Demand for Arts Grads Grows

Engineering majors become engineers. Nursing majors become nurses. What about sociology majors? Is there any room in the workforce for a liberal arts graduate?

Absolutely. And the career options for liberal arts grads are even more diverse than the number of liberal arts majors.

Students and employers are realizing that a liberal arts degree offers excellent preparation for moving on to a highly successful career, says Robert Stainton. He is a professor of philosophy and linguistics.

Many students are choosing to study liberal arts to improve their skills in logic, language and critical thinking. Later, some of those students may move on to study more specialized subjects like business, law, medicine or other areas, Stainton says.

Language and critical thinking skills are sought after in any field, say employment experts.

"It is worth noting that the word 'liberal' comes from the Latin word for 'free', since a liberal education frees one to think broadly, openly and creatively when attempting to solve problems," says Michael Coyne. He is the head of a university arts division.

"There is a huge need for talented, well-rounded, educated individuals to enter the job force," says Jody Queen-Hubert, executive director of Co-op and Career Services at Pace University. "While most employers agree that communication skills are their No. 1 priority, liberal arts students possess a strong foundation for a long-term career."

There's a myth that employers focus on the majors that students studied. In fact, most employers don't require a particular major for entry-level positions unless the work is more specialized, says Tim Harding. He is the director of Career Services at the University of Tampa Instead of a specific degree, many employers are more focused on skills like spoken and written communication, the ability to work in a team, leadership, analytical thinking, and problem-solving, Harding says.

Liberal arts students have the opportunity to gain knowledge of those important job skills. In other words, it's more the skills you can learn from a liberal arts degree than the degree itself.

"I have not seen an increase in employers seeking liberal arts grads. What I have seen is employers fighting for top talent, whatever the student's academic background," says Sheila J. Curran. She is executive director of the Duke University Career Center and co-author of the book Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career.

How to Maximize Employment

While hundreds of career paths are open to liberal arts students, Queen-Hubert says, these grads may need to do more in-depth career exploration and research before arriving at their career.

"You cannot open the newspaper or go on the Internet and find a job for a liberal artist," Queen-Hubert continues. "Students need to spend time with a career advisor who can help guide them through the process of evaluating their transferable skills, their interests and what they are good at. Students also need to learn about different industries and what types of jobs and career paths they offer."

Students can explore entry-level jobs in various industries to get an idea of specific job titles and functions available for liberal arts grads.

Another key to maximizing your employment potential is to gain a variety of experiences before graduation, outside of the classroom.

How can you do this? Some options include traveling and studying abroad, doing research with a faculty member, volunteering, and seeking out leadership activities.

"Internships, co-op education, field work, summer and part-time jobs are all essential in helping students explore their career interests, gain skills and build a resume," Queen-Hubert says. "Students need to take advantage of all the opportunities and resources available to them, while they are in school - before they enter the real world."

'Hottest' Job Examples

"One of the advantages of majoring in liberal arts subjects is that it prepares you for just about any career," Curran says.

Stainton says there's a trend for universities to accept medical students who have a liberal arts background and who may not a hold a degree in science, biology and other traditional areas of study for pre-med students. "They find these liberal arts students later become excellent physicians," he says.

Here are some other examples of career paths you can take:

  • Business
  • Consulting firms
  • Education
  • Financial services
  • Fundraising
  • Government
  • Health Care
  • Investment banking
  • Journalism
  • Law
  • Media
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Publishing
  • Public relations
  • Sales
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Travel and tourism
  • Web page design
  • Writing and publishing

Many of these paths might require additional training or experience in addition to a liberal arts degree. But the degree will have laid the foundation you'll need.

"Employers like liberal arts grads from good schools because they know these students possess skills that are critical to their business," says Curran. "For one thing, they know how to think. If these students come across a problem for which there is no precedent, they'll be able to identify and pursue different options. They know how to work with and make sense of mountains of data, and they know how to communicate."

Katherine Brooks is the director of the Liberal Arts Career Services Center at the University of Texas at Austin. She's noticed that about 60 percent of liberal arts majors she sees go into the business world. They are often found in executive and high-level management positions, she says. "As a general rule, liberal arts students are curious: They like to learn," Brooks says. "They are able to understand a variety of subjects from science to history to language and cultures. They are flexible, comfortable working in teams, and will learn for the sake of learning. As a result, they respond well to good training and supervision and they often go the extra mile to learn more about their jobs."

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