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Intellect is a marketable commodity. Employers want to hire thinkers. And thinkers look for intellectual careers.
But where do you find them?
Most think smart people end up working higher education jobs or in research. But there are many different jobs for intellectuals.
If you consider yourself a smart person, you might try turning your gift (and your hard work) into a rewarding career.
What makes a job intellectual?
Smart jobs keep your brain active. They don’t cause you to fall asleep at your desk or bore you to tears. There are several things that make a job stimulating, but we’ve chosen three to highlight.
Read on to find out what makes a job stimulate your brain.
You work with data
In some of the most intellectual careers, you work with data. But it’s more than crunching numbers. You process and analyze information to make determinations. You also make estimates or predictions based on your outcomes.
For example, architects estimate measurements to ensure buildings are safe. Aerospace engineers determine flight dynamics through careful data analysis. There are many jobs where you work with data every day.
You work with machines
When you work with unique tools and machines, you keep your brain sharp. Your brain shifts between tasks, keeping it stimulated. You’re less likely to lose focus when you use machinery, for example.
Machine technicians and engineers work with machines. But the machine doesn’t need to be a trinket or gadget to stimulate your brain. Accountants use machines when they work with computers and calculators.
You work with people
When you interact with people, you use and develop your interpersonal skills. You also identify how to communicate in the best way with those around you. Working with people can help keep your mind sharp.
Careers where you work with people include doctors, lawyers, and social workers. If you have clients, you’re meeting with people.
But jobs where you work on teams also require sharp people skills. As a leader or a member of a team, you navigate personalities and adapt to different leadership styles as needed. You become an active part of a team with a single goal and vision. This ensures a job well done.
20 Smart Degrees to Get for Intellectuals
Below are 20 smart majors for people who like to think. These degrees earn a spot on any intellectual jobs list because of the above criteria. In these majors, you work with data, machines, and/or people. You use critical thinking and analytical skills in your day-to-day activities.
If you love to analyze, ponder, and think, these are the smartest majors in college to study.
1. Actuarial Science
Actuarial science deals with risk measurements in business and finance. Actuaries spend their time evaluating the likelihood of future events. They also try to come up with ways to reduce the impact of those events.
To do their job, actuaries use data analysis. They work for:
- Accounting firms
- Colleges and universities
- Government agencies
- Insurance companies
Those who work in insurance help establish cost premiums. They assess risk and costs, all while analyzing numbers, charts, and graphs.
To study actuarial science, you should be a thinker. You should also have strong analytical and problem-solving skills.
Since the job requires data analysis, you need to be good with numbers. As an actuarial science major, you improve your math skills by taking courses in statistics and finance. You also take courses that cover financial mathematics and probability.
After college, you need to pass a series of exams so that you qualify for an actuary job.
So if you’re good at taking tests and working with numbers, you will find many benefits to this career. From high earnings to brain stimulation, actuarial science offers a good career for thinkers.
2. Aerospace Engineering
Aerospace engineers design and build planes, spacecraft, and weapons systems. You need a master’s degree to work in most aerospace engineer jobs, but you can also get a bachelor’s.
Aerospace engineers are thinkers. The top engineers go to work for NASA. But you can also find intellectual jobs at Boeing, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, and Rolls-Royce.
While in college, you take courses that make you a better critical thinker and mathematician. You take courses such as:
- Design optimization
- Flight dynamics
- Fluid mathematics
- Structural mechanics
You also take many math and physics courses.
After graduation, six-figure salaries await you. But you’ll need to work hard in school and graduate at the top of your class to land a job with NASA because this is one of the smartest majors to study.
As an anthropology major, you study human behavior and the development of culture. You focus on questions and answers to different aspects of social relations.
There are four main branches of sociology. These include:
- Cultural anthropology
- Physical anthropology
While you focus your studies on these main branches, you can also specialize in a geographic area. Common areas include Latin America, Eastern Europe, or North America.
A specialization gives you an edge over your competition when you apply for a job. You also improve your research skills as you study a niche of anthropology.
