Achieving your goal of earning a college degree puts you on the right track to build a career in a variety of jobs and industries. If you majored in Liberal Arts, you probably have many skills that hiring managers and businesses value highly. Let's explore the liberal arts degree job opportunities, and we'll hear from one recent graduate who's using her education as the basis for a successful career.
How does a liberal arts degree prepare me for a career?
According to a survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), decision-makers place a high value on the following skills, ranked from one to eight:
- Effective oral communication
- Critical thinking and analytical reasoning
- Ethical judgment and decision making
- Ability to work in teams
- Ability to work independently (prioritize tasks and manage time)
- Self-motivation; ability to come up with ideas and solutions
- Effective written communication
- Ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings
Does this sound like anyone you know? Earning a liberal arts degree means you've likely done most of the following, all of which helped you build the skills employers want:
- Given oral presentations on complex subjects
- Read and analyzed texts
- Worked on group projects
- Written essays and research papers
- Developed time management skills
Peers who graduated with a STEM degree may already have a clear career path in front of them, but as a liberal arts major, you have the luxury of options. According to the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, 82 percent of liberal arts graduates find jobs — good ones — and go on to make an average salary of $55,000 (about $20,000 more per year than those who only have a high school education).
Should I earn an advanced degree?
Graduate school may feel like a natural next step for many liberal arts grads. Depending on the program, earning an advanced degree can boost your annual income by more than $20,000 a year. Of course, graduate school usually isn't free. Whether or not to pursue a graduate-level degree is a significant decision (and one that you don't have to make immediately after graduation). A year or two in an entry-level job can give you a clearer perspective on how (and if) you'd like to further your education.
Jillian's story: How to find a job with a liberal arts degree
For Jillian Leonard, a manager at Verizon's headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina, entering the workforce with a bachelor's degree in English from Gardner-Webb University was daunting. It was 2008, the Great Recession was raging, and finding a job was difficult.
"I felt like I didn't have a career path," she recalls. "I had pursued this writing degree, but I didn't want to be a journalist, and I didn't know what else to do."
In her first year out of college, Leonard cycled through a few entry-level jobs before setting her sights on a large corporation with a training program where she could develop her leadership skills. She landed at Verizon as a customer service care representative and advanced quickly, thanks to the soft skills she developed as an undergrad.
"In 2014, I realized while I had moved up quite a bit, I was still in a coordinator role, and I needed to have more of an edge with my education if I wanted to move up into leadership," Leonard explains. She enrolled in a master's program for management science and business analytics and used Verizon's tuition assistance program to pay for it.
"I was an analyst at this point, and the classes and the work I was doing were in sync. It helped me get promoted from analyst to senior manager," she explains.
So, would Leonard still pursue that English degree if she had to do it all over again?
"Absolutely. My liberal arts degree is huge," she says. "My master's gave me credibility but having the writing basis and communications is a huge part of what we do in my department, and I'm a go-to for editing and creating and developing communications. A big part of what my department provides is technical information in a way that normal people can understand and use."
At this point in her career, Leonard is experiencing the boost that many get in their late 30s and early 40s, when many liberal arts degree-earners "hit their stride and experience rapid wage growth — the fastest among majors," according to the Strada Institute.
And unlike Leonard, who was job hunting during the economic turmoil of the Great Recession, recent grads are entering a robust economy and job market with low unemployment rates and many opportunities.
What can you do with a liberal arts degree?
While median liberal arts degree salaries may never reach what the average engineer earns, you have an excellent chance of mapping a successful career path that suits your interests. Think creatively, be curious and do your research to find the best options out there.
Here are just a handful of the liberal arts careers you could pursue:
- Elementary and middle school teacher, including being an art teacher
- Graphic designer
- Education administrator
- Social worker
- Retail and online sales representative or supervisor
- Marketing manager
Marketing, in particular, is a growing field for liberal arts majors, including PR and general communications. Job options include managing social media, public relations, and event coordination.
A liberal arts major's wide breadth of knowledge can open doors for jobs you'd never considered — if there's a website or an organization you're fond of, start by checking their job listings or reaching out directly. And don't rule out tech-field jobs in web development or content marketing — interestingly, according to the Strada report, liberal arts majors are just as likely to land a tech job as technical graduates.
Perhaps you're interested in government and public policy, or have a specific cause you're passionate about, like childhood hunger or literacy. Find organizations in those spaces and see if they have opportunities available. The takeaway? You might be surprised which opportunities you find when let your interests guide you.
What about networking?
Joining professional organizations is another way to explore roles and industries, and many of those organizations provide professional training and local chapters for networking. Here are a few examples:
- American Marketing Association
- Public Relations Society of America
- Government Social Media Managers
- Social Media Association
- Event Service Professionals Association
Once you score an interview, practice makes perfect. Prepare for the interview process as you would any other topic of study. Research the company thoroughly. Read through these interview tips and grab a friend for some role play.
In the end, liberal arts grads need to be persuasive when convincing a potential employer that they have the right skills to succeed. If you believe in yourself, you won't have much trouble making a hiring manager believe in you as well.
If you're qualified and fully prepared, you should have confidence you'll get the job. To get ready for each step of the hiring process, start by reviewing our month-by-month guide for graduating liberal arts majors. Then prepare each of these steps:
Write Your Resume
- Understand what makes a liberal arts major's resume stand apart from other fields of discipline.
- Pack your resume with statement-making action verbs.
- Design your resume to get past Applicant Tracking Systems to actual human eyes.
- Start with LiveCareer's Resume Builder as your basis for a professional, polished resume.
Hone Your Unique Cover Letter
- Understand the four skills liberal arts majors should feature in their cover letter.
- Use LiveCareer's Cover Letter Builder to guarantee you're putting your best self forward.
Prepare for Interviews
- Be ready for the top five questions all liberal arts majors should expect.
- If you expect a case interview, learn how to handle any scenario thrown at you.
- Arm yourself with these four tips for negotiating an entry-level salary.