If you’re a liberal arts major, chances are you’ve heard one of these before: “What are you going to do with that?” “Do you have a backup plan?” “So…you want to be a teacher?”
Liberal arts encompass areas of study like English, history, and art, but as “impractical” as some of the majors may seem, it is possible for them to lead to a successful career. But don’t just take it from us – we asked ten people to tell us how they turned their liberal arts degree into a lucrative career, and this is what they had to say.
“I graduated from Vassar College, where I studied sociology and American politics…Or, if you asked a liberal arts skeptic, I spent money to live on a pretty campus and to *not* learn employable hard skills, all for a piece of paper saying as much.
I ended up finding that the reading comprehension, analytical thinking, communication, and writing skills I gained in my studies were far more useful than the skeptics would lead you to believe. I now work in business development, a mixture of sales and analytics, where I craft convincing proposals and emails, manage relationships, and brainstorm solutions to problems. I may not have become a sociologist or worked on a political campaign, but I took the skills I learned at Vassar to tackle my job in a comprehensive, emotionally intelligent way.
Make connections, network, and don't expect success and lucrative employment right away. But, being able to think, to write, and to question will serve you well in whatever field you pursue. It has done so for me in my role as Director of Performance Marketing at Fit Small Business."
- Casey, Vassar College graduate
“I’m a lawyer and a Latin major. [My major] provided the analytical framework to go to law school, pass the bar, and eventually start my own practice. My practice has grown from me and a handful of cases to niche personal injury practice with two wonderful employees and upwards of sixty clients in two years. Simply put, my advice is (and always will be): Follow you dreams, listen to your heart, believe in yourself, and never forget to say thank you.”
- Kevin, University of Georgia graduate
“I have a B.S. in applied communication and a minor in theatre performance. I studied a variety of communication platforms including public speaking, public relations, speech writing, journalism, argument and persuasion, and writing. After a successful run in the corporate world, I started my own business. I sold my first business and today, I own a business helping small business owners to effectively share their stories with the media so they can grow awareness and ultimately increase revenue.
It was difficult to find my first job, but once I did, I started winning sales awards every month so everyone started asking me how I was so successful. It's all about communication, which to the surprise of many, is actually a lot about listening.”
- Meredith, Lynchburg College of Virginia graduate
“I studied a BA in English literature and theatre. I am currently a writer for LoveCrafts and building a slate of film projects, having previously written for Huffington Post and Elite Daily, founding the award-nominated blog aliljoy.com, worked at BAFTA and numerous British production companies, as well as acting and associate producing the award-winning short film La Lune Folle.
My liberal arts [degree] gave me the confidence and ability to communicate effectively in a collaborative and creative group environment.”
- Yazmin, Royal Holloway, University of London graduate
“[I] majored in fine art, liberal arts and psychology. Throughout college I always got the same joke - you tell people wha[t] you are working towards and they smile and say “ok practice this - ‘you want fries with that?’” Or they say “so that’s kind of like an administrative assistant position?” Currently I design for clients like Sears, The Marine Mammal Care Center in LA and the Palace de Arts. I’ve helped build up client’s business and marketing strategies from the ground up, I’ve had dozens of solo fine art exhibits and have written and illustrated over a dozen books.
The business world right now isn’t cut and dry. You have to hold multiple titles, be flexible and able to anticipate when things are about to go outside the box. A liberal arts degree gives you a solid education foundation, work ethic, the ability to multitask your focus and applications of efforts as well as prepare you to communicate with the real world your ideas and self-worth. Really, a liberal arts degree is the Swiss army knife of all the behind the scenes business skills no one ever told you that you needed.”
- Julianne, Flagler College graduate
“I went to Fordham University for undergrad and studied marketing and communications. After several years of swimming through roles in corporate America that didn't satisfy me, I went back to school to earn my MFA at The New York School of Interior Design. I went off on my own but found myself struggling after the first year of owning my own interior design business…I thought it would be a good idea to sell real estate on the side to support my interior design business since I was already working with residential home owners.
Had you told me when I was 22 that I would end up in a career selling real estate I never would have believed you. I work in an industry that requires no education, simply a license, and I've spent over $140,000 to obtain my education. However, that same education is what helped me become the successful realtor that I am today. Educated people want to work with other educated people. I don't feel like I sell anything at all - I market, strategize, negotiate, project manage, and educate.”
- Melissa, Fordham University and New York School of Interior Design graduate
“I majored in journalism and minored in marketing. In my current role, I find myself writing content, news pieces, communicating to accounts/clients via email, and other various writing tasks every day. Having a firm understanding of what comprises professional content has helped me greatly in my post-collegiate career and it has given me the tools to continue to develop skills in this vein.
The advice I would give to someone following a similar path is to explore as many opportunities as you can during your collegiate (and post-collegiate) career, even if it seems overwhelming or as if it [is] some sort of scattershot career move.”
- Jake, California State University, Northridge graduate
“I am currently wearing two hats in my career. One is the CMO/co-founder of a company called Finnbin, which is a baby box company rooted in the Finnish baby box tradition. My other hat is a strategic marketing consultant for high-growth, early stage companies. The way I'm able to work with my clients, as well as with Finnbin, in seeing all the layers and different components to a challenge allows me to provide solutions that serve multiple functions. If I didn't have my liberal arts background, I don't think I'd process information or analyze things the same way.”
- Catherine, Skidmore College graduate
“As soon as I graduated from high school, I moved to Southern California and started attending school at California State University, Fullerton majoring in theatre. A lot of people told me I'd get a career in waitressing and discouraged my passion for the arts. They said a liberal arts degree in theatre would be useless.
That negative criticism actually fueled my motivation to succeed. I realized that I also had a passion for leadership, marketing and public relations. I decided to earn a Master of Fine Arts Degree and specialized in arts management with an emphasis in marketing. My first job out of grad school was at the Utah Shakespeare Festival as the Media and PR Manager. Now I'm the Assistant Director of Marketing for Southern Utah University. My liberal arts degree established a solid foundation that I draw upon every day. I encourage students to believe in themselves and pursue their passions. Always be willing to learn and grow.”
- Nikki, California State University, Fullerton graduate
“I’ve worked in advertising for Ogilvy & Mather, television for Disney and CBS, as a project manager for two theme park companies, and now, years later, I am now the head of my own consulting firm – as well as a college professor.
So, I can say without hesitation that my liberal arts degree was ANYTHING BUT useless! It taught me to think critically, analytically, innovatively, and persuasively. It taught me how to write, communicate, and tell stories. And it provided me with untold timeless, universal insights into the human condition.
My liberal arts background has not only helped to make me a more effective thinker, communicator, and leader but – of equal importance – being more culturally literate has, in so many ways, led to my living a richer, fuller, and more well-rounded life.”
- Todd, State University of New York at Albany graduate