Ultimate Guide to Liberal Arts Degrees and Careers

Admission Requirements for Liberal Arts Degrees

Bachelor’s Degree

The admission requirements for bachelor’s degree programs in the liberal arts are similar to those in other areas of focus. Liberal arts and humanities disciplines are recognized as generalist studies and allow students to focus on interest areas while developing their own unique course load. However, some liberal arts programs emphasize a particular discipline, such as English, literature, or writing. A potential student must apply to the college or university of choice after having met certain criteria that qualifies them for admission. Applicants must complete an application, as well as provide a high-school transcript. Most liberal arts degrees at the bachelor’s level require a high-school diploma or its equivalent, official transcripts, and a personal essay. Top-ranked liberal arts programs may have GPA stipulations. In fact, top-ranked school may require a 3.5 or higher GPA. In addition to GPA requirements, standardized test scores from the ACT or SAT may also be required, though many schools are making these tests optional.

Featured Programs

Master’s Degree

As with bachelor’s degree programs in the liberal arts, admission to a liberal arts master’s program varies by institution and department. Most master’s programs in humanities or liberal arts result in one degree in a particular discipline, such as English, history, political science, or teaching. Individuals enrolled in a true master’s in liberal arts degree, such as liberal studies, earn course credit across many different disciplines. The application requirements consist of an earned bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, letters of recommendation from those who can attest to academic performance, GRE scores, and a statement of purpose. Minimum GPA requirements at some of the nation’s top-ranked universities may be necessary to qualify for admission. At top-ranked schools, GPAs of 3.3 and 3.5 are commonly required.

Ph.D. or Doctorate

A Ph.D. or doctorate in liberal arts or humanities requires applicants to submit a completed application, transcripts demonstrating a minimum GPA set forth by the program of choice, and a completed master’s or bachelor’s degree. Additional components of the application may include GRE scores, writing samples, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. Recommendation letters may come from individuals who can attest to the potential candidate’s academic potential and/or research ability. Applicants of doctoral degree programs may also be asked to submit work experience history.

Cost of a Liberal Arts Degree

Education costs rise yearly, so it is important for college students to be smart consumers. Choosing a school and program that offers a strong return on investment is the key to keeping costs at a minimum.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) states that the national average for a liberal arts degree in an undergraduate program is $17,000 per year at state institutions and $43,000 at private institutions. Private, for-profit colleges and universities fall somewhere in the middle at $24,000 per year in annual costs. These numbers reflect only tuition and fees, not room and board costs.

According to NCES, advanced degrees may lead to higher-paying jobs and lower unemployment rates. Job security is often contingent on one’s level of education. NCES reports that the average cost in annual tuition for a master’s degree is approximately $19,300, but this number varies by public or private institution. Those attending a public university can expect an average annual tuition rate of $12,171, and those attending a private one can expect to pay $25,929 in annual tuition. The average annual tuition costs for graduate degrees at nonprofit institutions is $27,776 and $14,208 in for-profit schools.

Online degrees are often more affordable than traditional degrees, as students are not required to live on campus, travel to campus, or eat on campus. When you eliminate room, board, and travel fees, costs are cut considerably. Other ways to cut tuition costs include graduating on time, transferring credit thanks to dual enrollment or the completion of courses at a community college, and earning scholarships. Also, exploring all of your financial aid options helps relieve the burden of a hefty tuition bill. One pro tip for earning a scholarship is to start looking early and apply every year that you are in school.

Importance of Accreditation for a Liberal Arts Degree

Accreditation assures the student that the institution adheres to high standards of quality, meaning the programs are delivered by qualified faculty. Accreditation also ensures that the programs and courses are constantly being updated in efforts to remain current and relevant. By attending an accredited college or university and earning an accredited liberal arts degree, the student or graduate is more competitive for the job market.

In the U.S., accreditation takes place at different levels. At the highest level, governmental and other agencies govern the accrediting bodies. For example, the Council for Higher Education Association (CHEA) grants power to certain associations that oversee accreditation at the regional level.

Keys to Success for Liberal Arts Majors

Since a liberal arts education offers a broad range of studies and skillsets, it is important to ensure that your focus is not too wide. There are certain keys to success as a liberal arts student that will help you find and sustain a long, viable career. Below are several keys to success for college students earning a liberal arts degree.

Consider a Concentration or Specialization
Often, liberal arts degrees offer a broad study across many humanities disciplines. A history major may take courses in ancient civilizations, English literature, philosophy, and religion. But if a particular area piques your interest, you might consider earning a concentration or specialization. For example, a history major may want to earn a concentration in African, Asian, or Middle Eastern history; gender and women studies; or United States history. These history concentrations are particularly important for teaching careers in secondary schools.

