Liberal Arts Careers: 2022 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Liberal Arts Careers: 2022 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

YouTube’s Chad Hurley, Whole Foods’ John Mackey, Flickr’s Stewart Butterfield, and HBO’s Richard Plepler are CEOs of Big Companies. But they also share something else in common. That is, they all have a degree in liberal arts. They are not the only leaders who hold a degree. The British Council released 2015 the results of a study that looked at 1,700 organizational leaders from 30 countries. They found that 55% of the participants had a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts (Blochinger, 2015).

Through the years liberal arts degree has been viewed as a ‘completely unemployable’ education, but not anymore. Today the field of artificial intelligence (AI) is dominated by liberal arts graduates (Afshar, 2017). What was once mocked as the ‘fuzzy’ degree is now hailed as the ticket to Silicon Valley.

Colleges and universities offer liberal arts programs from the two-year associate and four-year bachelor’s, to the graduate levels of masters and doctorate degrees. True to its name—the Latin “liber” which means unrestricted—a liberal arts doctorate degree program allows prospective students to design their own curriculum based on their interests.

Liberal arts education develops critical thinking and broad analytical skills, independence of thought, and self-control for broader loyalty. By learning various disciplines—communication, history, psychology, literature, sociology, and philosophy—a student acquires equalitarian and liberal values, mature social-emotional judgment, and personal integration. Employees with a liberal arts background have self-assurance in leadership ability.

Liberal arts education overlaps with the general education courses of liberal arts institutions and is typically grouped into three areas—social sciences, arts, and humanities. This guide will provide information on the range of career options for liberal arts majors, including possible paths towards career advancement.

Liberal Arts Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in Liberal Arts?
  2. Liberal Arts Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Liberal Arts
  4. How to Start Your Career in Liberal Arts
  5. How can I advance my career in Liberal Arts?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Liberal Arts

Why pursue a career in Liberal Arts?

Gone are the days when a degree in liberal arts has been viewed as a very broad career that lacks focus. In fact, tech companies have been hiring more liberal arts graduates than engineers in recent years. A degree in liberal arts offers foundational knowledge across different subject areas—English, Communications, History, and Psychology—that prepare the students for a variety of career paths versus a specific career path. Employers are more likely to hire someone with a liberal arts background (Pasquerella, 2021).

In “Globalizing the Liberal Arts: Twenty-First Century Education,” Lewis (2018) explains that “a liberal arts education will become increasingly important in the 21st century because the automation economy requires more than ever that individuals develop the cognitive flexibility and the habits of mind that allow for life-long learning. The ability to learn new skills, accept new approaches, and cope with continual social change will be essential in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).” Published in the book Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Lewis (2018) cited studies that show how liberal arts shape the character of students through conversations across various disciplines, which makes them ready for any career path.

Liberal Arts career paths are usually found in the areas of business, government, education, and healthcare. Some of these roles are those in the field of marketing, human resources, advertising, communications, publishing, education, and data analytics. Liberal Arts graduates are able to employ their critical thinking and analytical skills in performing their jobs. They also have the ability to solve complex problems while understanding the ethics and moral aspects of every issue. A degree in this field can even lead to the best employee perks such as career advancement.

Careers for liberal arts majors can be found in a variety of industries. Their path tends to be broad because their core skills—communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration—are applicable to almost any type of organization.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Liberal Arts Career Outlook

According to a LinkedIn study, between 2010 and 2013, the growth of liberal arts majors entering the technology industry from undergrad outpaced those of computer science and engineering majors (Olejarz, 2017). Liberal Arts majors are trained to see the human side of everything, including data. They are able to make insights and interpretations based on what they have learned from different disciplines. These crucial skills are what businesses need, which highlights the importance of liberal arts in the data age.

The issue of employability among graduates of liberal arts degree programs is what Nicholas (2018) focused on in a study entitled “Marketable selves: Making sense of employability as a liberal arts undergraduate.” By identifying the prevalent employability narratives, Nicholas (2018) concluded that “stigmatization is a critical influence in the self-authored employability narratives, which offer a helpful sense-making process among students.” Published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, this study also reveals why liberal arts majors are able to carve out their own career paths.

