Why a Humanities Degree is Worth the While

Go to college. Earn a degree in a specific career. Get a job in that field.

That’s the formula, right? Many people approach college in just that way. That’s well and good for some. But for those who want to learn more about how the world works, ideas from around the globe (both current and past) and how to improve yourself overall as person, that’s a formula that leaves you out of the loop.

Unless, of course, you decide to chuck all the conventional advice and earn a degree in humanities.

Will doing something like that destroy your chances for a successful career? That’s what many well-meaning people may tell you. But the opposite may be true. Earning a humanities degree can be worth the effort.

You Can Go Into Any Field

At its core, the humanities offer a broad educational foundation in areas such as languages, philosophy, art, literature, history and writing. These subjects prepare students for different fields, while also supplying them with skills and knowledge that employers want.

For some ideas, check out these five career options for humanities majors.

You Can Get Good Jobs

Research by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) found that graduates with humanities degrees spent as much time on management and supervisory tasks as part of their job as those with other degrees. They also were more likely to work in sales and marketing, teaching and professional services.

The study also found that almost a quarter (23%) of all humanities graduates are employed in entertainment, the arts and media. They are also employed at all levels of education, in management and in business and financial operations.

Soft Skills are Valued

A humanities degree offers foundational knowledge across a wide range of areas. You’ll know your Voltaire from your (Immanuel) Kant from your (Friedrich) Nietzsche, and how Rene Descartes lit the western philosophical rocket that’s still flying today.

Humanities graduates also are educated in thinking for themselves, problem solving, doing research and in communication. All of that translates into success in the working world – particularly in business and technology.

While you can always go on to learn the technical skills in specific occupations, such skills as foreign languages, written and verbal communication, understanding underlying economic issues that power geopolitics and reading comprehension are valued. Although it may seem hard to place a quantitative value on simply being a well-rounded, charming person, hiring managers (and fellow employees) want to people like that in their organization.

Your Pay Will Catch Up

Humanities graduates may not necessarily come out of college earning the highest salaries, but they eventually catch up. The AAAS study found that while they may have made a median salary of $52,000 in 2015, lower than those with career-specific degrees such as engineering ($82,000), they eventually close the gap. 

Humanities grads also move into a variety of fields, some of which pay well. There are one million people with humanities degrees who have become managers, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and 600,000 work in business and financial operations. 

You’ll be Satisfied

Humanities graduates had a high favorable response to this question in the report: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” More than 80% of those who graduated with a humanities degree between 1960 and 1979 replied favorably to this question, as did 70% of respondents who graduated between 1980 and 1999.

About 60% of graduates earning a humanities degree between 2000 and 2014 said the same. But the numbers suggest that humanities graduates become more satisfied with work the older they become.

Taken together, it’s clear to see that earning a degree in the humanities is not a waste of time. For society as a whole, having people with knowledge in a variety of areas is beneficial. And businesses want people with a well-rounded education that combines soft and hard skills.

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