Landing a Great Job with a Liberal Arts Major
November 4, 2009
So, you want to be a teacher? Students pursuing degrees in the liberal arts are all too familiar with this question. It can seem at times like no one around you can fathom a career beyond teaching high school English or history, or some other subject that may have little beyond a name in common with your actual college goals. But the follow-up, "what do you want to do, then?" can also be a cause for uncertainty. The widespread assumption exists that four years of interesting classes inevitably lead to a lifetime of low salaries and limited career prospects.
However, that doesn't have to be the case. In a commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education, author Katharine S. Brooks shares some stories from her 20-some years of experience in career services of liberal arts education leading to career success, which is encouraging for students just beginning to think about how their degree can aid them in the job search. Examples she gives include a philosophy major whose logic class helped him score a perfect 180 on the LSAT, and a student whose knowledge gained in a film class helped him turn an internship into a job offer. Other stories abound. A liberal arts education is remarkably useful in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Her article focuses on encouraging colleges to provide better career services to liberal arts majors, but for students whose schools don't yet offer these services, she also has good advice. Instead of simply taking your English degree and assuming you need to work in writing or publishing because that's what you've learned to do, Brooks urges pausing to think about the skills you've learned and interests you have and trying to find meaningful connections among them. In the end, you'll have a more complete picture of yourself as a student and as a potential worker. In addition to writing, perhaps your major has given you great skills with finding, interpreting, and evaluating vast amounts of information quickly. Skills like those can easily be applied to a wide variety of careers, and you can use your inventoried interests to focus your search.
Evaluating your interests and experiences is a must for students nearing the end of college, especially in majors that aren't clear-cut paths to a particular career. Students in the humanities and social sciences have gained college experiences that can lead them in a number of different directions. In addition to adapting their interests and experiences to the corporate environment, they also have potential to further their knowledge of their field as graduate students, to enter into a public service profession, to earn a teaching certificate and become an educator, or to puruse their interests in whatever ways they find appealing. Which direction you choose depends less on the limitations of your major than on your personal preferences and abilities to seek out and seize opportunities-and based on what your degree has taught you, those should be quite well developed.