Commonly referred to as the liberal arts, the humanities and social sciences encompass a wide assortment of academic and professional disciplines, including English, psychology, political science, history, anthropology, and music. In general, a liberal arts education trains students to think critically and communicate ideas effectively, rather than emphasizing specialized skills for one specific career path. The field is typically differentiated from professional disciplines like business and technical jobs, including engineering and computer science.

Humanities and social sciences encompass a wide assortment of academic and professional disciplines, including English, psychology, political science, history, anthropology, and music.

A humanities education stresses a versatile assortment of skills, including creativity, critical thinking, research, problem-solving, and communication. A 2016 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that employers commonly rank skills in communication and problem-solving above technical training, indicating the professional value of a liberal arts education. Graduates can pursue a wide variety of careers with a humanities education, including business, media, education, government, and nonprofit work.

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This page offers an overview of common career and education trajectories for liberal arts students, demonstrating the variety of available jobs for humanities majors. Below, you'll find information about the different levels of liberal arts education and the career options they offer, along with a generalized list of humanities careers.

Educational Paths to a Career in Humanities and Social Science

Like most fields, different levels of education can unlock diverse career paths in the humanities and social sciences. While an associate degree alone may not offer many career options, completing an advanced degree unlocks a vast assortment of potential jobs in a variety of fields and industries, including high-paying leadership roles. Below, you'll find an overview of the four most common levels of educational achievement in the liberal arts, along with corresponding humanities and social science careers.

Associate Degrees

An associate degree offers relatively limited potential for social science careers. Typically requiring about 60 credits and two years of full-time study, an associate program introduces most of the key subjects that characterize a humanities education, such as literature, philosophy, sociology, and sciences. Students can also build fundamental skills, including those related to research, analysis, and written communication. This degree often serves as an initial step toward further education.

Professionally focused fields like dental hygiene or automotive repair often pack all the knowledge and skills necessary for employment into a two-year program, preparing graduates to enter their field of choice immediately upon graduation. In the liberal arts and social sciences, however, an associate degree is only the beginning of a student's academic journey. Earning an associate degree alone typically won't be enough for career advancement in most humanities fields, though it may suffice for entry-level positions in education and business.

Associate degrees are most commonly awarded by community colleges. Many associate degrees function as completion programs, meaning they form the first half of a bachelor's degree that students can complete by transferring to a traditional college or university. Many community colleges maintain articulation agreements with four-year schools, enabling learners to complete their associate credits at a lower cost and then switch over to a four-year school to complete their bachelor's degrees. Many schools offer associate programs fully online, enabling students to maintain their jobs while completing a degree.

Bachelor's Degrees

A bachelor's degree serves as the minimum educational requirement for most social science careers that offer real potential for advancement. Most bachelor's programs require 120 credits and take around four years of full-time enrollment to complete. These programs emphasize generalized study in the humanities and social sciences, but they also enable you to concentrate in one or more academic areas by selecting a major, such as English, geography, psychology, or anthropology.

A bachelor's programs takes the knowledge gained at earlier levels of education and applies it to more specialized topics, building deeper skills in communication, argumentation, research, and analysis. By selecting a major, you'll gain advanced knowledge in one subject area without becoming so specialized that you can't explore other options down the line.

Even if you're uncertain exactly what type of career path you want to pursue, a bachelor's degree is usually a good choice. Most majors in the humanities build widely transferable skills that employers appreciate, including creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability. Bachelor of social science degree holders commonly find work as teachers, technical writers, social workers, journalists, and public relations specialists.

While a bachelor's opens many different career paths, it may not be enough for the most specialized and lucrative jobs -- particularly management roles. For these advanced positions, it may be necessary to earn a master's degree.

Master's Degrees

A master's degree serves as the highest educational requirement for many careers, leading to advanced positions in the humanities and social sciences. This degree signifies expertise in a specific subject area. Completion time and credit requirements vary widely between programs -- much more so than for bachelor's or associate tracks. A typical program requires about two years of full-time study, though other programs may take anywhere from 1-5 years, depending on enrollment options.

Many students use master's degrees to build on their undergraduate majors. For example, after earning a bachelor's in English, you might further your studies with a master's in American literature. However, your undergraduate major hardly locks you into one career field, and many students use their graduate degrees to pursue new paths. Humanities and social science graduate programs often maintain flexible credit prerequisites, making it relatively easy for students to switch over to a new field of study.

