One side to an ever-persisting debate tells us that humanities, English, history and anthropology degrees have low ROI, leading to careers with minimal financial yield. Believing in this assumption, ambitious students may feel inclined to pursue technical degrees with rigid curricula. Without a doubt, science and math are invaluable to our society, economy and world, but still, even technical businesses need intelligent non-technical people to thrive and survive. More importantly, we need intermediaries who can learn on the fly to connect technical concepts with the key business units of marketing, finance, business development and corporate strategy. In many ways, these are areas where the liberal arts niche can thrive and contribute tangible economic value. (For more, read 6 Steps To Successfully Switching Financial Careers.)
As liberal arts degree-holders, we learn to think creatively by studying thought leadership in all shapes, forms and sizes. When it's time to sit down; however, we have trouble translating our skills into the language of business. In other words, as smart as we are, we could benefit from lessons in self-marketing since an unstructured degree may leave us with a less-than-straight forward trajectory for a lucrative career. We need to do two things: (1) create self-directed structure and (2) advocate our talents as essential to the bottom line.
If you're looking for direction, keep reading. The following careers are in high market demand and absolutely need your skills as a liberal arts grad. Keep in mind that at the manager and director levels, depending on your location, choice of graduate study, years of experience and company, these tracks have six-figure income potential.
Business Development and Sales
Companies need people who can build creative connections and partnerships with a variety of people. Ultimately, the best sales people are strategic thinkers and clear communicators who can make enticing and compelling arguments. In business development, you need to be able to show, tell, support claims and write. Believe it or not, your liberal arts degree can equip you with the forethought and level of perception required to be a strong relationship-builder.
It's no secret that students of psychology, sociology, economics, history and literature have stellar analytical skills. Think about it: your degree basically forces you to extrapolate macro-level findings and arguments from small details. Even if you're not dealing with numbers for your major, you're still analyzing and working with text-based data in the form of a historical record or media piece. If you're quantitatively inclined and understand statistics, you may enjoy a career in web analytics. With a solid foundation in statistics, you'll be able to develop the skills necessary to work with data, and over time you can learn the techniques to design more sophisticated forecasting models.
Operations Research and Management
This field helps organizations perform more efficiently. To be successful, operations researchers need to have an eye for making connections and identifying areas for firm-wide improvement. Beyond figuring out problems, these individuals need to communicate effectively and across departments to pinpoint solutions. If you're interested in this career track, be sure to sharpen your quantitative skills and develop a strong foundation in programs like Excel. In the end, companies vary based on the personality types that they recruit - some prefer people with heavy quantitative skills and others want stronger communicators. Either way, the liberal arts grad can definitely find a niche.
Some companies have engineering-heavy products and absolutely need managers with an engineering background. Realistically, if you don't have an engineering background, you won't succeed in single-handedly managing the development of something like a highly-technical database. Still, keep in mind that there is a huge market for consumer products and, consequently, there is a need for people to oversee those products. At some companies, product managers function as liaisons between multiple sales, marketing, legal and engineering teams. A liberal arts background could help anyone thrive in this type of role.
Strong campaigns need planners with creative and strategic thinking skills. If you're someone with strong communication skills and an ability to make a lasting impact on a prospective consumer, you may be a great fit with this type of role. As a humanities, social science or liberal arts major, you've studied trends, language best-practices and consumer preferences from a variety of angles. To excel in this type of job, you should have comfort with data and strong communication skills.
The Internet and online media industries have grown to accommodate increasing demand for content. In other words, companies of all shapes and sizes need strong writers. Professional writing has high-value in two ways: (1) it supplements any full-time career with extra work and learning opportunities, and (2) it is a career goal that is an end-result in itself. Believe it or not, at some prestigious marketing agencies, copywriter salaries can exceed six figures. As a liberal arts or humanities major, you probably have an eye for good writing, and you may want to explore content development as a potential career.
The Bottom Line
Contrary to some perspectives, a liberal arts degree will leave you well-equipped with the skills required to excel in a full-time role. What's lacking from the degree is structure and a well-defined career path. If a high-value career is your goal, it's up to you to step up to fill this gap.