Liberal arts degree jobs salary varies depending on the occupational group. The median earnings of liberal arts graduates in office and administrative support occupations is $41,950. For those in business and financial occupations, the median salary is $72,250, and for those in education, training, and library occupations the median wage is $52,380. Based on a study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), liberal arts careers tend to offer lower than average entry-level salaries, but the average wage of liberal arts majors significantly increases after at least three career shifts.

Liberal Arts provide a solid foundation for long-term employment. While real-time labor market data show how liberal arts graduates move around a lot, their career evolution is notable because after migrating between industries and occupations, they tend to gravitate towards more high-wage and high-skill job opportunities. This is because as liberal arts graduates begin to apply their core skills in the workplace, their people management, creativity, and problem-solving capabilities are illuminated. Market research analysts are among the liberal arts careers that pay well with an average median salary of $65,810, which also has the highest job outlook forecast at 18%.

RoleSalaryDemand
Human Resource Specialist$63,4907%
Legal Assistant$52,92010%
Social Media Specialist$46,9336%
Project Coordinator$ 50,90012%
Management Analyst$87,66011%
Fundraiser$59,61014%
Market Research Analyst$65,81018%
Postsecondary Teacher$80,7909%
Lawyer$126,9304%
Political Scientist$125,3506%

Required Skills for Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts graduates are known for being well-rounded individuals. They are creative, emphatic, able to conduct research, effective communicators, and critical thinkers. Liberal Arts majors think outside the box, and will not let any form of limitation get in the way of problem-solving.

Essential Skills for Liberal Arts

Research – liberal arts majors know how to conduct research to gather crucial information for decision-making. The market analyst, as well as the technical writer, conduct extensive research to produce an output that will serve the organization’s objectives.

Analytical – liberal arts graduates such as management analysts draw insights from data primarily to show the how and why of human behavior. In analyzing data, the deep cultural knowledge, as well as the emphatic nature of the liberal arts major is displayed.

Communication – the liberal arts graduate knows how to express thoughts and ideas verbally and through writing. The historian, the curator, the archivist, and even the fundraiser know how to harness the power of rhetoric.

Critical thinking – the liberal arts major that takes on the role of a social and community worker, or a health educator, knows how to use critical thinking skills as one tries to influence the community towards a common objective.

General Skills

Forward-thinking – liberal arts majors are characterized as keen observers and explorers. They are effective as postsecondary educators as they motivate students to keep moving forward towards their goals. Liberal arts as postsecondary instructors provide inspiration.

Innovative – liberal arts majors are problem-solvers. From the advertiser to the graphic designer, the management analyst to the fundraiser, these roles constantly innovate to maintain competitiveness in their respective fields.

Creativity – the unrestricted spirit of liberal arts majors enable them to display creativity in the field of advertising, communication, history, human resource management, social and community service, and most especially in the field of education.

share of liberal arts graduates of management positions

How to Start Your Career in Liberal Arts

A career path in liberal arts can be very exciting. Since the liberal arts program covers a broad range of disciplines, there is a tendency to view the graduates’ future careers as directionless. But several studies have established that while liberal arts graduates seem to start behind other professions as they enter the workforce, they quickly catch up and even surpass graduates of other professional disciplines because of their propensity to move fast towards high-skill and high-wage professions. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors may have an advantage in their first jobs, but by age 40 the earnings of social science and history majors have caught up (Deming, 2019).

The two-year associate program in liberal arts focuses on developing communication and analytical skills, including cultural literacy. The disciplines that range from the humanities to social sciences are aimed at teaching students to analyze issues, formulate reasoned conclusions, and effectively communicate analysis.

A bachelor’s degree in liberal arts program focuses on helping students build a valuable skill set that different industries and career fields will find important in the workplace. These include critical thinking skills, communication skills, analytical skills, organization, and time management abilities. An official high school transcript or GED is required for admission to both the associate and bachelor’s programs.

What can I do with an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts?

Human Resource Specialist

The human resource (HR) specialist focuses on employee concerns and performs tasks across all departments of the organization. Aside from facilitating the process of recruitment and employee engagement, an HR Specialist guides employees throughout the onboarding process and responds to queries on policies and employment.

