The liberal arts encompass several academic disciplines, including philosophy, history, English, and communication. Students who earn a degree in one of these fields gain adaptable skills they can use in a variety of professional settings.
This guide can help you start a liberal arts career. It covers information on employment options by area of study and degree level, as well as ways to advance your career by earning certifications and licenses, taking massive open online courses (MOOCs), and joining professional organizations.
Why Pursue a Degree in Liberal Arts?
The Ancient Greeks coined the term "liberal arts" to describe skills and knowledge essential for civil engagement, like conducting public debate and navigating court procedures. Today, higher education institutions use the term to refer to a group of academic majors.
Undergraduate liberal arts majors gain skills like critical thinking, cultural awareness, and ethical leadership, rather than focusing on specific technical competencies. This versatile skill set enables graduates to pursue their personal interests and find careers in diverse industries.
Liberal Arts Career Outlook
Career opportunities for graduates with a liberal arts degree vary based on their level of education and field of study. Many liberal arts majors go on to pursue careers as teachers and librarians. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 5% job growth for education, training, and library occupations between 2019 and 2029.
The following table provides average salaries for three careers in liberal arts based on experience level.
|Public Relations Specialist||$40,280||$45,830||$58,440||$61,190|
Skills Gained With a Liberal Arts Degree
All liberal arts degrees emphasize transferable skills. According to the 2017 BLS Career Outlook report, employers across multiple industries regard communication and critical thinking — both central to a liberal arts education — as crucial competencies for professional success.
A hallmark of a liberal arts education, strong communication skills enable professionals to effectively convey concepts, practices, and instructions to diverse audiences. In addition to written communication, students learn to communicate orally to build personal and professional relationships and give strong public presentations.
- Critical Thinking
Critical thinking involves acquiring and applying knowledge to solve a problem or achieve a designated goal. Professionals who can think critically know how to appraise arguments and find connections between ideas. They also understand the importance of turning a critical lens on themselves to reflect on their own ideas, assumptions, and opinions.
Regardless of their role, professionals often team up with employees and colleagues. Liberal arts graduates learn to collaborate with people inside and outside of their fields.
- Ethical Judgement
The ability to judge situations and people fairly is the foundation of effective management. Professionals who master this skill are able to synthesize relevant knowledge and experience with personal beliefs to form opinions and make decisions. Because the liberal arts emphasize mutliculturalism and equity, students in these fields know how to choose the right critical lens for the situation at hand.
The relative lack of hard skills taught in some liberal arts programs is one of their biggest critiques. However, liberal arts students can combine their leadership, problem-solving, and communication skills to come up with innovative solutions to major challenges in their fields.
Liberal Arts Career Paths
This section discusses five different careers for a liberal arts major, with a focus on lucrative and growing areas of specialization. In addition to a bachelor's degree, some of these career paths may require candidates to earn a professional certification or graduate degree outside of the liberal arts.
- Data Analytics
Professionals with a background in economics or communication can pursue a master's degree or enroll in an intensive bootcamp program in data analytics. Analytics is the process of retrieving actionable information from vast data sets. While liberl arts students need training in core IT concepts and applications to become data analysts, their ability to critically evaluate information helps them discover business trends and make predictions.
- Human Resources
Employee performance drives organizational success. Human resources specialists know how to optimize productivity while decreasing costs through careful recruitment, training, and retention practices. Liberal arts graduates understand how human minds operate within certain sociocultural settings, which allows them to motivate employees with incentives and create a positive workplace culture.
- Digital Marketing
Liberal arts graduates who aspire to leadership positions in digital marketing typically start by working as sales representatives. They augment their communication skills with sociological and psychological concepts, allowing them to connect with potential customers. By earning a graduate marketing degree or specialized certificate, sales professionals can apply their experience to create email, social media, and search engine campaigns that target designated consumer groups.
- Program Administration
These professionals conceptualize, develop, and manage services and initiatives for a variety of industries. Program administration is a particularly important occupation in higher education. Colleges and universities hire administrators to create programs that attract prospective students and provide the support needed for academic success.
