Liberal arts degrees
With STEM fields — those including science, technology, engineering and math — seeming to garner the most attention nowadays, it can be easy to overlook liberal arts degrees. In fact, a few people may even think of liberal arts as a thing of the past and no longer a practical option for those seeking higher education.
However, research disputes that idea. Most notably, a recent analysis of Census Bureau data found liberal arts majors actually had higher incomes during peak earning years than those who had undergraduate degrees in pre-professional or professional majors. In addition, the report, published jointly by the Association of American Colleges & Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems found liberal arts graduates had similar levels of employment as those with pre-professional or professional majors.
A liberal arts degree also provides students with a flexibility not found in more specialized majors. For example, while a computer engineering degree may lead to only a career in computer engineering, a liberal arts degree may be the basis for a career in business, public policy, social services, education or a host of other fields. Read on to find out more.
Degrees for liberal arts majors
Students interested in the liberal arts have a number of education options. While some schools offer certificates in liberal arts, these may be more appropriate for those going back to school for their personal benefit or to supplement their existing education.
For other students, the following four degree levels can lead to both entry-level and advanced jobs in a variety of fields. Best of all, prospective students can find many schools with liberal arts degrees, both online and on campus.
- Associate degree: An associate degree in liberal arts may be used for entry-level jobs or could lead to expanded job opportunities or income potential for those already in the workforce. These degrees typically take about two years for full-time students. Another use of an associate degree is as a starting point for a bachelor's degree. For instance, college students may earn an associate degree at a less-expensive community college and then transfer their credits to a pricier four-year institution for their final two years of schooling.
- Bachelor's degree: Usually earned in a minimum of four years, a bachelor's degree in liberal arts can be used for a wide variety of careers. Graduates may go on to work in journalism, public relations, business, government and management. Other students may go on to graduate studies at the master's and doctoral degree levels.
- Master's degree: Students who want to focus their studies on a specific topic may want to enroll in a master's degree program after earning a bachelor's degree. Although completion times may vary by institution, these graduate programs typically take at least two years to complete and may include a capstone or similar project focusing on an area of particular interest to the student.
- Doctoral degree: The highest level of education in liberal arts is a doctoral degree. Taking as many as six years (or more) to earn, doctoral degrees in liberal arts fields are intended to provide the knowledge needed to be an expert in a particular area. Students most often pursue doctoral degrees if they want a career in research or as a college or university instructor.
Common liberal arts majors
Liberal arts studies include a number of majors. These include the following popular options.
Also known as liberal studies, these degree programs allow students to explore diverse subject matter. Students who select liberal arts as their major often have a deep appreciation of learning and may see their education as not simply a means to earn a job but also as an opportunity for personal improvement and fulfillment.
Study of humanities encompasses a number of disciplines related to human culture and experiences. English, philosophy, music and art may all be covered in a degree in humanities. These programs may have particular value for their emphasis on reading comprehension, writing skills and the ability to understand complex topics.
As its name suggests, a communications major requires students to focus on learning how to communicate effectively. Some schools may offer bachelor's degrees in communication with specializations such as business or emerging media. Upon graduation, students may find work in public relations, journalism, government, the nonprofit sector or elsewhere.
Degrees in English, as well as English literature, are prized for the skills they impart. Students should graduate with the ability to gather and organize facts, develop concise arguments and assess material in a logical way. After graduation, individuals with a degree in English may go on to work as editors, writers, reporters, paralegals and literacy teachers, among other possibilities.
A degree in history can provide insight into how humans have evolved and how we may expect society to continue to change in the years to come. According to the American Historical Association, history majors may go on to careers in communications, research or education. They may become archivists, librarians, writers, teachers or lawyers in addition to other career paths.
The study of this subject is marked by the discussion and dissection of some of life's biggest questions. Students seeking philosophy degrees may contemplate topics such as the meaning of life, the existence of God and the legitimacy of social constructs. More important, they learn how to thoroughly analyze a topic and logically argue for a particular viewpoint. According to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, philosophy is considered the best pre-law major. However, graduates can also go on to work in other fields such as medicine, communications and ministry.
Religious studies is another popular degree option in the field of liberal arts. As with philosophy, religious studies courses let students hone their critical thinking skills as they learn about major world religions and their impact on society. Graduates may work in religious ministry or go on to careers in psychology, social work, anthropology or even business.
Earning an online liberal arts degree
With the advent of the Internet age, online learning has become a convenient and accepted way to earn a degree. Today, you can earn an online liberal arts degree from a number of schools including such big names as the University of Massachusetts and Penn State.
With so many choices available, students may want to start by requesting additional information from schools that are of interest to them. While reviewing schools, be sure to check for accreditation from a nationally recognized body such as a regional accrediting board. Finally, since many liberal arts classes focus on discussions and the exchange of ideas, individuals should inquire into how students interact with each other and their instructors.
Careers for History Majors, American Historical Association,
"New Report Documents that Liberal Arts Disciplines Prepare Students for Long-Term Professional Success," Association of American Colleges & Universities, Jan. 22, 2014,
"11 Reasons to Ignore Haters and Major in the Humanities," Max Nisen, Business Insider, June 27, 2013,
5 jobs you can get with an English degree, Susan Ricker, CareerBuilder, Dec. 18, 2013,
What are the humanities? Stanford Humanities Center, Stanford University,
Liberal Arts: Certificates, State University of New York-Broome,
"Why study religion?," University of California-Davis,
"Why Major in Philosophy?," University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,