It wasn't my job, my savings account or my credit history. The sole reason offered was my: "Field of Study."

Has it really come to this? I have, in the past, been accused of being too poor to be credit-worthy, but I find this sort of academic discrimination offensive. "Field of Study"? I realize that the Citicorp people probably have better places to invest their money (Brazil, for instance) but I was amazed that they have so little confidence in my ability to get a job.

Yet that seems to be precisely the case. I looked at the application again, and there were the tell-tale words: "Your college ID demonstrates to us that you already have a full-time job -- as a college student. And it's preparing you for an even better job in the future." Unless, it seems, you're majoring in literature.

Just to be sure, I talked to Bill McGuire, Citicorp's assistant vice president for public affairs. He said concern for an applicant's major is "unfortunate, but it {the field of study} says something about a person's earning potential after college."

Citicorp is not alone in this attitude. People constantly ask what I am going to "do" with a degree in literature, meaning, how am I going to make it "pay off." This stems, I suppose, from the surety that being "literate" or well-read are not skills for which one is hired. If I were computer-literate -- well, that's another story.

In truth, I don't look on what I am learning now as some sort of a savings account for a future career. I certainly appreciate that many, many people do go to college to improve their chances for a good job. But even though I don't have a million-dollar trust fund or a job in a family business waiting for me, I've never hesitated to study something I enjoyed. When did learning "job skills" become the only reason to go to college? And when you enter college at 18, how do you know you want to be an investment banker for the rest of your life?

Iused to go to a very small liberal-arts college 90 miles north of New York. I studied literature there too, and people's puzzlement about my major was surpassed only by their bewilderment as to why I was attending a tiny, "artsy" school that no one had every heard of. When I left to work at The Washington Post, people were glad to see that I had finally done something sensible. But now I am back in school at GWU, and I invariably get that familiar old reaction when people ask what I am studying. There is a pause, and then: "Oh. You're still doing that," as though I should have wised up after spending some time in the real world.

I don't understand anymore why I have to defend my major, or describe what possible job prospects I have. I am also tired of hearing people either sneer, "What are you going to do, teach?" or kindly commiserate, "Well, you can always teach." I resent their suggestions that I have no ambition or will have to settle for a career as a professor, as if it's the last refuge of the unemployable.

I thought all this was changing. Supposedly, businesses today are looking for English majors because they are more "well-rounded." In spite of the hostility I have encountered, perhaps General Motors will soon be knocking on my door.

This is not to say that GWU's literature majors, all 77 of us, are in a snug harbor once in the classroom. I've had classes with juniors and seniors who thought that "literary naturalism" meant novels that take place in a rural setting. Halfway through the week when my American literature class was discussing "All the King's Men" -- Robert Penn Warren's dramatic, fictionalized account of Huey Long -- a hands-up poll by the professor found that only half the students had bothered to finish the novel: It was "boring" and "too hard to follow." And I heard this stunning criticism from a young woman in my class who thought that Sarah Orne Jewett's "The Country of the Pointed Firs" went so slowly that "it seemed like it was written by a retarded person."

On the first day of a class in modern southern literature this year, I overheard two freshman sigh when they discovered that the class was composed entirely of women. One noted philosophically to the other, "Guys don't take English."

I'm not sure what "guys" do take, although I have known some male literature majors in my time. What makes all such comments so striking to me is that I have had excellent classes, classes that were interesting and whose professors clearly enjoyed what they were doing. (Of course, it's much easier to feel that way when the students in front of them are listening.) I remember the thrill when I read "David Copperfield" for the first time and came to the part where Uriah Heep introduces himself. Much of the enjoyment of reading comes from finally meeting characters you've heard about all your life or encountering familiar phrases in their original context.

I am a lazy reader -- sometimes choosing to read the books I love over and over, rather than exploring something new. That is one of the privileges of reading for pleasure. And studying literature is a pleasure, generally. I guess I will suffer later when I try to enter a job market that sees what I have been studying as frivolous and of no real value. But since I've already foolishly spent more than $50,000 pursuing this degree, at least let me have a Visa card so that I can be, in a small way, part of the real world.

I won't buy any books with it, I promise.

Kristin Eddy is a news aide at The Washington Post.