- Postsecondary Teaching
One of the most popular liberal arts career paths, postsecondary teaching allows professionals to inspire future generations while pursuing their own projects. Master's degree-holders may be able to find teaching jobs at technical and community colleges, although a doctorate is needed to apply for tenure-track positions at four-year universities.
How to Start Your Career With a Liberal Arts Degree
There are liberal arts careers in many industries. Associate and bachelor's degree-holders can pursue entry-level office administration, content writing, and retail sales positions. Graduate degree-holders can apply for research and leadership positions in specialized fields like management consulting and technical editing.
While many people use "liberal arts" and "liberal studies" interchangeably, there are some differences between the two terms. Liberal arts refer to a group of academic disciplines and related professions. Alternatively, bachelor's and master's programs in liberal studies allow students to apply prior learning and work experiences to complete self-designed, multidisciplinary curricula.
Associate Degree in Liberal Arts
To earn an associate degree in liberal arts, students must complete about 60 credits of coursework, which usually takes full-time learners two years. Students can sometimes graduate more quickly by enrolling in accelerated online liberal arts associate programs. These intensive options let distance learners earn their degrees in less time by taking shorter classes throughout the year.
At the associate level, a liberal arts education centers on exploration. Students take introductory courses like English composition, introduction to psychology, and U.S. government and constitution. Students also develop public speaking and basic computer skills.
These classes help learners discover their academic passions while fulfilling general education requirements. Schools that offer associate degrees in liberal arts often maintain 2+2 agreements with four-year universities, helping students seamlessly transfer into bachelor's programs.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Liberal Arts?
- Administrative Coordinator
In lieu of an associate in administrative assisting, students can earn a two-year liberal arts degree to prepare for jobs as administrative coordinators. These professionals act as links between departments, ensuring all of a company's employees stay updated on new goals and project updates. They also perform clerical tasks like writing reports, overseeing maintenance, and maintaining databases.
- Sales Associate
These professionals work in industries like retail and telemarketing where they engage customers, answer questions, and resolve concerns. While a college education is usually not required to work as a sales associate, earning a two-year degree may allow professionals to access higher salaries and advancement opportunities, including sales management positions.
- Human Resources Assistant
Working with the guidance of an HR director, these assistants may help with hiring processes by answering an applicant's questions and ensuring that paperwork is completed properly. HR assistants must possess strong interpersonal skills to resolve conflicts between employees, improve organizational performance through incentive programs, and communicate with external parties.
Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts
Students who want to earn a bachelor's degree in liberal arts complete approximately 120 credits of coursework. Full-time students without prior college credits usually graduate in four years, although learners who already hold an associate degree can finish a bachelor's program in just two additional years. Students can also graduate more quickly by enrolling in an accelerated online bachelor's program in liberal arts.
Required coursework may cover topics like religious literature, cultural theories and methodologies, and professional composition.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Liberal Arts?
- Technical Writer
Students who pursue an English or communication degree with a technical/professional writing concentration can find work in industries like publishing, manufacturing, and scientific services. Technical writers produce instruction manuals, journal articles, and how-to-guides. If they work for a single company, these professionals may also disseminate technical information across all organizational channels.
- Public Relations Specialist
Public relations specialists use their communication skills to craft a positive public image for their companies. In addition to preparing press releases and executive statements, PR specialists respond to news requests from media outlets. They also evaluate their organization's brand strength by analyzing data from social media engagement, sales reports, and market research.
- Human Resource Specialist
HR departments oversee employee recruitment and retention. Specialists in this field interview, screen, and place applicants based on educational and professional criteria, often contacting references and performing background checks. These professionals also conduct new employee orientation and maintain records of their performance and progress.
- Middle School Teacher
These educators provide classroom instruction to students in grades 6-8. Based on where they work, middle school teachers may teach all subjects or focus on a single content area. They prepare students for tests and offer one-on-one support to help learners overcome individual challenges. Teachers at public schools must also earn a state-issued license.
