3 Ways to Get a Job With a Humanities Degree


Articles published this week by the The New Yorker and The Associated Press bring to light the dilemma that university graduates who studied humanities face when they enter the workforce: “Will I find a job with the major that I invested myself in for the past four years?” This question provokes another question regarding university programming and support for the humanities: Do schools provide ample opportunities for the humanities, or do they neglect these departments?

In a world growing more dependent on technologies like social media, Droids, and Apple products, schools are investing their resources in programs that will produce students who will create the next technological innovation. And humanities students are being left in the dust — which is unfair because these majors still contribute to today’s society, despite all of the rapid technological changes. We still need the language students to become translators, the communications students to break the next big news story, the history students to remind us of how our current events relate to what occurred in the past, and the philosophy students to write our future laws. What can universities do to ensure that these students have a chance to snatch good jobs after graduation? Here are three ideas:

1. Emphasize participation in practical settings. Liberal arts programs tend to emphasize research experiences, and more funding goes to research and creative productions. What then becomes underfunded are the practical experiences, such as internships with a magazine, newspaper, or NGO. There are fewer scholarships that go toward funding a student’s unpaid internship than scholarships that support producing a thesis.

Universities appreciate research experiences, including the ability to synthesize a 50-page report that requires active reading, writing, and analytical skills. However outside of academia, the jobs graduates are looking at tend to be more practical, hands on work experiences that go beyond reading a myriad of books, and writing a new report based on the readings. They are looking for students who know how to create programs and events, implement those programs and events, use leadership skills to manage a team, and have people skills to use in a work environment. 

Research-focused students do not always get the chance to develop those skills, especially if they have their noses buried in books all day. Students who focus too much on research lose out on practical working experiences, and the skill sets that come with them. Humanities schools must emphasize greater participation in internships and volunteer positions, in addition to academic research experiences. Schools have to first forge connections with organizations that already have, or will create, practical internships, and then offer those opportunities to students. Schools must go further to support those students in their pursuits by providing funding — as much funding as they do for researching students, if not more.

2. Encourage students to take advantage of study abroad programs to develop work savvy skills. Most, if not all, humanities majors are designed in such a flexible, interdisciplinary way that students who opt to study off campus, for a quarter or a semester, can still fulfill credits that go toward finishing their majors. It is worth venturing off campus at least once during the four to five years of studying, as doing so can expand a student’s skill set — which will prove valuable for the post-graduation job search. Employers looking closely at CVs will be interested to see experiences other than research or classroom studies. 

Studying abroad means adapting to new cultures and traditions; learning to think quickly, and use street smarts; and using social skills to really enjoy the time there. A student can then translate these skills into the work environment: A new employee has to rapidly adapt to the new workplace, its bureaucratic steps, and its tasks; they have to work quickly and in a fast-paced environment; and mingle with co-workers to sustain a good working atmosphere. These new skills of adaption, quick and strategic thinking, and social flair are all appreciated in the workplace, and may be imperative to succeeding in the environment. Thus, universities should do more to encourage students to study off-campus as a means of developing students’ skills for their post-graduation life.

 3. Challenge students to carefully consider the location of where their careers will take place. As Ken Auletta pointed out in his article, "Is Stanford Too Close to Silicon Valley?" in NorCal the that are valued are the entrepreneurs, engineers, and computer scientists. Those studying creative writing, philosophy, or policymaking may do better to focus their job searches in other locations — for example, New York where the creative arts are more appreciated; or Washington, D.C. where the hub of policymaking takes place. For an English major, one may even venture further and consider working abroad in the U.K.

Most freshmen and sophomore students entering university do not think this far ahead into their futures though. Students do not generally begin thinking about where they wouldd like to live for the majority of their working lives until senior year when they are applying to jobs — and hesitantly agreeing to move to the locations where they are finding the job openings. Therefore, university career centers, and academic advisors who help students chose majors, and think through the jobs that those majors could potentially lead to, should also advise students on the logistical realities of their post-major, post-graduate life; like where they will be working after they graduate, and whether they would be willing to live in that particular region. If for some reason they were not willing to move, perhaps another major would be appropriate.