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Myths of Majoring in Humanities

There are many myths regarding the humanities, most of them stemming from anecdotal evidence or well-publicized horror stories. You know them. The starving artist. The jobless liberal arts major with several hundred thousand dollars of student debt. What do these stories have in common? They are outliers, examples of failures that are just as likely in any other field. The problem is that news of these outliers is repeated over and over, creating myths that have fueled misconceptions about the humanities. Though there are many negative myths plaguing the humanities, the truth and real benefits of earning a degree in the discipline cannot be overlooked.

Debunking the Myths About the Humanities

The most damning myths against the humanities depict a graduate unemployed or underemployed at best. While it is true that some people have a hard time after earning their degree in humanities, there are just as many success stories. Leaders like Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal; Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice; and Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney, are just a few examples of humanities majors who rose to prominence. And the average humanities major? Someone with a degree in the humanities is as employable and able to compete for employment as a job seeker with a so-called practical degree.

A 2013 Georgetown University study found that the overall unemployment rates for recent college graduates ranges from 4.8 percent to 14.7 percent, depending on the major. At the high end were information systems majors, with an unemployment rate of 14.7 percent. Computer science majors came in at around 8.7 percent unemployment. How about liberal arts? In that same study, the unemployment rate for liberal arts majors was 8.1 percent -- lower than even economics majors (10.4 percent).

The data shows that a degree in humanities doesn't mean unemployment. In fact, humanities graduates often have an advantage beginning their careers. Why is that? For starters, the humanities teach students creative and critical thinking skills. So do other majors, yes, but the humanities specifically teach about how to think about problems that do not yet exist. A computer scientist learns to solve problems related to programming. And even the best problem solvers, like engineers, learn to design solutions to specific problems. What about problems that no one has thought about? That is the realm of liberal arts -- a world in which philosophers think about the human condition, historians look for key moments that led to the fall of an empire, and linguists find ways to piece together ancient languages.

Finally, there is a reason why many people on the path to law school decide to major in philosophy. They learn how to piece together compelling arguments from the moment they step into the classroom. They become so good at it that they have some of the highest scores on the LSAT and GRE in areas related to verbal reasoning and logic.

False: There Is No Work for Humanities Majors

Every industry stands to gain by hiring from the humanities. Already, consulting firms go out of their way to snatch up graduates with a degree in the humanities. The ability to see the big picture in mounds of data is valuable. In the past, this was a useful skill because it allowed us to advance in science. Over time, scientific process drowned out the need for the humanities. Recently, that trend has started to reverse. Our scientific progress has outpaced our ability to understand and grasp what we find. We collect so much data and have so many specialties that statisticians have become essential in nearly every field.

Without proper context, a mountain of data can cause us to lose sight of what is important. A humanities major can come in and help explain the data by looking beyond surface details and providing meaning. If you are considering a degree in the humanities, pay no attention to the myths. Pursue your passion, learn how to apply it, and you will find a rewarding career.

Learn more about the UTPB online Bachelor of Arts in Humanities program.


NY6 Think Tank: Debunking Two Common Myths about a Degree in the Arts/Humanities

Georgetown University: Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings

Harvard Business Review: Want Innovative Thinking? Hire From the Humanities

Stanford Humanities Center: Why Do the Humanities Matter?

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