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What can you do with a humanities major? More than you think

As the U.S. economy rebounds and companies continue adding jobs, it won't be finance or technology prowess they want most from new hires -- it's communication and critical thinking skills they'll be after. The National Association of Colleges and Employees reports that the quality employers most want from applicants is the ability to communicate effectively (BLS.gov/opub). That must be why a recent Georgetown University study found that information studies majors had a higher unemployment rate (14.7 percent) than English majors (9.8 percent) or history, religious studies and philosophy majors (9.5 percent).

"I say, 'Get me some poets as managers,'" said the late multimillionaire, philanthropist, and Newsweek owner Sidney Harman. "They contemplate the world in which we live and feel obliged to interpret and give expression to it in a way that makes the reader understand how that world turns. Poets, those unheralded systems thinkers, are our true digital thinkers. It is from their midst that I believe we will draw tomorrow's new business leaders."

Maybe that humanities major isn't looking so bad now, huh?

Long the butt of jokes and disparaging remarks, the humanities major has gotten a bad rap for its perceived inability to lead to a decent job, creating what Bracken Darrell, the CEO of Logitech, calls an "endangered species." The ability to think and write well, along with interpersonal skills, problem-solving and analytical abilities, and other high-touch skills such as empathy are all highly valued by today's best employers, and they're found sorely lacking among today's college graduates. After all, these soft skills can't be outsourced or automated.

Jobs typically associated with liberal arts majors -- such as English, journalism or art -- are thriving, and the pay's not too shabby, either. Take a look at this sampling from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2012-2013:

  • Public Relations Managers and Specialists - These fields are expected to grow at a faster than average 21 percent between 2010 and 2020. In May 2012, the mean annual wage for public relations specialists was $61,980, according to the BLS.
  • Psychologists - Demand for psychologists is projected to grow 22 percent from 2010 to 2020, also faster than average. The BLS reports that clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned a mean annual wage of $72,220 in May 2012.
  • Graphic Designers - Employment of graphic designers is expected to increase by 13 percent nationwide this decade. While those working in print may see employment decline, those in computer systems design and multimedia should see explosive growth of 61 percent. In May 2012, graphic designers earned a mean annual wage of $48,730.

What may be surprising, however, is the number of jobs available to humanities majors that are not typically associated with the field. In a recent survey of business and nonprofit leaders, the Association of American College and Universities reveals that 93 percent of employers believe "a candidate's demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate's] undergraduate major."

In fact, a long list of incredibly successful businessmen and women began their careers as liberal arts majors. Mitt Romney; Peter Theil, co-founder and CEO of PayPal; Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express; former Disney CEO Michael Eisner; CNN Founder Ted Turner; former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy; and FDIC Chair Sheila Bair are just a few of the notable names that hold degrees in the humanities.

The research, analytical and interpersonal skills gained in a humanities program can lead to a host of careers outside the field. Surprisingly, among those accepted into medical schools in 2010, 51 percent were humanities majors. That same year, nearly half of those in Stanford's business school entered with an undergraduate degree in the humanities (news.stanford.edu). And Forbes.com reports that a study by a Chicago State University professor found that the top ten majors with the highest law school acceptance rates included philosophy, anthropology, history and English.

According to the NACE, humanities majors can choose from a wide range of career paths, depending on their specific concentration. Here's just a few examples of occupations graduates might consider:

  • Market Research Analysts - Market research analyst positions are expected to see job growth of 41 percent between 2010 and 2020 period, says the BLS. Bachelor's degrees in social sciences, communications or math are usually accepted for this high-paying job, which saw a mean annual wage of $67,380 in May 2012.
  • Human Resources Managers - Those working as human resources managers -- a job that should grow by 13 percent this decade -- come from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from finance and business to psychology or education.
  • Medical and Health Services Managers - Because analytical, communication, interpersonal and problem-solving skills are key necessities in medical and health services manager positions, a bachelor's degree in a humanities subject, paired with additional post-graduate training in health care administration, could lead to this job that's expected to grow by 22 percent from 2010 to 2020.

As outsourcing and automation continue to erode a large percentage of strictly left-brained, white-collar jobs, experts believe the skills typically associated with humanities majors will be increasingly coveted by employers.


Sources:
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, by Daniel H. Pink, 2006, Riverhead Books
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012
"Employment for Humanities Majors is On Par with Math & Sciences on Hound.com," PRWeb.com, July 5, 2013
"It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success," Association of American Colleges and Universities
"LOGITECH CEO: 'I Love Hiring English Majors'," by Vivian Giang, Businessinsider.com, June 20, 2013
"11 Reasons To Ignore The Haters And Major In The Humanities," by Max Nisen, Businessinsider.com, June 27, 2013
"30 People with 'Soft' College Major Who Became Extremely Successful," by Carolyn Cutrone and Mix Nisen, Businessinsider.com, Dec. 18, 2012
"The skills of the humanities provide more than students believe," by The Editorial Board, University of California, Riverside Highlander, June 25, 2013
"Is it now 'uncool' to major in the humanities?" by Cynthia Haven, Stanford News, Feb. 10, 2011
"Does Your Major Matter?" Forbes.com, Oct. 29, 2012
"What can I do with my liberal arts degree?" by Diana Gehlhaus, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Winter 2007-2008