What Is A Liberal Arts Degree (And What Can You Do With It)?
With a degree in liberal arts, you can be certain you will have a well-rounded education. You may not have training specific to one field, but you’ll earn broad skills such as independent thinking, effective communication, and commitment to learning, which are perfectly suited for a mile long list of careers.
So, if you like to learn, and you need to know, then you should definitely read on about degrees and careers in liberal arts.
WHAT DOES A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE MEAN?
Once upon a time, a liberal arts degree was considered to be nothing more than a degree you would get simply to say you had one. But now, if you were to talk to Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, then he would tell you that just isn’t so.
More than just leading powerhouse companies, Ma, along with former CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz, former CEO of Walt Disney Company Michael Eisner, and Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey have something in common: They all have finished or were on the road to getting their liberal arts degree. And it had nothing but a positive impact on their collective successes.
What a liberal arts degree DOES NOT mean is that you’ll be destined to walk a path of constant unemployment like your mom and dad seem to think.
Put it this way—unemployment rates are pretty much the same between people who have a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and those with a bachelor’s in any other field. However, if you just have a high school diploma, your chances of unemployment doubles. So, if a liberal arts degree is what you want, then you go and do you.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE?
The liberal arts programs are supposed to be exceptionally well rounded, exposing students to art, literature, music, sciences, languages, and pretty much anything else you can think of. It’s a taste of the world, tied up neatly with a degree.
And it’s not completely useless, so don’t let your friends and family convince you otherwise. But be aware: One of the main problems with liberal arts degrees is that the ROI isn’t great. So if you need to get a high paying job directly out of college to pay back loans, or just simply to live, then getting a liberal arts degree might not be the best idea for you.
HUMANITIES AND GENERAL STUDIES
You may notice some colleges offer degrees in humanities or general studies. How do those differ from liberal arts? Where liberal arts is a structured blend of arts, social studies, science, and humanities, a major in humanities focuses more greatly on languages, literature, art, music, philosophy, and religion.
General studies, depending on your school, has a curriculum designed to combine arts, science, and humanities. Or, as long as you follow the established guideline, you can pick and choose your own curriculum.
THE BENEFITS OF GETTING A BACHELOR'S IN LIBERAL ARTS
One of the nice things about a liberal arts degree is that it gives you a chance to taste a little bit of everything. Maybe it will help you to narrow down your options and lead you on a specific career path. If you choose a liberal arts degree, you will find there are so many benefits:
- You will be able to think and analyze on a broader scale because of how deep you dive into subjects.
- Being exposed to philosophy, English, and history will make you aware of more than one solution to any given problem due to having a wider educational lens.
- Liberal arts majors have a higher tendency to be independent thinkers, with a tendency toward the analytical.
- You’ll have more effective writing and speaking skills, which is due to the way you are able to look at the world.
- Many employers search for employees with the soft skills you’ll have from a liberal arts degree.
So often, when people go on interviews, they do a hard sell of their hard skills. Soft skills, the ones that are more innate, come a bit more naturally to you. Those are just as important and should be emphasized during your interview process as well. It’s those skills that show an employer what type of person you are, and whether you would fit in with the company culture.
THE CHALLENGES OF A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE
There’s a yin to every yang. Sure, the plus column is filled with fantastic reasonings to head directly to a liberal arts program. But you need to have a balance to make a better and more informed decision. Here are a couple of challenges people with liberal arts degrees may possibly face:
- Granted, you’ll have a very well-rounded education. But you probably won’t be prepared for STEM jobs or technology-related careers, so you’ll need to have more on-the-job training.
- Liberal arts degrees, in many employer eyes, are considered a useless major because they only teach soft skills like effective writing and speaking, which can severely lessen your job marketability. However, depending on which study you read, the opposite may be true: Many HR managers consider soft skills to be a bonus. But it’s good to be aware of the fact that some hiring personnel will not take this degree all that seriously. Their loss, anyway.
- Yeah, those are pretty much the only negatives to going after a liberal arts degree.
OH, THE THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE
Liberal arts degree careers are as diverse as the courses you will take. If you have your bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, it can prepare you for a massive amount of different careers. In fact, there’s no set direction; you have freedom to choose. Some of the most common majors in liberal arts are psychology, anthropology, communications, linguistics, humanities, social sciences, and many more.
WHAT IS A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE WORTH?
The most recent poll showed the average annual salary for a general studies/liberal arts major was $51K. English language and lit majors brought in an average salary of a little over $50K, and visual and performing arts showed a median annual pay of over $48K.
Realistically, your liberal arts degree will lead to a career in something unrelated. For example, since there’s really no such thing as a pre-med career, some liberal arts majors can go off to medical school to become a nurse or doctor, where salaries can soar into the six figures.
Some careers stemming from a liberal arts degree:
It’s amazing how many different careers can come from a degree in liberal arts. That’s because of how diverse and well-rounded the curriculum is. Getting a taste of everything expands your palate.
Starting out with a liberal arts degree is a great stepping stone toward a master’s or even a doctorate in anthropology. Be prepared to go to school for at least six years, between the four years it takes to get your bachelor’s degree and the two years for your master’s. Anthropology examines all aspects of life, which is along the lines of your liberal arts curriculum. There are around 300 jobs expected to be open through 2026, with a median salary of more than $63K.