- Web Developer
By earning a graphic or commercial design degree, students can work as web developers. These professionals create websites, including the aesthetic features and content. Web developers also monitor traffic, using data to implement changes that boost the site's engagement with designated audiences. Professionals can secure some web developer positions with only an associate degree, although a bachelor's makes them more competitive.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Master's Degree in Liberal Arts
Master's programs in liberal arts usually offer working professionals flexible course scheduling and the ability to focus on specific academic disciplines through a self-designed curriculum. Students who want to earn a graduate degree in a distinct liberal arts area should consult the BestColleges sitemap for a comprehensive list of programs and up-to-date rankings.
Students who pursue an online master's degree in liberal arts usually need to complete 30-40 credits. They may take classes like digital storytelling, international relations, and industrial-organizational psychology. Most of these programs culminate in a thesis or capstone project.
Full-time students often graduate in two years, and learners can finish in one year by enrolling in an accelerated online master's program in liberal arts.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Liberal Arts?
Economists assess the production and distribution of services and goods by collecting data and delving into trends/issues. These professionals work in the federal government, scientific research settings, and financial consulting offices. Economists may also write journal articles and present their work at conferences.
- Senior Copywriter
These professionals create copy that promotes, advertises, and educates target consumers about a business's products and services. Senior copywriters analyze data to identify consumer buying habits and wants. They use this information to pick the right tone, visuals, and format for their copy.
- Advertising/Marketing Manager
Working with their teams, advertising and marketing managers develop, implement, and assess programs that generate interest in their company's products and services. They may oversee website design and plan promotional campaigns using coupons and giveaways. These business leaders also perform general management duties, like maintaining their department's budgets and hiring new employees. A graduate degree can help set applicants apart from the field.
These academic researchers examine the interactions between people that lead to the development of groups, social institutions, and cultures. Sociologists design projects that test a theory or answer a question related to society and social behavior. They collect and analyze data, draw conclusions, and present their findings in written and oral formats.
- Management Analyst
Management analysts help companies improve employee performance and overall organizational productivity, while minimizing costs. They often work as consultants, traveling to a client's location to examine their daily routines and long-term goals. These analysts then create solutions through alternative practices and new technologies, monitoring progress to offer additional advice if necessary. Many employers prefer to hire candidates who hold a master's degree.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Doctoral Degree in Liberal Arts
With a doctoral degree in liberal arts, professionals may qualify for the highest practitioner positions in their industries and academic careers as instructors, researchers, and senior administrators. Admission requirements and curricular structure vary across disciplines, but most doctoral programs take 3-7 years to complete and require a dissertation.
Below are a few careers for doctoral degree-holders.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Liberal Arts?
- Postsecondary Teacher
Liberal arts professors teach courses in their field. In addition to classroom instruction, postsecondary teachers may help learners gain skills by providing laboratory training and internship opportunities. They can also conduct research and present their findings at academic and professional conferences.
- Political Scientist
Political scientists examine the development, structure, and operation of political systems. They may focus on a single country, looking into its policies and civic programs. These professionals can also widen their scope to the international arena, analyzing the economic, political, and social trends that arise when nations interact with one another. Many political science positions require a doctorate.
These clinical practitioners help individuals improve their behaviors and thought processes by observing and interpreting their clients' relationships with other people and the environment. Upon identifying an emotional, organizational, or behavioral disorder, licensed psychologists develop an intervention plan that meets the specific needs of their client. As researchers, psychologists may conduct studies on topics like brain function, family dynamics, and addiction.
How to Advance Your Career in Liberal Arts
In general, professionals ascend to high-ranking liberal arts careers by gaining practical experience, technical knowledge, and leadership skills. Professionals can also augment their skill set by taking MOOCs through platforms like Coursera and edX.
Additionally, students who want to boost their employment opportunities without committing to a full graduate track can enroll in a graduate certificate program. However, some positions do require applicants to hold a master's or doctorate.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Professionals who want to pursue a teaching or clinical liberal arts career sometimes need to earn a state-issued license. Workers typically maintain these credentials by completing a designated number of continuing education units each renewal period. For other professionals, gaining optional certification from industry organizations demonstrates skills and accomplishments to potential employers.
