Former Western Michigan University student Danielle M. Favorite graduated in April of 2011 armed with a major in creative writing. The job prospects before her no doubt seemed daunting in light of stereotypes that too often haunt the halls of Brown and Dunbar.
Generalizations that sweep humanities majors under the umbrella of the ‘economically unsound’ are misguided, in Favorite’s eyes. After all, she landed a job in her field on the editorial administration staff at the Kalamazoo Gazette after saying her final farewell to WMU.
Stereotypes aimed at humanities majors can be discredited after some probing into the job data that exists. Research that narrowly focuses on employment immediately after college is the main perpetrator of the apocalyptic post-college imagery awaiting graduating humanities students.
“Initially it might seem that humanities majors might be disadvantaged, but when you look at the long term, five or seven years out, you see them pulling up equal to their peers in terms of earnings,” associate professor of English Dr. Brian Gogan said.
Gogan stresses that this is a very big ‘might’ indeed. In fact, a Georgetown University survey conducted in 2013 of recent college graduates concluded that the average unemployment rate of humanities majors directly out of school is nine percent; comparatively, computer science and math majors have an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent and both numbers are not too far from the average percentage of unemployment of all majors combined, which is 7.9 percent. These numbers show that unemployment for humanities majors directly after college is right on par with other fields of study, not egregiously high as some may believe.
An article published in September of 2016 by The Wall Street Journal found that liberal arts and humanities majors tend to pursue higher education and, over time, make average earnings that are three percent ahead of individuals who pursue vocational degrees such as nursing or accounting.
Perhaps the stereotypes arise due in part to the language that describes many majors in the humanities. While majors like accounting align directly with a profession, majors in the humanities are not as cut and dry.
“There are certain types of major programs and minor programs that align exactly with a job. When you study nursing you are positioned to become a nurse. When you study public relations, you are positioned to work in public relations,” Gogan said. “When you study English though, what is the job that aligns with English? The language that we use to describe our programs in some cases encourages the stereotype because it does not match well with a job title out there.”
In reality, there are thousands of jobs available to humanities majors. They are merely hidden under titles that do not explicitly announce the major of study best tailored to their needs. Web content administrator, information developer, content strategist and social media developer are just a few titles of professions that are available to those with liberal arts degrees.
“Humanities majors often times have to take an extra step when they are looking for jobs. It is not only about what jobs are available, it is also about sifting through job ads and finding the job ad that matches with your skill set,” Gogan said. “The name of your degree won’t make the match alone.”
Luckily, the top skills that employers consistently seek out are ones cultivated and promoted particularly well in humanities fields. The National Association of Colleges and Employer’s Job Outlook for 2016 found that written communication skills was the third most sought after competence of prospective employees. The ability to work in a team, creativity and verbal communication skills were not too far behind.
“It used to be that the degree would be the top qualification for a candidate. Nowadays, though, you have a huge range of titles and instead of looking for one credential that would show you’re qualified, the job postings are now listing a large range of skills or capacities. It’s not a credential but a capacity that they are looking for now, the ability to research and the ability to critically think, for example,’ Gogan said.
Job prospects for those studying the humanities are high as the capacities they gain are tailored precisely to the top desires of employers.
“The critical thinking skills and language skills and more humanistic skills are often at the top of those [job] lists. Abilities like collaboration and group work and the ability to understand how to work well with others and better understand how others interact; those are the humanities,” Gogan said.