avid book

Stacked books waiting to be filed at Avid Bookshop off Prince Avenue on Jan. 28, 2019 in Athens, Georgia. Avid hosts a monthly bookclub on Tuesday evenings. (Photo/Julian Alexander)

If you’re like me, you’ll hear it from nearly everyone who learns what your major is. “The humanities are dead, how are you going to get a job with that?” English majors in particular seem to receive the brunt of jokes — even former Secretary of State John Kerry was challenged for his political science degree, according to NBC News. Onlookers have predicted the end of the humanities for decades, and, worse, The Atlantic reports students believe the warnings. The number of humanities majors has declined significantly as students have flocked to STEM degrees they perceive as safer.

However, the death of humanities issues is largely overblown. Humanities still offer strong job prospects to their graduates, and students shouldn’t shy away from those studies. 

This is not to say that all is well for the humanities. There are legitimate concerns about the job market for humanities Ph.D. graduates, specifically those going into academia. As the Brookings Institution explains, American universities are graduating more humanities Ph.D.’s than new academic jobs are being created, leading to a serious oversupply of potential professors. In that sense, the humanities are indeed facing a crisis.

However, it is less clear if humanities students who graduate with less advanced degrees are facing any difficulty in finding success compared to equally-qualified counterparts in other subject areas. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences found humanities majors earn less money than STEM majors coming out of college, but the gap closes over time. Furthermore, despite the initial gap in pay, the difference in financial satisfaction is rather small; 51% of engineering graduates said they felt financially secure, only marginally higher than the 42% of humanities who said the same. Taken together, these statistics suggest that humanities graduates can enjoy a quality of life relatively equal to STEM graduates.

Perhaps these findings should not be surprising. Though many people may struggle to see the direct connection between the workforce and an art history degree, the humanities teach students important skills that can be applied to a variety of jobs. The University of Texas at the Permian Basin promotes the humanities’ role in teaching skills such as critical thinking that can be applied in almost any field. And there is evidence that many of these skills are vital to performing well in today’s world. According to data from LinkedIn, employers highly value certain “soft skills” such as creativity, persuasion and collaboration, all three of which students can learn through a liberal arts education. In fact, those skills may be even more useful than “hard skills” such as cloud computing — 57% of senior leaders believe soft skills are more important in today’s workforce than hard skills.

So to anyone who has an interest in the humanities, I encourage you to ignore the warnings and study what you like. With a strong background in the humanities or liberal arts, you should be equipped to thrive in almost any job you choose.

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