A graduate program builds advanced knowledge and skills, making you more competitive in your chosen field. Courses are generally more rigorous, and you must often complete a substantial research project, such as a thesis. This level of engagement, combined with an emphasis on leadership skills in many programs, prepares master's candidates for management positions in many fields. A master's degree can lead to work in positions like museum curator, education specialist, advertising director, or school counselor.

Doctoral Degrees

A doctorate generally serves as the highest level of education attainable in the humanities and social sciences, conferring advanced knowledge in a highly specialized subject area. Completion times vary widely, but Ph.D. programs commonly take 5-7 years to finish. Many programs require an applicant to hold a master's degree, though some may admit highly qualified applicants with bachelor's degrees.

Given the high level of rigor and specialization inherent in a doctoral program, the degree is not for everyone. For many fields, a master's degree serves adequately, even for top-level management positions. Doctorates commonly prepare students for careers in academia and research, though they may also apply to certain management roles and other highly specialized positions. Generally, doctoral programs equip students with the skills needed to conduct new research and drive change in their field of specialization.

A doctorate confers highly focused knowledge in one area of a discipline, such as European history or industrial-organizational psychology. However, most programs also stress comprehensive knowledge, and students must typically complete exhaustive examinations that assess their overall understanding of their chosen discipline. A doctoral candidate usually completes a book-length work of original research known as a dissertation.

As the highest level of education available, a doctorate commits you to your field of study. However, doctoral recipients may also use their skills to launch business ventures or pursue other endeavors.

Career Paths in Humanities and Social Science

The humanities and social sciences encompass an assortment of disciplines and subfields, with a corresponding assortment of career options. Jobs for humanities majors can be found in most industries, and the versatility of skills gained in a humanities program helps graduates move between fields. A humanities degree can lead you into many career paths, such as education, government, public policy, social work, or library science. In general, the higher your education level, the better your career prospects.

The list below outlines common career fields for humanities and social science graduates. Along with general information on key specializations in the field, you'll also find links to specific career pages for each of these concentrations. Each page offers in-depth information about education requirements, career outlook, and other relevant details for individual concentrations.

Communications

Communications explores the effective transmission of information through written, verbal, and digital channels. The field encompasses careers in media, public relations, advertising, and more. Most positions require a candidate to possess at least a bachelor's degree.

Explore Communications Careers

English

English explores the interpretation of literary texts, such as novels, poetry, plays, and essays. Students learn to express critical opinions in writing, preparing them for careers in teaching, journalism, writing, and advertising.

Explore English Careers

Geography

Geography focuses on human interaction with the Earth's physical features, exploring land use, population distribution, and other cultural factors. Students often pursue careers in cartography, urban and rural planning, and education.

Explore Geography Careers

History

History refers to the study of the past and is typically focused on specific regions, time periods, or thematic elements. History students typically earn bachelor's degrees, pursuing careers in fields such as education and museum studies.


Journalism

Journalists investigate and report on current events, publishing work for newspapers, magazines, websites, and television programs. Students usually earn bachelor's degrees, gaining the skills needed to conduct research and convey their findings effectively.

Explore Journalism Careers

Library Science

Library science focuses on the collection and management of information, including books and other materials. Librarians gain the skills required to organize and provide access to information, typically earning a bachelor's or master's degree.

Explore Library Science Careers

Math

Math explores the relationship between quantities. It plays a role in many fields, such as science, engineering, and medicine. Math students may earn a bachelor's or higher, finding careers in any industry that uses quantitative data.

Explore Math Careers

Music

Music combines vocal and instrumental sounds in structured formats. Music students may explore subjects including performance, theory, production, and history, often earning at least a bachelor's. Music careers include vocalist, studio producer, and musicologist. Explore Music Careers


Philosophy

Philosophy explores fundamental questions about existence and other abstract concepts, such as time, knowledge, and values. Philosophy majors often pursue careers in education, law, and writing, typically earning bachelor's degrees.

Explore Philosophy Careers

Political Science

Political science analyzes systems of government and the role of politics in society. Political science students often pursue careers in government, politics, and public policy, earning a bachelor's degree or higher.

Explore Political Science Careers

Social Science

The social sciences explore relationships between humans in society, encompassing fields such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology. A student in this field typically earns at least a bachelor's degree, pursuing careers related to public policy, social work, education, or politics.

Explore Social Science Careers

Social Work

Social work seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, groups, and communities It typically focuses on underserved populations. Social workers earn at least a bachelor's degree and often pursue careers with social services agencies and community organizations.

Explore Social Work Careers

Sociology

Sociology studies patterns in human relationships and social interactions, examining human interactions at all levels. Sociology students often pursue careers in public relations, counseling, and human resources, typically earning bachelor's degrees.

