Future jobs for liberal arts majors: What are the job prospects?

When picking a college major, consider what gives you the best chance at a job right out of college.

When picking a college major, consider what gives you the best chance at a job right out of college.

Worried that your humanities major might be dooming you to a life of ramen noodles from your basement apartment at your parent’s house? Well never fear. A recent study from the AAC&U and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems has shown that liberal arts majors do have a shot at not only gainful employment, but also a career that equals the economic opportunities of graduates with a professional or pre-professional degree. So what are the job prospects for a liberal arts major? What future jobs are in store for you?

Long-term job prospects

There seems to be a lot of talk recently about the value in a liberal arts education, even though many people say that degrees in the humanities don’t offer the same job prospects that other courses of study do. However, on January 22, 2014, in “Liberal arts grads win long-term” for Inside Higher Ed, Allie Grasgreen reported that a study by the AAC&U and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems found, over the long term, liberal arts majors do just as well earnings-wise.

The study showed that, compared to graduates in professional or pre-professional programs, liberal arts majors earn more on average at their peak-earning age (56-60). Both groups still lag behind the salaries of those with engineering and math and sciences degrees.

Grasgreen concluded, “Employers consistently say they want to hire people who have a broad knowledge base and can work together to solve problems, debate, communicate and think critically, the report notes – all skills that liberal arts programs aggressively, and perhaps uniquely, strive to teach.”

Improve your future

That is not to say that liberal arts majors should just sit back and relax while reading Henry James. There are things you can do during your college years to increase your earning potential and make your future a bit brighter. According to Mary Beth Marklein’s August 27, 2013, article, “How to turn a liberal arts degree into a paycheck” for USA Today, it wouldn’t hurt college students studying the humanities to pick up a few technical skills along the way.

A study conducted by Burning Glass, a Boston-based labor market analytics company that works with colleges, employers and recruiters, found that picking up skills in these eight categories can help:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Business
  • Social media
  • Graphic design
  • Data analysis and management
  • Computer programming
  • Information technology networking and support

The study found that “Most [skills] can be acquired through internships, an academic minor or similar experiences,” Marklein wrote. The study also found that “Liberal arts graduates with complementary technical skills in one or more of those eight categories could compete for an additional 862,000 jobs.”

Banish the skills gap

Do liberal arts majors suffer from a skills gap? David DeLong suggested ways to combat that impression in his February 4, 2014, blog post “How liberal arts colleges can stop fueling the ‘Skills Gap’” for the Harvard Business Review:

  1. Stop debating the value of a liberal arts education. DeLong writes, “It’s not the value of liberal arts that needs to be debated. It’s how skills acquired with the degree are recognized by students and communicated to employers.”
  2. Change the career support system at universities. The whole college, including staff, students and parents, must work to support the personal and career development of their students.
  3. Confront the skills gap. DeLong noted, “A lot of schools need to reinvent their traditional career services function so it provides leading edge tools and tutoring to prepare students for the ‘real world.’”
  4. Convince students to fully engage. You have to be willing to put in the time and effort to master skills, such as extensive networking, in-depth industry research, resume writing and interviewing, so you can find a job after earning your degree. 

So are you a liberal arts major worried about your long-term job prospects? What steps have you taken to boost your employment potential? Let us know in the comments below.

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