Are Degrees in Humanities ‘Employable’?

Updated: May 14, 2020

After I graduated from high school, I told my parents that I wanted to major in English and their hearts sank into their stomach. I was asked a countless number of times what I was going to do with a humanities degree by my relatives. People kept telling me to major in something useful, and sadly most of the students who choose to major in humanities get a similar kind of reaction from their parents and relatives.

Choosing a major is arguably the most important decision a student has to make and sometimes it involves going against your parents’ wishes. This is more common for students who decide to pursue humanities. People often tend to think that subjects such as history, philosophy, art, religion and music are of no use and have no value. As a result, a majority of students opt for STEM- science, technology, engineering and mathematics- because they’re told that it is ‘in demand.’ The society perceives degrees in humanities as a joke and people who choose to study humanities are often mocked at by others because their schedules seem to be “free” most of the times. But times are changing as employers are starting to hire people with humanities background.

On contrary to the popular belief that humanities has no value, it actually teaches innumerable and invaluable skills. Students learn to creatively and intellectually express their thoughts and opinions. They develop the ability to pose meaningful questions and have multiple viewpoints. According to Catherine Rampell’s February 2012 article in the New York Times, the most valuable skill sets are the ones which computers can’t offer, like empathy and sociability. These are the skills which one is more likely to learn in an English course than in an algebra course.

Many students lack communication skills, which is what a humanities degree emphasizes on. Employers prefer students with superior communications skills. Having the ability to think critically makes humanities major stand out. Curiosity is yet another trait which a humanities degree focuses on and which employers are looking for. Matthew Prince, the CEO of cybersecurity firm Cloudfare, recently told the New York Times about his criteria for hiring people- “I look for an incredibly high degree of curiosity—people who just relentlessly want to learn new things and put themselves in new situations—and a high degree of empathy. If people are curious and empathetic, they can learn just about anything.”

Another misconception about humanities majors is that they do not have high paid jobs or are not successful in life. A study conducted by The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) revealed that people who majored in humanities annually earned $2000 more at their peak earning ages (56-60 years) than people who majored in professional and pre professional tracks. In addition to this, according to another recent piece of research by The University College London (UCL), 60% of the US CEOs had a degree in Humanities.

Richard Plepler, the CEO of HBO, is a living example of a successful humanities major. He did a B.A. in Government from Franklin & Marshall College and encouraged students to pursue liberal arts by famously quoting Game of Thrones in his speech “While the road ahead is dark and full of terrors, it is hardly insurmountable.” Other examples of CEOs who majored in humanities include— Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s CEO who was a history major, Judy McGrath, ex- CEO of MTV was an English major, Robert Iger, CEO of Disney was a communications major. Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Emma Watson and James Franco are some amongst the many celebrities with a humanities degree.

According to a survey of recent college graduates conducted by Georgetown, the average unemployment rate for graduates in humanities is 9% which is approximately the same for computer science and math majors (9.1%). In fact the most underemployed major is business, because there are plenty of business majors but not as many jobs. STEM and humanities major having an equal unemployment rate proves that it’s not your degree that counts, but how you use it.

A lot of students who are forced to choose STEM, never graduate or take extra years to graduate because of their lack of interest, which is why students should be encouraged to choose majors which they’re passionate about. Setting aside all the stereotypes, a number of humanities major go on to have successful careers not only in their fields but also in fields like law and politics. Success is about the person, not the major.

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