If you want to understand the social world and culture as it relates to human development, then this major might work for you. But plan on learning more than anthropology in your classes. Many programs explore topics in art, history, language, and sociology.
Many consider anthropology one of the most intelligent college majors to pursue.
Astronomers, or astrophysicists, study galaxies, solar systems, and stars. While most students who go into astronomy get a graduate degree, some schools offer bachelor’s degree programs.
You can land an entry-level career in computer science, math, and physics with an undergraduate degree in astronomy. You can also qualify for graduate school if you keep your grades up and get support from your professors.
Courses in undergraduate programs cover topics like:
- Galactic and extragalactic astrophysics
- Planetary and stellar astrophysics
- Solar systems astronomy
After graduation, you can work as an astronomer or astrophysicist. But again, most of these jobs require a master’s degree.
You can also land a job as a data analyst, news reporter, or teacher. The sky’s the limit for this degree, especially if you love to think and don’t want to grow bored on the job.
In bioethics, you study the moral and ethical consequences of biological research. But you also study how it helps. Bioethics programs teach you how to apply ethics to your research, no matter how complicated.
As science advances, demand for this job increases. As a result, the number of undergraduate programs in this field have grown. Some schools offer bioethics as a standalone degree, while others connect it to public health or policy degrees.
In a bioethics program, you learn what it means to be ethical in human advancement. You raise questions on how research intertwines with law, medicine, and technology. You learn about important ideas and topics in biomedical research, such as:
- Artificial intelligence
- Pharmaceutical therapies
- Stem cell research
You take classes that cover topics in health care and law and public health ethics.
Bioethics programs are for thinkers. The major helps you understand the impact of science and research. But it also helps you learn how to analyze moral arguments and contribute to debate.
6. Biomedical Engineering
If you’re passionate about biology and want to be on the cutting edge of innovation in health and medicine, this major is for you.
To work as a bioengineer or biomedical engineer, you need at least a bachelor’s degree. When you start this program, you take introductory courses like:
- Biomedical engineering
- General and analytical chemistry
You then study more complex topics, from medical device design to numerical analysis of complex biosystems.
Some programs offer accelerated pacing. In such a program, you earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. Other programs might offer a health policy specialization.
But no matter what degree pathway you take, your courses will cover many math and science topics.
7. Chemical Engineering
You don’t have to narrow your interest in biology and chemistry to earn a degree in chemical engineering. In fact, this degree includes both subjects.
In a chemical engineering program, you study both biological and chemical processes. You take courses that explore topics in:
- Chemical engineering materials
- Chemical engineering processes
- Process design and operations
Most programs are math heavy. They require you take many advanced math classes in calculus and differential equations. But you also take a series of chemistry and physics courses.
You need a strong math and science background to do well in this program. In high school, plan on taking as many math and physics courses as you can. Your early planning will give you a strong foundation for your college classes.
When it’s time to apply to college, look for ABET-accredited programs. Employers favor this designation when hiring chemical engineers.
8. Cognitive Psychology
Cognitive psychology teaches you how the human mind processes, stores, and recalls information. It is a major for thinkers because it prepares students to ask questions.
- How do humans learn, perceive, and behave?
- How do human feelings and behaviors influence the brain?
- How does the brain influence mental processes?
While learning how to answer these questions, you develop your problem-solving skills. You also become a critical thinker. You also work on your writing, as you research and draft papers.
Your classes cover many science and psychology topics. Some undergraduate programs offer standalone degrees or concentrations with a major in psychology. But with this concentration, you still take many neuroscience and cognitive science courses.
Graduate degrees in this discipline offer research-heavy classes. In a master’s degree program, you will choose a topic of interest and plan your own research. But you’ll also take foundational courses that build upon your undergraduate studies.
This major is for intellectuals who like to question current systems. As the field evolves, research drives new methods and ways of doing things. If you love to research and have a strong interest in how our brains work, cognitive psychology might be a good fit.
Economics teaches you the principles related to monetary systems. It’s different than finance, which looks at the management of funds. Economics takes a broad look at how resources impact people, society, and location. It also looks at how distribution of those resources impacts us.