Explore Sociology Careers

Theology

Theology refers to the academic study of religion and the divine. It is closely related to philosophy. Theology students may work in nonsecular positions such as ministers and missionaries. They may also pursue secular careers related to education or social work.

Interview

Dr. Josie Urbistondo

Dr. Josie Urbistondo

Faculty Member, University of Miami

As CEO (chief essay officer) for Write Your Acceptance, Dr. Josie Urbistondo expertly guides students on the high-stakes process of drafting memorable and successful college application essays. With over 10 years of experience, Dr. Josie works to maximize students' candidacy, teaching them critical and creative elements to stand out.

As a faculty member at the University of Miami, she teaches freshman composition and rhetoric. She has also taught graduate-level political science writing, developmental composition, Caribbean pop culture, and American literature 1865-present. Urbistondo earned her Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Miami after receiving an MA from New York University and a BA from Florida International University.

If you or your child is applying to college, subscribe to the Write Your Acceptance Youtube channel for weekly guidance. For more tips and techniques, sign up for the WYA mailing list.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in humanities and social sciences? Is it something that you were always interested in?

Like many impressionable teens, I looked to those closest to me and thought I'd emulate them. My aunt helped to found a series of early education centers in disadvantaged communities and also teaches early education, so I thought to follow in her steps. Undergrad rolled around, and I worked part time in her centers and served as a counselor for an elementary after-school program. While I love the kiddies, I learned the space wasn't for me.

I decided to take an exploratory semester in college and enrolled in courses that looked incredible. Cue English literature. I met an inspired professor who lit up in the classroom, and I knew I wanted to do something with writing and expression, so I continued tweaking my education from there.

What makes a humanities and social science degree unique?

I don't hail any one major as superior simply because so much of success stems from what a student puts into their academic experience. However, the humanities and social sciences are unique because these majors are about people: how we interact in the world, see ourselves and others, and therefore how we understand one another or wage war on one another. These disciplines think critically about who we are.

At their best, they nudge us to become better versions of ourselves as they demand us to question past and present actions to do better in constructing the future. In college, the future stares right back at us, and we decide how to conduct ourselves in the world as we model how to do just that.

Whether we consider history, politics, literature, social work, or economics, all of these majors teach transferable skills, tools for innovation, adaptability, and critical thinking. These sound like fun, commonly thrown around buzz words, but when we consider what we ask our students to accomplish in writing and sociology, we ask them to gaze upon the world as one huge Rubik's Cube that will never be solved. But the play is not to solve it; it's to understand intellectually and psychologically the impact each move makes on the next. These majors are a mirror image of our world, and we demand students to acknowledge their place within the world and what contributions they will make.

What was the job search like after completing your degree?

I mean, which time? I never had a perfect plan, which is why I empathize with my students about selecting a major, which is so daunting, and then assure them that if they pursue intellectual curiosity, connection, and collaboration in college (both within and beyond the classroom), the least formative aspect about their future may be what major they selected. After completing my BA in English, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, so I went straight to graduate school.

While completing an MA in English at NYU, I took internships in the marketing department of Workman Publishing and also interned for the editorial team of the Spanish-language Reader's Digest: Selecciones. I loved the classroom, but I couldn't remain a student forever. I considered publishing, taught at a community college, and, honestly, all of my experiences were so incredibly rich and would have taken me different directions. Ultimately, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in literature. When I graduated, I decided not to go on the typical job market track that all of my peers opted for.

I am super fortunate to have been invited to remain at the University of Miami as faculty and have been there ever since. However, four years ago, I launched my own business -- Write Your Acceptance, Inc. -- working with students on college application essays. So I hear the major angst from both my freshman at UM and my high school juniors and seniors!

Founding WYA, I have discovered entrepreneurial muscles I had never flexed in my life. I have learned marketing, business operations, how to build a website, and minimal coding. It took me saying "yes" to a lot of things beyond my comfort zone to meticulously build my career. It is not for everyone, but it is right for me. This is the ultimate takeaway I hope every student who I work with, teach, and inspire holds dear. Or like they say, "do you" -- academically, professionally, and personally.

Why did you decide to move into teaching? Is this a common career path for humanities and social sciences graduates?

Teaching can seem like a natural fit. However, I have peers on alumni boards who are all English majors, and each one followed a different career path. From financial analysts to lawyers and journalists, I hear it all. I teach because the classroom is an intellectually sacred space. There's a sense of respect for truths that have been stumbled upon and grappled with for decades, if not centuries, in the very same spaces we frequent.

