Why a Humanities Degree is Not Worthless

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Any student who’s pursued (or thought about pursuing) a humanities degree has probably been asked the question: but what are you going to do with that? There’s an ongoing, stereotypical idea that a humanities degree is less valuable than any other degrees, particularly those in STEM. Some might even think a humanities degree is worth less than going to trade school.

But in reality, there is a wealth of career opportunities available for people pursuing a degree in the humanities. It’s far from worthless — quite the opposite, as it turns out.

What Are the Humanities?

First, let’s take a look at what “the humanities” means as a blanket term. Humanities refers to the fields of art, culture, ethics, linguistics, literature, history, philosophy, and religion — a broad spectrum of studies, to say the least.

In short, humanities are the study of humanity itself — how people develop culture, express themselves, and communicate ideas to one another. Study of the humanities tends to be speculative and critical in nature, as compared to the more rigid structure of the study of natural sciences. The humanities also cross over heavily with the social sciences, as both study society, human influence on culture, and so on. But overall, the humanities are focused on culture and expression more than psychology and human behavior.

Careers in Humanities

Many people are under the impression that the only thing you can do with a humanities degree is teach humanities to others — or, possibly, simply be unemployed. But that’s far from the truth. There is a wide variety of careers available to students with a degree in the humanities, including (but not limited to):

  • Museum curator
  • Docent
  • Counselor
  • Editor
  • Historian
  • Archivist
  • Educator
  • Librarian
  • Linguist
  • Translator

There is also ample opportunity in intelligence agencies, government agencies, police departments, and even Interpol for students of the humanities. Why is that? Because agencies like the FBI and other law enforcement bodies need people who know how other people think — they need to know how to best interact with others and read their emotions.

Academic institutions, museums, and research firms also need people with expertise in areas like art, music, languages, dialects, and history. People skilled in the humanities are often called upon as consultants to share their specialized knowledge with people and agencies who need it.

Should You Pursue a Degree in Humanities?

So is a degree in humanities the right choice for you? What’s the career outlook for a person with a humanities degree? Are some jobs, such as librarian, made obsolete by technology? Are the humanities even still relevant in such a technology-driven society?

It is true that the humanities are often undervalued in American culture. The number of students of art, English and history has been on the decline in recent years, and there’s a perception that a career in STEM or information technology might be a far more lucrative proposition.

But there are some concrete reasons to seriously consider a humanities degree. The humanities help people become better leaders, decision makers, and problem solvers. A person in a technology-driven career still needs analytical skills, as well as skills in persuasion, negotiation, and communication. Added to which, a study of history and culture can grant unique insights to a modern perspective that a purely technological or scientific background may not be able to.

Even more than that, however: the idea that humanities majors are universally poor and destitute is simply not true. The difference in starting salary between a science and humanities major is not large — often less than $5,000 per year. And studies have shown that most humanities majors make almost as much as their contemporaries in business school.

Last but not least, with the world growing more diverse and sophisticated, many employers are looking for people with a broader education, even in more technical career fields.

Salary Expectations

The broad scope of the humanities makes it difficult to narrow expected salary to a single number. For example, a technical writer might make $75,000 a year, while an advertising and promotions manager could make as much as $117,000 a year or more. Teacher salaries vary wildly, but usually fall in the range of about $60,000 a year.

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