Because the major is interdisciplinary, you don’t only take econ courses. You study history, political science, sociology, and more.
There are two main branches of economics.
Your studies as an econ major cover both branches. Microeconomics looks at the behavior of individuals, households, and organizations. Macroeconomics deals with economies at the regional, national, and even global levels.
You should expect to take both lectures and seminars. These different class styes let you approach subjects from various angles. Seminars allow you to ask questions, talk with your peers, and learn how to debate. Lectures give you information and theories to explore.
If you’re a thinker who enjoys solving problems and studying theory, economics could be what you’re looking for in a major.
The discipline has become more quantitative to give room to data analysis and market research. So, plan on taking statistics and math. Many students earn advanced degrees with hopes of becoming a professor or getting a consultant job.
10. English Literature
- British literature
- Modern drama
- The modern American novel
11. History/Archival Science
History is one of the largest departments on any college campus, due to its popularity as a major. It’s also a major for thinkers.
As a history or archival science major, you learn how to think, research, and write. You also learn how to focus your thoughts and write with clarity.
But because history is an interdisciplinary major, you have hundreds of courses you can take. You can also earn concentrations in different subjects. Popular history concentrations include:
- American history
- Asian history
- Global and transnational history
You can also earn pick up a second major or a minor in areas that relate to history. Popular minors include economics and political science.
No matter which focus-area you choose, your history major will work for you. And if you plan to go to graduate school or even law school, you can with a history degree. In fact, many lawyers working today have history degrees.
As society moves forward, we look at the past for answers. We evaluate what happened and where things went wrong. As a result, we need historians and archivists to help preserve knowledge of the past. By doing so, we learn how the past impacts the future.
- Cognitive psychology
- Cognitive science
- Communication sciences
13. Mathematical Sciences
Are you good with numbers? Love solving complicated problems?
If so, math might be the smartest degree to get. As a math major, you use your math skills to identify problems, find new theories, and come up with new and innovative ways to solve issues.
This major is for intellectuals who love research and problem-solving. But if that’s you, you’ve found you dream major. And if you’ve found your dream major, you might find your dream job.
As a math major, you collect data and perform research. You analyze numbers and statistics, then draw conclusions based on your findings.
Most mathematicians hold master’s degrees, but you can also find work with a bachelor’s degree. Career choices include:
- Actuary jobs
- Data collection analyst
- Data scientist
- Mathematical modeler
- Software engineer
Math isn’t for everyone. But if you’re a thinker who loves solving problems, the major can lead you to some intellectual careers.
Want to join the ranks of famous philosophy majors? This challenging major was the choice for many thinkers like:
- Comedian Stephen Colbert
- Former United States President Bill Clinton
- NBA legend Phil Jackson
- Professor and activist Noam Chomsky
As a philosophy major, you study questions that have no concrete answers. That’s part of the appeal of this major. But if you like pondering existential questions that have confused humankind for centuries, this major might suit you.
A philosophy program teaches you how to engage in arguments. It helps you debate issues and reason through them.
Your coursework covers topics like:
- Symbolic logic
Your studies involve moral, ethical, and analytical issues. They also teach students how to reason through them.
Philosophy majors can combine their degree with other majors, such as economics and political science. Some programs offer concentrations that allow you to focus your studies on an area of interest.
When you graduate, you can go to law school or graduate school. Many philosophy majors go into academia. But to do this, you need a PhD in philosophy.
As a physics major, you learn how the seen and unseen natural world behaves through laws and processes in the universe. You also learn about matter, motion, space, and time.
If you’re STEM-bent and enjoy taking math and science courses, a physics major will improve your skills. But the academic rigor in this major is high. You take many challenging courses on your way to a bachelor’s degree.
Common courses include:
- General physics
You can also earn a specialization in a physics niche, such as astrophysics.
Career opportunities are vast with a physics degree. In fact, many graduates move into healthcare, engineering, and science careers.
But if you want to teach physics to college students, you will need a PhD in physics.