To teach is to share with the next generation my love of questioning, reasoning, and pushing boundaries. I strive to instill that learning is never-ending for the rest of your life, and those lessons make you stronger, kinder, and wiser -- and that the alternative is never better. Usually, the alternative comes when we approach learning as transactional and not as innate as breathing and something we need to be.

As someone who works with students applying to college, what advice would you give students who are thinking about selecting a major?

Selecting a major should be a dynamic decision. It's a choice that students make every day, every time they attend a course, every time they finish a project or complete a requirement. It's not just a one-time deal.

Therefore, yes, they should investigate their passion and see "what they are good at" as they apply to colleges and declare majors. Most schools now ask students to pre-declare or at least select a school when applying. However, my main advice to students is two-fold: know that the major is but one fraction of the educational equation. Make sure you assume an active role in your learning. Find internships or service learning or even civic engagement experiences to participate in. Sometimes these moments of growth may ignite a fire you didn't know existed.

Also, be comfortable knowing that the major you declare may not be your final major. Once you declare your major and when you chat with your advisor, don't only enroll for the next semester -- construct a wide-reaching plan where you consider multidisciplinary courses and service learning projects where you get out into the broader communities and serve others, blending heart and intellect.

What advice would you give to students considering pursuing a degree and career in humanities and social sciences?

Connected to the previous advice, I always tell students that it's not an all-or-nothing game. Therefore, if students are STEM-oriented and they want to pursue engineering, great -- but also take courses in other disciplines. Similarly, when students tell me they want to pursue a degree in the humanities or social sciences, I tell them that those courses will be easy to locate and take. Now, find courses that push you beyond your expected limitations, go out and question something, learn something you think you'll never use, and see how it enriches your experience.

Any final thoughts for us?

In an increasingly segregated political climate, humanities and social sciences courses allow students a space to learn to disagree without feeling attacked. To thrive in diverse professional spaces, learners should develop comfort with knowing how to express their opinions and how to counter an argument, all while preserving a level of decorum and dignity. However, these are not the only places students can find this. I urge students to find pockets of community where they can exercise this skill in a respectful and enriching manner.

Professional Resources for Humanities and Social Science Majors

Modern Language Association

As the country's main association for language and literature, the MLA's membership numbers more than 25,000 scholars from around the world. The organization produces an assortment of scholarly publications and hosts the country's largest gathering of humanities professionals at its annual MLA convention.

Chronicle of Higher Education

A publication dedicated to academia, The Chronicle serves college faculty and administrative staff across the country, publishing both in print and online. The Chronicle covers current issues in higher education, including trends in administration, pedagogy, and employment practices. It also hosts a popular job board for academics.

National Endowment for the Humanities

One of the largest publicly funded organizations for the humanities, the NEH supports artists through a variety of grants, awards, and public programs. The organization also publishes HUMANITIES -- a magazine focusing on a variety of artistic and cultural topics.

PEN America

Dedicated to poets, playwrights, essayists, editors, and novelists, PEN America advocates for writers nationally and abroad, often focusing on issues of free speech and expression. PEN America also hosts a variety of literary events and funds literary awards, grants, and fellowships.

American Council of Learned Societies

Founded in 1919, ACLS operates as a consortium of 75 scholarly organizations, focusing on the practices of leadership, innovation, research, and stewardship in the humanities. The organization supports scholarship in the social sciences and humanities through fellowships, grants, membership societies, educational resources, and publications.

National Humanities Alliance

A nonprofit coalition of colleges, museums, libraries, state humanities councils, and cultural organizations, NHA advocates for the humanities in education institutions and communities around the country. The organization also lobbies for government support of the humanities and hosts the annual National Humanities Conference.

Consortium of Social Science Associations

A nonprofit organization founded in 1981, COSSA advocates for federal funding in the social and behavioral sciences. The group also advises the government on the effective use of social science research in federal policy. COSSA hosts a variety of events and offers advocacy resources for professionals in the social sciences.

National Social Science Association

A national alliance of social science organizations, NSSA supports the exchange of research, teaching tools, and technology among social science professionals. The association hosts a variety of annual conferences and events, including a professional development conference each fall and a national social science and technology conference each spring.

Inside Higher Ed

Supporting faculty and staff in academia, Inside Higher Ed explores contemporary issues in higher education, such as diversity and inclusion, hiring trends, and student debt. The organization also hosts an extensive job board for academics, with sections for both humanities and social sciences positions.

National Council for the Social Studies

As the country's largest professional organization dedicated to social studies education, NCSS supports social studies teachers through conferences, professional development opportunities, and publications. The organization's members come from many fields, including history, sociology, psychology, political science, and geography.