Median Salary: $63,490

Legal Assistants

Legal assistants or paralegals assist lawyers by maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents. Legal assistants are usually part of the office and administrative occupations.

Median Salary: $52,920

Social Media Specialist

If you are fond of creating content and sharing it online, then this role might just be a perfect fit. The social media specialist is constantly interacting with the public through different platforms, maintaining an online presence with the aim of building a brand’s reputation.

Median Salary: $46,933

Project Coordinator

The project coordinator works with different teams in an organization by coordinating activities and resources for different projects. The primary task of the project coordinator is to ensure that all projects in the manager’s calendar are on schedule and that all the details in each project are properly updated.

Median Salary: $ 50,900

liberal arts advantage

What can I do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts?

Management Analyst

The management analyst performs an analysis of the entire organizational dynamics, culture, and processes. Strategies are formulated by the management analyst with the aim of improving the organization’s efficiency.

Median Salary: $87,660

Fundraiser

Behind every fundraising event is a fundraiser who organizes the event to raise money and other kinds of donations. From political campaigns to charities, the fundraiser’s main task is to ensure that the message of campaigns is clear enough to be able to elicit the desired behavior from potential donors.

Median Salary: $59,610

Market Research Analyst

The market research analyst guides organizations in identifying the particular products and services that are preferred by specific groups of people, which is usually based on demographics. Based on market conditions, the market research analyst prepares sales projections.

Median Salary: $65,810

Social Worker

Social Workers help communities cope with a variety of challenges—natural calamities, loss of jobs, or being diagnosed with a terminal illness. They also lead advocacies to promote specific behavior within the local community, the state, or at the national level.

Median Salary: $51,670

Can you get a Liberal Arts job with just a certificate?

It is possible to get a liberal arts job—in the field of education, creative arts, journalism, government, or any industry—with just a certificate. A certificate in liberal arts prepares students for a diverse range of careers. Flexible liberal arts certificate programs are offered by colleges and universities. Grade 12 completers are eligible to apply for admission. Most schools require applicants to be proficient in using the English language. Among the courses are English, Biology, Sociology, Religious Studies, History, Psychology, and Theater.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How can I advance my career in Liberal Arts?

Advanced liberal arts degree holders are typically employed as postsecondary teachers in colleges and universities, or as managers in the fields of marketing, arts, design, entertainment, and media. In 2018, however, a survey by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AMACAD) found that liberal arts graduates with advanced degrees are becoming evenly distributed across all industries. In general, liberal arts majors advance in their careers by acquiring practical experience, technical knowledge, and leadership skills.

Master of Arts in liberal arts is typically organized into five semesters that tackle politics and society, literature, mathematics, and natural science, history, and philosophy, and theology. There are options for affordable online master’s degree programs as well. Admission to the program requires a bachelor’s degree but no particular major is required. Aside from the transcript, the applicant also needs to submit an essay and letters of recommendation.

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program in liberal arts combines doctoral-level studies in multiple disciplines and may be designed based on a student’s unique interests. Applicants are required to submit a curriculum plan and final dissertation proposal prior to admission. While it seems flexible, admission to the Ph.D. in liberal arts program tends to be competitive, at least in the field of education.

What can I do with a Master’s in Liberal Arts?

Fundraising Manager

Fundraising Managers are experts in building relationships with major donors and companies. They identify fundraising opportunities and matching recipients. fundraising managers also harness the power of social media in creating campaigns that move individuals and groups into action.

Median Salary: $118,430

Marketing Manager

A marketing manager knows how to design the optimal mix of product, pricing, place, and promotion, and is very knowledgeable of the strategies of all market players. A marketing manager collaborates with sales, product development, and public relations to stay on top of minds of consumers. If you want to focus on marketing alone, you can start over by getting a marketing degree or take a master’s degree that concentrates on marketing.

$142,170

Postsecondary Teacher

Professors or postsecondary teachers work at colleges and universities and specialize in a variety of subjects and fields. Postsecondary professors primarily teach but are also involved in the conduct of research and experiments.

$80,790

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Liberal Arts?

