A liberal arts education prepares students for a wide range of occupations rather than for one specific career path. However, there are some jobs that draw liberal arts majors in large numbers. Read to find out what these are.
If you’re majoring in the liberal arts, you’ve probably heard the following question: “What are you going to do with that?” The question can be a difficult one to answer, and the reason lies in the definition of a liberal arts education. According to a 2017 article by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “[i]n the broadest sense, a liberal arts education is an approach to learning that involves diverse coursework so students develop a range of knowledge.” That is, rather than developing professional or vocational skills, a liberal arts education develops general intellectual capacities such as the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and solve problems creatively. Instead of preparing students for a specific career option, these skills are useful and necessary for a wide range of occupations. This flexibility can be both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, you have the freedom to choose from a variety of career options, but on the other hand, it’s up to you to narrow down your interests and figure out what you want to do after you graduate. For liberal arts majors, the answer to the question “What are you going to do with that?” is highly personal and will vary widely from person to person.
That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t general trends in employment among liberal arts majors. If you’re feeling lost about your post-graduation plans and are not sure how to begin your job search, understanding these trends might be a good place to start. Last year, Edmit posted a blog titled “Should I Major in the Liberal Arts?” The article looked at the median mid-career earnings, unemployment rates, and most common occupations for workers with a terminal bachelor’s degree in English language and literature, history, and liberal arts. Here’s what we found: for English, the most common occupations were in management (20 percent of workers), office (15 percent), sales (13 percent), education (11 percent), and the arts (10 percent). A similar trend was found among history majors, the most common occupations being in management (18 percent of workers), sales (16 percent), office (15 percent), education (11 percent), and business (6 percent). Finally, for liberal arts majors, the most common occupations were in management (18 percent of workers), sales (15 percent), office (14 percent), education (13 percent), and business (5 percent) as well.
I’m sure you see the trend: most liberal arts majors are getting jobs in management, office, sales, education, and business. But what about their specific job titles? For more information, we can turn to a 2017 publication by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Using American Community Service data for liberal arts graduates under the age of 35 who were employed full time in 2015, the report found that the top 5 occupations for English language and literature majors were elementary and middle school teachers, secretaries and administrative assistants, miscellaneous managers, secondary school teachers, and marketing and sales managers. In comparison, the top 5 occupations for history majors were elementary and middle school teachers, miscellaneous managers, secondary school teachers, first-line supervisors of retail sales workers, and paralegals and legal assistants.
Both the Center on Education and the Workforce and the Bureau of Labor Statistics looked at the most common occupations by specific majors. To learn about jobs for liberal arts majors in general, we can turn to a 2014 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which lists the top 15 professions of liberal arts graduates as the following:
- Elementary and Middle School Teachers
- Lawyers, Judges, Magistrates
- Postsecondary Teachers
- Chief Executives and Legislators
- Education Administrators
- Social Workers
- Secondary School Teachers
- Sales Representatives
- Retail Sales Supervisors
- Secretaries and Administrative Assistants
- Accountants and Auditors
- Marketing and Sales Managers
Predictably, this list includes a much wider range of occupations than the others we’ve looked at as it includes career paths for all majors that fall under the liberal arts. As you can see, liberal arts graduates have a considerable amount of flexibility when it comes to choosing their professions, which range from education administrators to social workers to accountants and auditors. If you’re a liberal arts major, chances are, you can probably find a way to connect your studies with your desired occupation. The hard part is, it’s up to you to make this connection. This can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are our recommendations for making the most out of your liberal arts degree:
Have a plan
No matter what your major is, you should have a plan for what you want to do after you graduate, but this advice is especially important for liberal arts majors. Because your major doesn’t directly translate into a specific occupation, it may be hard to decide your post-graduation plans at first. Try to identify what it is about your major that you enjoy. For some, it may be the research while for others, it may be the writing or the presentations. Once you’ve identified what you enjoy about your major, look for jobs that involve similar tasks or skills. For example, a student who loves qualitative research could get a job in sales, market research, or product development.
You’ll also want to think about whether your desired career path requires education beyond a bachelor’s degree. Some majors set you up for graduate school because there’s a huge difference in earnings between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in the same major. Additionally, in some cases, a bachelor’s degree may not be enough for entry-level jobs in your desired occupation (e.g. law, journalism). Our recommendation is to research potential career paths early so that you have an understanding of what those jobs require before it’s too late.
Pick up additional skills
Another way to maximize your success in the job market is to learn additional skills to supplement those you’ve learned in the classroom. Aside from the basics, such as familiarity with Microsoft Office, you should learn the specialized tools of your trade. If you’re a French studies major, for instance, a certificate in translation and interpretation might be a great way to improve your resume. Usually, these skills can be picked up through extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and internships, or elective courses. A good rule of thumb is to strike a balance between transferable skills, such as critical thinking, and technical skills, such as bookkeeping. A mix of broad knowledge and specific skills will ensure that no matter your major, you’re prepared for the workforce.
Gain experiences outside the classroom
Regardless of your major, finding a job or internship is one of the best ways you can maximize your success after graduation. This advice is particularly important for liberal arts majors as the work they do in the classroom tends to lean more toward theory rather than practice. Using your time outside the classroom wisely by seeking out jobs and internships will help you transition seamlessly from the classroom to the workforce. An additional benefit is that jobs and internships give you a preview of a potential career path, helping you figure out whether a particular occupation is right for you.
Learn how to market yourself
Perhaps the hardest part about being a liberal arts major is that, in a way, it’s your job to sell yourself—that is, it’s up to you to make the connection between your major and the job you have in mind. This might take some practice, but our advice is to reflect on the skills you’ve gained as a result of your major, being as specific as possible, and then find similarities between the skills you have and the ones your dream job requires. An English major, for example, might highlight their ability to write a cogent, insightful analysis of a literary work to show their aptitude for a government job that involves writing policy briefs.
For more information on what you can do with your liberal arts degree, check out this publication by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can also visit the career services office at your college or university, a great resource for finding jobs and internships related to your course of study.