17. Political Science
- American politics
- Environmental politics
- Global politics
- American politics
- Environmental politics
- Foreign policy
- Global politics
18. Public Policy Analysis
Want to work in government or law? How about a job with a nonprofit? If so, a degree in public policy might be what you’re looking for in a career.
This degree prepares you with research skills and knowledge in the field. You explore topics in:
- Constitutional law and procedures
- Contemporary policy changes
- Public administration
You also learn how public speaking can benefit your career. You take communications and writing courses that improve your speaking abilities. You also learn how to lead in this field.
If you want to specialize, you can earn a concentration or take classes in areas of interest. Popular specializations include compliance, public leadership and management, and social policy. These specializations are a great way to explore your interests and career goals.
This is one of the smartest majors for people interested in government. Since the major relies heavily on research, it’s ideal for those who like to learn new things. You also get to question how systems work and develop policy for change.
Sociology is for thinkers. If you like to learn about different aspects of social life, from small groups to large-scale populations, this major might suit you.
You cover important ideas related to socialization across life cycles. You also study social conflict and how it impacts most people.
In this major, you dig into social inequality. You also look at systems that affect crime rates. Your courses cover a wide range of topics. Common courses in a bachelor’s degree program include:
- Health and social welfare
- Mass media and popular culture
- Social identities
- Social inequalities
When you graduate, you can seek professional roles as sociologists. You can also take jobs as market research analysts or researchers. But most of these positions need a graduate degree.
20. Software Engineering
Software engineering teaches you how to design, develop, and maintain complex computer programs. The major is technical and requires a background in math and computers. It also requires strong critical thinking skills.
If you’re a thinker who loves to ponder complex puzzles, you might enjoy this major. It’s also ideal for those who want to learn more about software engineering.
As a student, you take classes that improve your software and engineering skills. You take both computer science and math classes, as well as engineering courses. These classes prepare you for work as a software engineer. But you can also qualify for other jobs, such as:
- Computer systems analyst
- Computer systems manager
- Software developer
- Web developer
The major is good for students with a math and science background and a love for computers. If you enjoy solving problems and thinking about challenging theories, you might love software engineering.
Other Smart Majors for Intellectuals
Other majors that didn’t make the list but still lead to jobs for intellectuals include:
Because you need a strong background in science and math, you’ll find smart students majoring in chemistry. Chemistry requires data analysis, research, and strong math skills. You need to take measurements and perform lab work. But your hard work leads to good pay as a researcher or chemist.
- Foreign language
It’s not easy learning a foreign language, whether it’s French, Hindi, or Korean. To learn a new language in college takes hard work and discipline. You have to put in the time studying new vocabulary. You also have to read, write, and communicate in a new language.
But if you’re willing to start a new language from scratch, it will keep your mind sharp and stimulate your brain. Research shows that switching between languages causes certain parts of your brain to become more active. You process information quicker and filter it more efficiently.
Learning a new language also acts as a gateway to another culture. It opens doors (or excuses) to travel, as it makes it easier and more enjoyable.
Genetics is another science good for thinkers. As a genetics major, you take many science classes. You also take math and statistics courses. These classes require you to solve complex problems. You also learn how to analyze and research.
- Other science majors
Any science that requires you to conduct lab work and research is good for your brain. Researchers gather information and collect data. They interpret results based on their findings. They even come up with ways to improve future tests by evaluating where they went wrong. To carry out these tasks, you need to think and question.
Every science major uses the scientific method to gain knowledge. These steps allow you to ask a question about something you observe and to go through the process of drawing conclusions. Through research and tests, you determine results and outcomes.
But to go through the steps, you need to think, question, and wonder. A good scientist always asks questions.
What Major Should You Choose?
If you’re looking for intellectual careers, you’ll want to choose an intellectual major. But there are all sorts of degrees and careers that need creative and critical thinkers.
When you choose your undergraduate major, pay attention to your interests. You don’t want to spend four years studying a subject you hate.
There’s a reason why most colleges don’t require that you declare your major until your second year. If you can, spend your first few semesters exploring different subjects. This will give you time to uncover new interests or develop new passions. You might find out that you love learning a foreign language. You might also find out chemistry isn’t the science for you.