For example, you can earn business certifications in areas like project management and data analytics. If you want to build an IT skill set, the CompTIA security+ credential is useful for career changers. Healthcare professionals can also benefit from certifications in risk management and information systems.
To qualify for a managerial career in liberal arts, professionals often need to earn a master's degree. However, before enrolling in a lengthy graduate program, check the requirements for your target job; earning an academic certificate might be sufficient. Prestigious institutions like Harvard University deliver graduate certificate programs in fields like learning design and technology, business economics, and social justice.
MOOCs are another way to engage in continuing education. Many MOOCs are available at little or no cost. Additionally, if you already hold a master's degree, applying for fellowship opportunities may lead to paid teaching and research experience. For example, the Institute for Humane Studies offers a nonresidential fellowship for Ph.D. candidates who want to work in an academic setting.
After gaining entry-level employment, professionals must learn new skills while updating current competencies to advance their liberal arts career. Certified and licensed practitioners must complete continuing education units to maintain their credentials. For example, the American Hospital Association requires risk management specialists to recertify every three years by accruing 45 contact hours through qualifying activities.
Networking is another crucial step for job advancement. You can expand your network of colleagues and mentors by joining an industry-specific organization. These groups often support their members by providing research funding and skill development webinars.
In addition to attending local gatherings, you can meet other professionals in your field by going to annual conferences hosted by organizations like the Association for General and Liberal Studies and the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges.
How to Switch Your Career to Liberal Arts
A 2015 BLS report found that people held an average of 12 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 52. Transitioning to a liberal arts career may require an advanced degree, particularly if the new job relies on technical, clinical, or research competencies. History, philosophy, and social science professionals must earn doctoral degrees to qualify for university teaching and governmental consulting positions.
On the other hand, professional certifications are often the best pathway to careers in IT and healthcare.
Where Can You Work as a Liberal Arts Professional?
According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the top liberal arts careers are K-12 and postsecondary education and education administration. Graduates can also pursue a variety of social service and business careers.
Additionally, sales managers find the most employment opportunities in California and Texas, while New York offers the highest salaries for these workers. Furthermore, community and social services professionals benefit from the highest salary potentials in the District of Columbia, Connecticut, and California.
Resources for Liberal Arts Majors
The following sections provide resources you can use to start and advance a career in liberal arts. You can learn about major professional organizations for liberal arts disciplines and funding, networking, and research opportunities available to members. You can also peruse lists of pertinent online courses and influential journals.
- Professional Organizations
American Educational Research Association: Founded in 1916, AERA advances educational research and programs in service of the public good. The association divides its activities into 12 divisions, including curriculum studies, education in the professions, and research methodologies. Members can network through national conferences and lecture webcasts. AERA also offers professional development courses, funding opportunities, and an online job board.
The Association of Art Museum Curators: AAMC serves over 1,300 members worldwide by providing educational research and leadership development opportunities. New curators benefit from internships and fellowships, best practices guides, and the support of experienced mentors. Members can access travel funds, webinars, and a listing of open curatorial positions. The association hosts regional networking events and national conferences.
Association for General Education and Liberal Studies: AGLS serves a community of practitioner-scholars dedicated to improving daily practices in general/liberal higher education. The association grants awards and funds to outstanding programs and leaders in the field. Resources for members include a library of research papers, a guide to programmatic evaluation, and up-to-date news through a blog platform. AGLS also hosts an annual national conference.
Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers: Established in 1994 by a group of academics and artists, the ALSCW supports literature in creative and academic settings. Members can expand their professional circle by attending local events and national conventions. They can also advance their careers through project funding and online job postings.
College Art Association of America: CAA is an international advocate for the visual arts. Members can explore employment, internship, and publishing opportunities through an online career center. The association also provides travel funds, publishing grants, and graduate fellowships. CAA publishes four journals dedicated to scholarly research, contemporary art movements, member projects, and reviews of recent works.
