4 Ways a Liberal Arts Degree Could Benefit Your Future Career

Posted by: Sarah Roth, Dean, Arts & Humanities

student taking notes in class

Do you want a career where you’re paid well? Do you hope to find satisfaction in your work for the rest of your life? If you answered “yes” to both of these questions, then a major in the liberal arts may be right for you.

You’ve probably seen articles that claim to list the “best” college majors. And, maybe you didn’t see liberal arts majors, like art, music, history, English or sociology on these lists. The internet is full of these rankings, and many are dominated by STEM or business fields. Usually, though, these lists are based primarily on how much money graduates earn in their first job after college.

But starting salaries make up only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to deciding which major is right for you.

Here are 4 reasons why a liberal arts major may be your key to a lucrative, satisfying future.

1) Employability

While specific technological skills come and go, liberal arts graduates learn skills that will always be in demand. Majoring in the arts, humanities, or social sciences guarantees you’ll develop skills in effective communication, critical reasoning, research competency, creative thinking, ethical decision making, and intercultural fluency. Survey after survey says these are among the most sought-after skills in the job market today.

As automation and artificial intelligence take over more and more jobs, employers are increasingly looking for workers who can do things machines can’t. Don’t take my word alone on this. Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban told Bloomberg News, “there’s going to be a greater demand” in the future “for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering.”

Successful companies like Morningstar, Etsy, Slack, IBM, McKinsey Consulting, and McMaster-Carr Supply are actively seeking out liberal arts majors, according to the new book You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education by George Anders. They’re looking for employees who can innovate and inspire, be flexible and creative in their thinking, and understand and empathize with their customers.

2) High Earning Potential

Over time, graduates who majored in arts, humanities, and social science disciplines close the earnings gap with those in fields like engineering or business. A recent study by LinkedIn lists visual art as the second highest-paying field of study in the United States, less than $2,000 behind computer science. Sociology ranks third at $87,900 median total compensation. Tenth is journalism, media, & communication, while history comes in at fourteenth, above both civil and mechanical engineering. Language and literature ranks seventeen, above economics and science.

When you look at lifetime earnings, English and history majors in the 60th percentile of salaries in their occupation earn $2.76 million and $2.64 million, respectively. Business majors in the 60th percentile make $2.86 million during their lifetime. A Temple University study found that the most successful English majors make more over the course of their careers than many chemical engineers.

3) Options

Part of the reason it can be hard to tie lifetime earnings directly to college major is that any given major provides you with the tools to pursue a large number of sometimes very different professions. This is especially the case in arts, humanities, and social science fields. According to the American Community Survey 2010-12, history majors, for instance, run the gamut from management, sales, and finance to teaching, social services, and healthcare. Theatre majors work as account managers, artistic directors, attorneys, social media directors, and corporate recruiters at least as often as they work as professional actors, set designers, directors, or producers.

Overall, the New York Times reports that only a third of college graduates end up in jobs that are directly related to their majors. For example, considerably more history graduates work in the business world as financial specialists, managers, or business owners than are employed as teachers, archivists, or librarians. This is partly because employers care less about an applicant’s major than about his or her skills. As CNN Money reports, in a recent survey of 1,500 employers, only 3% of respondents considered college major a key factor in their hiring decisions.

4) Happiness and Satisfaction

According to the same survey, the top quality that does matter to hiring managers is “passion,” or “drive.” It stands to reason that if you love what you do, you’ll do it better, and you’ll be happier doing it. That’s true of the major you select as well as of a job or a career path. Pick something you care about, and success will follow much more easily, both in college and afterward. Studies have shown that people who are happier even tend to earn higher salaries than those who aren’t. (And, no, it’s not the other way around, where people make more money and then are happier! Check out Business Daily News “Reasons to Do What You Love” for proof.)

If you’re excited about your classes in arts, humanities, or social sciences, you may just find that for you a meaningful, satisfying, and profitable career starts with a liberal arts major.

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