The liberal arts & humanities have been the core of higher education since the Renaissance, but according to the Williams Alumni Review, "Liberal arts in modern colleges and universities include the study of literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics and the sciences (both the 'hard' sciences and social sciences)."
The sciences of liberal arts include subjects like biology and economics, while humanities, on the other hand, spans philosophy, literature, religion, art, music, history, and language subjects.
Online degrees programs in liberal arts & humanities are widely available as many of the core subjects in these fields lend themselves to online learning. Coursework for online liberal arts and humanities degree programs typically involves plenty of reading and writing, as well as online forums or chat rooms where students discuss course material with peers and professors.
The career paths of liberal arts & humanities grads are as varied as their subject matter. Take, for example, some common liberal arts & humanities paths:
General liberal arts & humanities degrees
Some schools offer general study programs that culminate in an associate, bachelor's or even master's degree. While these programs might appeal to students who are looking to study a breadth of topics rather than focus intensely on a single subject, there is still often some specialization involved. For example, some schools ask students to choose an academic concentration, such as art history or English. Others have students customize their program by taking classes that all tackle some theme or issue across academic disciplines, such as leadership or ethics.
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Given the freedom granted to students pursuing these degrees, they're often best suited for those who are self-motivated and independent. The College Board points out that since "typical major courses" in a liberal arts degree program can run the gamut from cultural anthropology to music history to world religions, it's important to be able to be able to "make connections between different subjects and disciplines."
Many liberal arts degree holders leverage their critical thinking and communication skills to become professionally successful. A recent survey at a Washington, DC-area school found that most of its liberal arts majors went on to work in law, education, government/public sector and banking/investment banking.
In 2009, The American Scholar reported that 10.7 percent of undergrads were pursuing a history degree in the 2003-2004 academic year, making it nearly twice as popular as the other core humanities disciplines of English (3.9 percent), foreign language and literature (1.3 percent) and philosophy and religious studies (0.7 percent) combined.
Examples of classes required to get a history degree, according to the College Board include "Modern England" and "Civil War and Reconstruction."--Generally, history classes focus on a specific time period or they cover research methods that require students to work with original documents or generate bibliographies. The College Board stresses that organization and good reading and writing skills are traits of successful history students, as is the ability to "take details and use them to draw a 'big picture' of the past."
The history major's skill in working with many documents to get an idea of past events and their significance translates into a number of careers, including archivist, curator, historian and private practice lawyer. The American Historical Association (AHA) lists even more jobs common to history degree holders, such as editor, information manager and educator. Leading off its "Careers for History Majors" Web page, the AHA sums up the advantage of getting a liberal arts education: "As a liberal arts major, of course, the world is your oyster and you can consider a multitude of careers."
Life after earning liberal arts & humanities degrees
In July of last year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported that the average starting salary for 2010 grads across all majors was $48,661. Liberal arts & humanities majors, it seems, landed slightly below the average, taking home an average starting salary of $34,747. Of course, these numbers must be taken with a grain of salt. As mentioned above, liberal arts & humanities majors can go on to work in any number of fields -- including those notorious for having high salaries like law and banking.
To some, liberal arts and humanities majors are able to benefit in the job market because they develop a unique skill set in their degree programs. In a post for the Wall Street Journal's Hire Education blog, Allyson Moore, director of the Career Center at Amherst College discusses the post-graduation plans of a number of Amherst College's liberal arts grads, stating: "Obviously, the psychology major is not what landed these students their positions in the dissimilar fields of sports, health care and financial services. Job-search success often hinges on your ability to clearly communicate the relevant skills you possess."
In her post, Moore continues by quoting Albert Einstein who said: "It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal-arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."
At a glance:
- Popular programs: Economics, biology, history, general studies
- Degree holders commonly go into:
- Communications, advertising, government and retail.
- Salary range: According to the Wall Street Journal, the average starting salary for those who graduated between 1999-2010 was $34,000 for English majors, $35,000 for psychology majors and $38,000 for biology majors.