Psychologist

Psychologists aim to improve processes and behaviors by studying the cognitive, emotional, and social processes. They observe, interpret and record how people interact with their environment.

Median Salary: $105,780

Lawyer

Lawyers represent and also counsel their clients on legal concerns and disputes. Most lawyers work more than 40 hours per week conducting research and analysis of legal problems. They also oversee the work of legal assistants and legal secretaries. Lawyers may work as public interest, government, or corporate counsel.

Median Salary: $126,930

Political Scientist

Political scientists conduct research to identify the origin, trace the development, and understand how political systems operate. Political scientists analyze political trends and policies based on prevailing dynamics and make projections based on past political behavior.

Median Salary: $125,350

Which certification is best for Liberal Arts?

Depending on the industry that a liberal arts major belongs to, there are a number of certifications available. For the liberal arts majors in the marketing industry, the American Marketing Association (AMA) provides certifications for career advancement. For HR professionals, the Society for Human Resource Management administers examinations to eligible HR practitioners. The Global Association for Quality Management is another major group that certifies project coordination and management practitioners, from associate level to managerial level.

median salary of philosophy majors

Alternative Career Options for Liberal Arts

Liberal arts majors can do everything because they are trained to take on different roles in the workplace, and not just specific jobs. Author George Anders highlighted this in his book “You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education,” where he asserted that liberal arts majors possess skills that are very useful in any industry.

What else can a Liberal Arts major do?

Filmmaker – The topics covered by liberal arts allow students to build a solid context behind every story, which is an important skill in storytelling. Filmmakers integrate the cultural context and social commentary in creating and developing films. Classified under producers and directors, the job outlook for this group is 10%, which is much faster than the 4% average for all occupations.

Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers – Learning how to learn is one of the best traits of liberal arts graduates, and those who end up in the software industry are great examples. More liberal arts majors are carving out career paths in the technology sector to design and execute software tests. The critical and analytical thinking habits of liberal arts majors are very useful when it comes to identifying problems and recommending ways to improve how software interacts with humans. The demand for this line of work is projected to grow at 22%.

Life Coach – A life coach assists clients in developing self-awareness to improve different aspects of their lives. Life coaches may specialize in career and professional development, while some focus on spirituality and emotional wellness. professional certifications are available for life coaches, and this field is estimated to grow at 8% through 2029.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Embrace Learning with Liberal Arts

Liberal arts education sets you up for life, and not just for a specific career. It removes boundaries, enabling you to explore career paths that may be insignificant at first glance, but turn out to be useful in your overall professional training. The STEM path may be hailed as the ‘one true’ career, but time and again, those with liberal arts backgrounds have proven to be indispensable in the overall success of organizations.

The analytical and at the same time emphatic practice of liberal arts majors plus, the social and people management skills, are consistently on top of the skillsets that employees look for. Explore your liberal arts career prospects today. Whether you are contemplating taking the college or trade school path, a liberal arts degree will give you a good headstart.

 

References:

  1. Afshar, V. (2017), The Importance of Liberal Arts in the AI Economy, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-importance-of-liberal-arts-in-the-ai-economy_b_5981cfc8e4b09d231a5182bd
  2. American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2021), How College Contributes to Workforce Success, https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/research/AACUEmployerReport2021.pdf
  3. Association of American Colleges and Universities (2014), Liberal Arts Graduates and Employment: Setting the Record Straight, https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/nchems.pdf
  4. Blochinger, S. (2015), What do the world’s most successful people study?, https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/what-do-worlds-most-successful-people-study
  5. Deming, D. (2019), In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/20/business/liberal-arts-stem-salaries.html
  6. Nicholas, J.M. (2018), Marketable selves: Making sense of employability as a liberal arts undergraduate, Journal of Vocational Behavior, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2018.09.001
  7. Pasquerella, L. (2021), What Employers Want: Dispelling Myths about the Value of the Liberal Arts, Association of American colleges and Universities, https://www.aacu.org/blog/what-employers-want-dispelling-myths-about-value-liberal-arts
  8. Slayter, M.E. (2019), In Defense of the Liberal Arts in the Age of AI, https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2019/12/19/in-defense-of-the-liberal-arts-in-the-age-of-ai/?sh=47724aed754b

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