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What is a liberal arts degree?
An education in liberal arts is broad and diverse. Therefore, students who pursue a degree in the field can choose courses from several subject areas. Generally, programs encompass coursework in the following:
- Humanities – English Literature, Modern Languages, History, and Philosophy
- Social Sciences – Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, Political Science, and Geography
- Creative Arts – Fine Art, Theater, Speech, and Creative Writing
- Sciences – Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics
This degree equips students with a well-rounded, foundational education that can be applied in almost any occupation.
Associate Degree in Liberal Arts
Some associate degree programs may allow or require students to choose a concentration in a specific liberal arts subject area, such as English literature, psychology, or fine arts. Here is a sample of some typical courses at this degree level:
- English Composition / Writing
- Computer Skills
- Foreign Language
- Public Speaking
- Women’s Studies
- World religions
With an Associate Degree in Liberal Arts, graduates commonly qualify for positions as sales associates and junior/assistant roles in various other business sectors.
Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts
At the bachelor’s level, students typically choose a concentration. Therefore, there is no standard curriculum. However, most programs provide exposure to subject areas such as:
- Art history
- Human Health
- World History
A Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts can be a stepping stone to studies in a wide variety of disciplines, including medicine, law, education, or business. Or, it can be sufficient to land an entry-level job in sales, marketing, project management, or business development.
Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts
Individuals with a bachelor’s degree can pursue a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts. At this level, half of the coursework is typically in one discipline of the student’s choice. Classes in other areas of the liberal arts make up the other half. Though each master’s program is tailored to meet each student’s preferences, these courses are quite common:
- American History
- World History
- Art History
- Marketing Issues
- English Literature
- Global Business
- Women's Studies
- Gender Studies
- Religious Studies
Due to the flexibility of liberal arts master’s degree programs, career options are especially diverse. Journalism and other media-related roles are among the popular choices.
Degrees similar to liberal arts
This is a multidisciplinary degree field that combines the study of languages, literatures, art, history, music, philosophy, and religion. Coursework includes examining ideas and themes that run throughout human history and throughout different cultures.
As the name implies, students who major in American Studies study the United States, its history, literature, politics, economy, people, and popular culture. Increasingly, programs in this field incorporate examination of the wider Americas and the Caribbean.
The study of the languages, literatures, philosophy, history, archaeology, and civilization of ancient Greece and Rome is the focus of a degree in the classics.
In English degree programs, students read, study, and write about the literature and culture of the English-speaking world. Coursework also includes the history, linguistic structure, and use of the English language.
Natural sciences majors study the biological and physical sciences. The biological sciences – biochemistry, microbiology, and evolutionary biology – are concerned with the study of life and living organisms – their life cycles, their environments, and how they adapt. The physical sciences – physics, chemistry, and astronomy – are concerned with the study of inanimate natural objects.
Students of environmental studies are exposed to the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. They apply knowledge from each of these areas to examine how resources can be sustained in the face of increasing populations, various forms of pollution, and the endangerment of species and natural systems.
The scientific study of the mind and of behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.
This degree field studies feminism and the history, culture, and politics of women. It examines the categories of identity – gender, sexuality, race, class, age, ability, geopolitical affiliation, etc. – and structures of inequality in relationship to one another.
Skills you'll learn
Because the liberal arts encompass a wide spectrum of study, earning a degree in the field leaves graduates with significant skills that most, if not all, employers would value:
- Analytical, critical, and creative thinking skills
- Effective oral and written communication skills
- Problem-solving and pattern recognition skills
- Ability to learn and apply new ideas
- Data analysis
- Reading skills
- Math / numerical skills
- Research skills
- Organization and time-management skills
- Information literacy skills
- Ability to adapt to different situations
- Ethical decision-making skills
- Ability to ask meaningful questions
- Ability to work in a team
- Self-confidence and self-awareness
- Sensitivity to others and to cultural differences
- Foreign language and cross-cultural skills
What can you do with a liberal arts degree?
A list of all of the occupational categories that may be open to liberal arts graduates would be extremely long. Why? Think of the meaning of ‘liberal:’ generous, abundant, substantial, and large. This is not to say that entering some of the career fields listed below may not require additional education beyond a liberal arts degree. What is true, however, is that the degree lays a respected foundation for these and many other sectors:
A liberal arts graduate has a breadth of knowledge to teach a wide range of subjects to a wide range of students.
Translation / Interpretation
Many liberal arts students learn at least one foreign language. This skill is the starting point for a career in translation and interpretation.
Tourism / Travel / Hospitality
Foreign language and world history knowledge are major components of many tourism, travel, and hospitality jobs.
Business / Marketing / Advertising / Public Relations / Journalism-Media / News Editing / Copywriting
Each of these sectors calls for skills and talents in the humanities, in understanding and communicating with people.
Careers in this field span the categories of law, politics, public policy, lobbying, and philanthropy/NGOs.
And many more…
Healthcare, Social Services, Research, Retail Management, Event Planning, Banking, Entrepreneurship
Liberal Arts Careers
The career trajectory of people with a Liberal Arts degree appears to be focused around a few careers. The most common career that users with Liberal Arts degrees have experience in is Food Server, followed by Preschool Teacher, Barista, Receptionist, Childcare Worker, Library Assistant, Journalist, Copywriter, Social Media Manager, and Teacher Assistant.
|Career||% of graduates||% of population||Multiple|
|Social Media Manager||1.2%||0.4%||2.9×|
Liberal Arts Salary
Liberal Arts graduates earn on average $32k, putting them in the 15th percentile of earners with a degree.
|Percentile||Earnings after graduation ($1000s USD)|
|25th (bottom earners)||$25k|
|Median (average earners)||$32k|
|75th (top earners)||$42k|
Liberal Arts Underemployment
Liberal Arts graduates are not very well employed compared to other graduates. We have collected data on three types of underemployment. Part-time refers to work that is less than 30 hours per week. Non-college refers to work that does not require a college degree. Low-paying includes a list of low-wage service jobs such as janitorial work, serving, or dishwashing.
|Employment Type||Proportion of graduates|
|Jobs that don't require college||61%|