What They Don’t Want You to Know About Your Liberal Arts Degree

I am the most indecisive person I know. Growing up, I was a gymnast, a dancer, a cheerleader, a swimmer; I played t-ball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, track and field—I was even on a bowling team. But don’t be fooled; I was by no means a talented athlete. I was a brat who grew bored easily and who wanted to explore every option out there. This inconvenient personality trait has followed me through my entire life, so when I graduated high school and it came time to choose my college major, I was no more certain about anything in life than I had been growing up, except for what I had always been told: only STEM and business majors make money. I was willing and ready to choose a technical or pre-professional degree, but there was only one problem: I’m terrible at math, and math is the common denominator of all of the “money making” majors. I had always been told to pick a technical major as if it was a no-brainer, as if one’s talents—or lack thereof—were entirely irrelevant in this decision; you’re doomed if you decide on a major based on what you love, unless what you love is calculus.

So, what do you do if you’re like me and you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up? What do you do if you were weaned out of STEM fields at a young age because you might develop breasts in a few years? What do you do if you’re the kind of person who needs a backup plan for your backup plan because you never know when you’ll change your mind? What do you do when you’re 18 years old and being forced to make one of the most expensive decisions of your life?

You do what you’ve always been told not to: major in liberal arts.

What can a liberal arts degree offer that a technical degree may not? Options and mobility. In other words: the ability to change your mind, to get bored, to suffer an existential crisis. The greatest strength of liberal arts and the humanities is that they are, by nature, non-specific. Specificity, as in technical and pre-professional areas of study, lends itself to strict structure both during and after one’s college experience. While an engineering major might only able to find work as an engineer, an English, history, sociology, etc. major may find that his set of “soft” skills qualifies him for a wide range of positions in a number of fields. Liberal arts students graduate with a sea of options; their degrees offer them mobility among careers and fields, within careers, within companies/organizations, and within one’s portfolio/body of work.

I’ve looked into a few of the many career options for liberal arts grads, and those I have a particular interest in are marketing, media, and law. Many—almost too many—more options can be found in Blythe Camenson’s Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors. Find it here. Sheila Curran and Suzanne Greenwald’s Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads (you can find their book here for more inspiring stories and tips) compiles stories of liberal arts majors who found success, often in areas entirely different than their majors. Here are a few examples:

MARKETING AND ADVERTISING:

Mike Bruny majored in psychology but now works as a marketing promotions associate for New Balance Athletic Shoe. While STEM majors are needed to design products, they would go nowhere without liberal arts majors to handle the marketing and advertising of said products. “Advertisers create a package to sell a product, service, or idea,” and “marketing experts help select the audiences for the advertisements” (Camenson). So, skills that liberal arts majors cultivate in their studies like “people skills, common sense, creativity, communication skills, and problem-solving ability” are more valuable to employers of marketing positions than any specific major (Camenson).

MEDIA:

Warren Brown majored in history and is now a Food Network show host. Media is a massive career sector with seemingly infinite job titles ready and waiting to find themselves a liberal arts major. Once our society became advanced enough not to have to worry about dysentery or death by plague (thanks, STEM guys), we developed a need to always be entertained and informed. Technological advancements in the 21st century opened the floodgates for this market, and it needs personable and socio-culturally-aware liberal arts majors to help channel the flow.

LAW:

Jonathan Breeden majored in political science, earned a law degree, and now works as a lawyer at a private practice. Law schools don’t discriminate based on an applicant’s major; they are more interested in one’s ability to actually survive the LSAT, the application process, and the first year. Law degrees are arguably the most flexible professional degrees both during and after school. A prospective lawyer can specialize in a wide variety of areas of law, and a licensed lawyer can practice law in any field, even if it deviates from his specialization. You might find some naysayers who will try to convince you that a law degree isn’t worth it, that the market for lawyers is inhospitable because there are more people in law school than there are practicing lawyers, but they fail to realize that this is the case because a law degree can open a multitude of doors that lead to areas other than law. A JD is a doctorate, after all.

If you’re not convinced taking advice from a junior undergrad, perhaps some of these wildly $ucce$$ful liberal arts grads in this Time magazine article will placate you in your choice or future choice to major in liberal arts:

Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO

Major: Communications

 

Andrea Jung, former Avon CEO

Major: English Literature

 

Michael Eisner, former Walt Disney Company CEO

Major: English Literature and Theater

 

Richard Plepler, HBO CEO

Major: Government

 

Carly Fiorina, former HP CEO

Major: Medieval History and Philosophy

 

John Mackey, Whole Foods Co-CEO

Major: Philosophy and Religion (dropped out)

 

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO

Major: History and Literature

 

Steve Ells, Chipotle CEO

Major: Art History

 

Alexa Hirschfeld, Paperless Post Co-Founder

Major: Classics

 

Jack Ma, Alibaba Chairman

Major: English

 

Camenson, Blythe. Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.

Curran, Sheila J., and Suzanne Greenwald. Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed, 2006. Print.

Linshi, Jack. “10 CEOs Who Prove Your Liberal Arts Degree Isn’t Worthless.” Time. Time, 23 July 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. http://time.com/3964415/ceo-degree-liberal-arts/

 

Advertisements

One thought on “What They Don’t Want You to Know About Your Liberal Arts Degree

  1. I never stop being fascinated by lists of high-profile, successful individuals who have humanities/liberal arts degrees–and these are just business people. Look into politicians with liberal arts degrees–you will be floored and surprised at how government at all levels doesn’t promote these fields more. As you note, flexibility and mobility are the biggest takeaways. Where will you go next?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s