Contrary to what your business major friends, your cousin in IT, or your parents with a second mortgage have told you, a liberal arts major is not the fast track to a career in burger-flipping. According to John L. Seidel, the director of the Center for Environment & Society at Maryland’s Washington College, “A liberal arts degree gives students a broad background so that they can better adapt to the changing job market and switch jobs when they want or need to.” That’s good advice because employment trends continue to change the dynamics of the job market, calling for flexibility and a versatile skill set to adapt to changes.
There are ways to enhance your liberal arts major while you’re a student so that, when you emerge from the university and head into the job market, you can find a lucrative career that validates your choice of a major field of study. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the average starting salary for a liberal arts major is now $40,000 per year. Areas of study ranging from communications to sociology demonstrate the versatility of a liberal arts degree. Here is a sampling of a few of the jobs that await successful liberal arts majors.
Communications majors work in an impressively diverse array of fields including journalism, advertising, public relations, human resources, international relations, film and music production, psychology and sociology, information service, social work, education, and law. Salaries vary within the fields; a journalist’s average salary in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $44,360; a human resources manager’s annual earnings for the same year were $111,180. What’s attractive about a communications major is its broadness; students can concentrate on either the multimedia aspect or the business angle of the field. It’s common for communications majors to complete an internship; not only does this provide practical training for the inexperienced student, but it builds a resume and introduces the future employee to networking.
This area of study is an interdisciplinary field that provides an awareness of the concepts, issues, and theories which form the foundation of the criminal justice system. Careers include working for local, state, and federal agencies, private investigation, and corrections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that police officers can expect a growth of seven percent employment in the profession from 2010-2020; private investigators and detectives are set to experience a 21 percent growth in employment. A criminal justice degree opens the door for students who want to investigate crimes, administer court proceedings, provide counseling, and supervise convicted offenders. The average 2015 annual salary for a police officer with a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice is $41,368; a case manager’s average annual salary is $31,862.
For an economics major, there are opportunities for advancement in corporate, government or nonprofit accounting, finance, sales, and analyst functions, and someone with a graduate degree in economics can hold his or her own with someone who has an MBA. The higher the education levels of an economist, the higher the pay and the level of employment; the annual salary for an economist ranges from $40,000 to $200,000. In a 2015 article in Forbes Magazine, economist Bill Conerly offered some career advice for economics majors. “Most of the jobs that economics majors get do not have “economist” in the job title,” he explains. So what should you be looking for? Someone with an economics degree might work as an analyst, tracking sales, costs, and profits for a business to see how that compares with the national average. Conerly advises the economics major to go out and identify the jobs that will make use of his or her training, even if they don’t, on the surface, seem to be relevant. He notes that the Internet and health care sectors, in particular, have expanding need of analysts.
Graphic designers are typically employed in advertising, public relations, publishing, or specialized design services. Their creativity provides a visual image for a business product by developing the layout and production design for magazines, brochures, advertisements, and reports. To do their work, graphic designers are adept at using their own artistic skills as well as computer software. Growth in the field is expected to increase by seven percent from 2012-2022, with an annual median salary of $44,150 as of 2012.
Sociologists delve deep into the who/what/when/where/why of social groups, their origins and behaviors, and interactions. Much of what affects legislations, laws, and trends comes from data compiled and analyzed by sociologists. Sociologists are employed in colleges and universities, state and local governments, consulting services, and research organizations. While it’s possible for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree to find a job in a related field such as public policy, a master’s degree is needed to advance. The annual salary of a sociologist ranges from $55,000-$97,000. The job outlook, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics projection, is good: faster than average at 15 percent. Now that you’re sold on the idea of pursuing liberal arts major, you’re still not sure how to convince your family and friends that there’s going to be a job at the end of your educational training. Your liberal arts degree might not initially yell out “Hire me” to every employer, but your ability to communicate in speech and writing, your attitude, confidence, leadership and integrity make a good impression in an interview. That leads the employer to perceive you as a potential asset to the staff. Liberal arts graduates are generalists who have learned a little about a lot of areas in their program of study; that versatility gives them the edge when topics turn, as they inevitably do, to subjects that are not strictly related to work. Yes, everyone oohs and ahhs over the computer science graduate who can translate the intricacies of technology into a database. And as long as people get sick, there will be careers for nurses; as long as there are children who grow into adults, there will be teachers. No one disputes the value of pursuing an education in a career that’s clearly defined. However, today’s interconnected employment force and global economic network mean that, to paraphrase a cliché, it’s not who you know, it’s who you are. Your personality doesn’t come with a university degree, and yet it’s your personality that will be evaluated first when you’re on a job interview. As new employees begin their jobs, they’re trained to use the equipment and technology in their field; they adjust to the rules and procedures that define their work. But not all skills can be taught. Whether you’re a card-carrying member of Mensa International or the heir apparent to the Silicon Valley technology crowns worn by Kings Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg, you’re not a millionaire yet. You have plenty of interviewing ahead of you, and that means knowing how to present yourself in the best possibly manner. A liberal arts degree provides you with the opportunity to learn about a variety of different areas of interest, along with the practical skills that they require, including communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, research, and writing. Liberal arts majors, in addition to an education that builds a foundation of knowledge and self-expression, often benefit from internships that give them practical experience in the job market. If you need one more bit of ammunition to convince everyone that you’re not planning to spend four years of study so that you can end up living in your parents’ basement, consider this 2015 article in Forbes Magazine. Not exactly known for its pie-in-the-sky whimsy, Forbes Magazine published an article entitled That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket.
The inspiration for that title came from an article about Slack Technologies, a “unicorn” start-up with 1.1 million users and a private market valuation of $2.8 billion The company’s editorial director, Anna Pickard, has a theater degree from Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom. She ended up in the tech field, where she creates replies to the users who write “I love you, Slackbot” in response to the messaging software’s avatar. For her work, she receives good pay and great stock options. Her boss, Stewart Butterfield, the Slack CEO whose stake in the company could be more than $300 million, has an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in philosophy and the history of science. An entrepreneur with a philosophy degree? Learning to think outside the box is an asset in any field, and Butterfield credits philosophy with teaching him how to write clearly and how to follow an argument, the latter a talent of great use in running a meeting. Or a company. A report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that humanities and social science undergraduate degree holders earned on average $2,000 more annually between the ages of 56 and 60 than those with professional or pre-professional undergraduate degrees like nursing. A liberal arts degree is a sound investment in your own economic future. But remember, it’s not just about the money. Finding the profession that suits your personality and skills is important; college lasts four years. The rest of your life will last a lot longer. Choose a major that enhances the quality of those years. A liberal arts degree might just be the one that does that for you.