What can you do with a liberal arts degree? It’s a question many of us liberal arts majors must face. Some people worry that liberal arts degrees are useless in the professional world.
In reality, there are lots of liberal arts degree jobs out there. The challenge is finding the right one. Many of us with liberal arts degrees don’t have a ton of support in the transition from college to the professional world.
As an English literature major with a focus on gender studies, I felt lost at sea after graduation. I knew about the world of academia, but not how to use my English degree outside of a college campus.
Eventually, I did find lots of liberal arts degree jobs. Through this period of searching, I learned some valuable life lessons about graduating with a liberal arts degree. Read on to learn the top five.
What can you do with a liberal arts degree? Five life lessons
1. Do your research on jobs and careers
Students get their liberal arts degrees in a wide range of subjects, from literature to philosophy to art history. Most of these students don’t end up as writers, philosophers, or art historians. Their career path is less linear than say, a computer engineer’s.
Colleges don’t always give guidance on how to use your degree after graduation. If you’re a liberal arts student, it’s up to you to explore your options. Before graduation day, you should visit the career services office, do online research, and learn about potential careers.
In our rapidly changing professional landscape, you may discover jobs you didn’t even know existed. Through active research, you can discover lots of roles for people with liberal arts degrees in business, management, sales, marketing, design, education, and other areas. Plus, you’ll have a great answer when someone asks, what can you do with a liberal arts degree?
2. Identify your marketable skills
In college, I had a strong aversion to words like “marketable skills” and “networking.” This career-oriented mindset seemed opposed to the study of liberal arts. I wanted to learn about literature for its own sake, rather than use it to make money.
That idealistic mindset was all well and good until graduation rolled around! As it turns out, liberal arts education and employability are not at all opposed. On the contrary, finding a way to use your passion in your career is really empowering.
To do so, you must assess your strengths and identify your marketable skills. Liberal arts majors have many desirable skills, like critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, research, writing, collaboration, and relationship-building. To appeal to employers, you should present your skills on your resume. You should also be able to discuss them strategically during job interviews.
3. Feel liberated, not paralyzed, by all your options
The idea that employers don’t want graduates with liberal arts degrees is simply not true. There are lots of liberal arts degree jobs out there in a wide range of industries. Sometimes, though, having too many options is a problem.
As a liberal arts major, I was encouraged to explore and be curious. I studied an array of ideas and learned to cross-pollinate between diverse disciplines. When it came to narrowing down my pursuits, it was extremely difficult to choose.
Looking back, I wish I had reframed my thinking in the years after graduation. Rather than feel paralyzed by indecision, I could have felt excited about all of the options at my fingertips. Besides, it’s not uncommon for people to change jobs nowadays.
According to a survey by LinkedIn, the average person has three to four job changes before the age of 32. Gone are the days when a graduate joined a company and stayed there for forty years. As long as you can handle your personal finances, you should give yourself permission to explore different career paths. That way, you’ll find one that’s the best fit (like these 10 liberal arts degree-holding CEOs).
4. Consider graduate school or a training program
After some time exploring, you might decide you need a specialized degree or certification. With a Master’s, you could gain the qualifications for a specific career path. A training program could ramp up your resume and appeal to employers.
Before deciding, it’s a good idea to consider the return on investment of the program. While undergraduate education can be more broad-based, graduate school should ideally advance your career. Before attending, pin down the tangible benefits of a graduate degree, like a higher salary or new job opportunities.
5. Find the balance between personal passion and employability
Many graduates with liberal arts degrees felt passionate about their subjects, whether it was literature, art history, or the social sciences. If that sounds like you, then you should seek a job that incorporates that passion.
If you’re excited about your work, you’re more likely to be successful. Chances are, you’re not going to accomplish very much in a job that makes you feel “meh.”
As Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. And don’t settle.” Most successful people didn’t rise to the top of their fields doing something they found boring.
On the flip side, you can’t necessarily expect your job to fulfill all your personal passions. Consider this thought-provoking counterpoint to Jobs’s idea from author Miya Tokumitsu. She suggests that the “do what you love” mantra is a privileged point of view that most people can’t afford.
Tokumitsu says this mindset breaks down the barriers between work and leisure to the detriment of workers. You should do what interests you, but you should remember that work is still work, not a 24/7 love-fest. And you should be fairly compensated for your hard work, even if it’s in a field that you love.
Perhaps you can’t love what you do all the time, but you should find something that aligns with your interests. For me, I can’t expect to spend my days reading and talking about literature. But I can still bring my interests in writing, reading, and research into my career.
By finding a balance between your personal passions and professional development, you can make the most of your liberal arts degree. Even if it takes a few years to figure out how.
For more thoughts on the role passion plays in choosing a major, check out this intriguing article. If you’re curious about the return on investment of college degrees, head to this guide with seven high ROI majors.
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