- Open Courseware
Effective Communication: Writing, Design, and Presentation Specialization - University of Colorado Boulder: This introductory specialization is suitable for professionals who want to transition into a business career. Students take courses in business writing, graphic design, and successful presentation, learning how to engage different audiences and build a personal brand. The series culminates in a capstone project, which requires a portfolio of works relevant to a student's current profession or interests.
Leadership Essentials - Rochester Institute of Technology: This self-paced certificate program consists of three classes designed to help working professionals advance into leadership roles. Coursework includes critical thinking and business communication. Students also take a class on collaboration, learning how to build and motivate workplace teams.
Agile Innovation and Problem-Solving Skills - University System of Maryland: This four-week class helps professionals build a career in IT by teaching them best practices in agile software development. Students learn how to use their critical thinking skills to assess the risks associated with developing new business and product lines. They also gain the ability to manage cross-functional teams and apply test-driven design strategies.
Conflict Management Specialization - University of California, Irvine: Students who pursue this beginner specialization master fundamental conflict resolution skills, learning how to employ positive conflict and intercultural communication practices. Participants examine how factors like competing interests and power imbalances affect management strategies in a global society. The class culminates in a capstone project that tasks learners with analyzing and solving a specific conflict.
Journal of Arts and Humanities: This open-access publication delivers peer-reviewed articles on empirical research and theoretical discussions across fields like anthropology, development studies, linguistics, and creative writing. In addition to critical discourse and original studies, readers can access creative works 12 times per year in English, French, and Spanish.
International Journal of Liberal Arts and Social Science: A global platform for the liberal arts, IJLASS publishes research papers in over 25 disciplines, including economics, gender studies, public administration, and journalism. Academics, students, and practitioners can submit their work, which can be literature reviews, case studies, or analytical and simulation models.
Arts and Humanities in Higher Education: AHH serves arts and humanities educators by publishing content centered on critical research of current issues in college learning and teaching. Recent topics included the role of liberal arts in a skills economy and reshaping the classroom with blended learning practices. The journal accepts submissions on a rolling basis and does not charge any fees.
Confluence: Published by the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs, Confluence is an international journal that showcases peer-reviewed research papers and essays by scholars in the liberal arts. Content also includes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual works. This open-access publication accepts submissions from students, faculty, and alumni connected to one of its member institutions/programs.
Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies: This journal focuses on the synthesis of ethics, knowledge, and faith. Member institutions learn how to enhance classroom performance, attract honors students, and expand community outreach. Readers can also learn about conferences and professional development resources.
Liberal Studies Commons: This online library contains more than 4,100 open-access articles from educators, researchers, and practitioners across the globe. Content covers topics like disability and equity in education, student counseling and personnel services, and indigenous education. Recent articles also analyzed the effectiveness of implicit bias training in helping faculty engage their students in current social, cultural, and political events.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is it hard to get a job with a liberal arts degree?
Due to the diversity of liberal arts careers, entry and advancement requirements differ greatly based on a worker's occupation, employer, and industry. Research conducted by the AAC&U reveals that 93% of employers care more about a candidate's ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems than their college major.
- What can I do with a degree in liberal arts?
In addition to careers within your academic discipline, there are many opportunities in health services administration. You can also apply your skills in business, working as a sales representative, intelligence analyst, or marketing manager. Education is another popular field for liberal arts graduates, who can pursue careers as classroom teachers, curriculum designers, and college administrators.
- Do employers like liberal arts degrees?
Research conducted by several organizations show that employers greatly value liberal arts graduates. When asked by AAC&U, participating executives and hiring managers stated that they prioritize an applicant's ability to innovate in the face of rapid change over any specific technical training. The labor market analytics firm Emsi reported that liberal arts graduates often move from entry-level roles to management positions within three job changes.
- What is the average salary for a liberal arts major?
According to PayScale data, professionals with a BA in liberal arts earn an average annual salary of $62,710. Additionally, individuals who earn a graduate degree may qualify for management occupations, which pay a median annual wage of $105,660.