As a physicist or astronomer, you will study various forms of matter and how they interact. The study of time or how the universe began may be your primary focus, but you will need a strong background in all the physical sciences, which is a part of a liberal arts curriculum. For this career, in addition to your liberal arts degree, you’ll need to get a Ph.D. in physics, astronomy, or another related field. An astronomer’s median annual salary is $104K. Entry level is over $57K, and after a few years of experience, you can earn an average of $187K.
Because there isn’t a undergrad degree prerequisite, you can pursue an MBA with a liberal arts degree. Of course, you may want to take some additional business courses to get yourself ready for the master’s degree course load, because you probably didn’t take much of them during your first four years of college. Many advances degrees in business come with a paycheck well above the national median salary range and can go well into the six figures.
All those advertisements you see on billboards and in magazines are written by copywriters. Cool job, to be able to come up with wording promoting the sale of a product! It could be a tagline, or it could be an entire page dedicated to building up a idea or item. Either way, it’s you who’s doing it, and things are flying off virtual shelves because people are buying what you’re selling. In theory. Many full time writers have bachelor’s degrees in English, communications, etc. But not all of them. Some just have that raw talent, a natural way with words. Internships and blogging are just a couple of ways to get some experience prior to your first real gig. The median annual salary for copywriters is over $61K, and more experienced writers can make over $118K. The job outlook is predicted to remain stable at 8 percent, which is in the average range compared to other occupations.
Typically, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in English, communications, or journalism if you’re thinking about becoming an editor. The good news is that these are all parts of a liberal arts program. There is little to no change in the job outlook for the next several years, despite job openings dropping by a projected 100 from those currently available. While there will still be some jobs opening within established newspapers and magazines, if you have online experience, you may have better luck in the digital space. The average annual salary for an editor is just over $57K annually. If you have a lot of years in, and quite a bit of experience, you could see a salary of over $111K.
Your degree in geography will most likely come from the liberal arts program at the university you attend. There are many careers and specialties within the field of geography. To get a deeper understanding, please read our geography career guide.
When an organization needs funding, they often have to look to agencies that offer monies. However, you can’t just show up at their doors with your hands out and a pathetic look on your face. That’s why said organizations use grant writers. You’ll be doing a lot of research and writing; you have to create a compelling reason for an agency to choose you to fund when there are so many others in the same boat. You’ll need to major in English, journalism, or another writing-intensive type of program, where you’ll get your bachelor’s degree. And most potential employers will prefer about two years of experience with proven results, as well. The median annual salary is $66K, but where you fall on the range can vary wildly.
When you have a liberal arts degree, you’ve been conditioned to think more broadly, which gives you the potential to pay it forward and expand young minds. The primary requirement for teaching is a bachelor’s degree. If you decide teaching is for you, then from there you would have to complete a teacher preparation program and take your state’s required board exam for a teaching certificate. The median annual salary range for educators is $55K, but it really depends on what level you’re teaching, and what district and state you’re in.
Two in three writers, including journalists, are self employed. To work as a legit journalist, you first need to get yourself a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, or communications. But actually, you can start gaining experience while you’re in high school by working for the school paper, yearbook, television or radio station, and taking all the English and humanities classes humanly possible. Once you’ve gotten your bachelor’s degree, find an internship (you can do this while you’re still in college). Lastly, get a job. Gain experience. Build a portfolio. And keep moving up in the world of journalism. You can expect a median annual salary of more than $61K.
Because the only prerequisite for law school is a bachelor’s degree, a liberal arts degree can prepare you for a general law degree. Once you take the LSAT and get yourself into a law school, then you can decide what specialty law you’d like to pursue. The median annual wage for lawyers is $118K.
The American Library Association recommends students wanting to pursue a library science degree to focus their undergraduate studies on the arts, history, music, psychology, or sociology—which are all areas of a liberal arts curriculum and a perfect starting point if you want to become a librarian. Once you graduate with your bachelor’s degree, you’ll head on over to graduate school for your master’s in library science. The median annual wage for librarians is $57K.
Generally, linguistics majors apply to the liberal arts programs of most colleges. Similar to liberal arts, there are many different directions you can choose to head with a degree in linguistics. For more information on linguistic careers and salaries associated with them, you can check out our linguistic career guide.
Psychology is a program in the liberal arts department of most universities. Many college programs will tell you that just because you major in psychology does not mean you’ll be a psychologist. In fact, many majors don’t go on to become psychologists at all. However, if this is the path for you, then stay on course. You’ll need to go on and get your doctorate in psychology to actually practice in the field. But a background in psychology can also be used in many other careers such as HR, business, government, and education.
Public relations, journalism, communications, English, or business bachelor’s degrees (usually in the liberal arts department) are what it takes to become a publicist. Most likely, you’ll be working in a public relations department or company, helping to create a frenzy (in a good way) around a product, person, or idea. You’ll need to get an internship and gain some on-the-job knowledge and experience, even prior to graduation. When you’ve been in the industry for a while, your salary can creep up to over the $111K mark. The job outlook is projected to grow 9 percent through 2026, which is a bit faster than the average for other occupations.
From businessmen to politicians to public figures, throughout history, speechwriters have been writing the speeches for these men and women. If this field holds appeal, then start out with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, communications, or one of the other writing-based liberal arts programs. Before you can even try to hit it big, you’ll need to gain experience. That can be done through having some freelance clients you’re writing speeches for. The median salary for speechwriters, according to Salary.com, is more than $126K. However, the pay range is great, from more than $80K to well over the $190K mark.
If mom and dad are bemoaning the fact that their child is going after a “useless” degree, you can show them this article to prove them wrong. Your degree in liberal arts is setting you up for a successful career and a bright future.