Find a Great Mentor
College success administrators and HR specialists advise students to connect early in their academic career with professors who might become excellent mentors. Professors may provide access to undergraduate research that may lead to a quality internship or further research in a graduate degree program. Finding a great mentor also leads to the next key to success for liberal arts majors.

Find a Quality Internship
As indicated above, having research experience–even at an undergraduate level–can lead to an internship opportunity. Internships help students build hands-on skills outside of the classroom. Internships are also great networking opportunities, with the potential of turning into future employment.

Seek Career Services Expertise
Most colleges and universities provide career services and assistance for students. Individuals concerned with finding job opportunities following graduation should connect with career services early on to create and develop an exit plan. College career services provide ample opportunities and workshops for students seeking employment.

Popular Liberal Arts Majors

One of the most common questions asked of liberal arts majors is: “What will you do with that degree?” You may not have the answer when asked, but you can rest assured that a liberal arts degree is well suited for today’s job market. Thanks to technological advances and a broader global perspective among businesses and organizations, the skills acquired in liberal arts programs are more in demand than ever before.

Below are some of the most common and popular liberal arts majors.

According to U.S. News and World Report, a communications degree is highly versatile. Communications students look at theories broadly and globally. They learn skills favored by employers, including critical-thinking skills, interpersonal communication, and writing skills. Graduates of communications programs have gone on to acquire roles as broadcast engineers, event planners, journalists, public-relations specialists, social-media directors, speechwriters, and technical writers. Courses you might see in an undergraduate communications program include corporate communication, media studies, and public relations.

English majors do more than analyze literature and read books. Earning a bachelor’s degree in English instills critical-thinking skills and the ability to communicate effectively through verbal and written channels. Majoring in English can provide room to explore diverse courses that are interdisciplinary in nature. Many English programs offer concentrations or specializations that can be tailored to accommodate a student’s interests and career goals. These concentrations might include creative writing, film studies, and literature.

History programs are designed to equip students with analytical, communication, persuasive writing, and research skills. Like with English degrees, students may tailor their studies by adding a concentration in subjects like American history, military history, or another unique niche. Courses usually cover topics like world civilizations and prehistory, as well as political history and women’s history. Graduates of history programs have entered law school or other master’s-level programs. Careers as historians, librarians, and professors require a minimum of a master’s in history degree.

Earning a bachelor’s in philosophy degree prepares students for multiple careers, with some offering the highest salaries available to humanities majors. The ideal philosophy student has strong moral awareness accompanied with a love of learning and wisdom. Graduates of philosophy programs pursue law school, perform well on the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, and possess strong persuasive writing skills. Undergraduate philosophy programs offer courses that cover topics like environmental ethics, history of ancient philosophy, introduction to logic, and theory of knowledge. Careers for philosophy majors might include philosophy and religion teachers or social and community service managers.

One of the most popular majors at any college or university is psychology. In fact, over 100,000 students each year receive a psychology degree. However, not all psychology majors become licensed psychologists. A psychology degree is versatile and flexible, and it may open the doors to various career possibilities. In fact, psychology majors pursue careers in education, law, social work, and more. As a psychology major, plan to take courses like abnormal psychology, common issues and addictions, developmental psychology, and organizational psychology. Some undergraduate psychology programs also offer concentrations, or niche areas of study within the psychology field. Popular psychology concentrations include child development psychology, exercise or sport psychology, industrial or organizational psychology, and mental health counseling.

Sociology is another popular major for undergraduates that focuses on the systematic study of culture, group dynamics and relationships, and society. Undergraduate programs may also offer concentrations so that students can tailor their degree to better align with interests and career goals. Concentrations may include economic sociology, global development, social data research, sociology of law, and urban sociology. It is not true that sociology majors are only equipped for sociology careers. In fact, sociology majors have gone on to pursue careers in business, education, the justice system, research, and social and community services.

Earnings Potential for Liberal Arts Careers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual wage for editors as $63,400, with the highest 10% earning more than $126,800. According to BLS, three industries pay higher than the average earnings for this occupation. Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations offer editors a median annual wage of $71,520. Information services pay editors an average annual salary of $69,460, and professional, scientific, and technical services offer $69,150 in median annual wages.

High-School Teachers
BLS reports the median annual wage for high-school teachers as $62,870, with the lowest 10% of earners making $41,330 and the highest 10% making more than $102,130. The top-paying industry for this occupation is local secondary schools, where high-school teachers earn an average annual wage of $63,400. High-school teachers generally work during school hours, though they also spend time meeting with parents and students before and after school. Evenings and weekends are often spent grading papers and preparing lessons.

BLS reports the median annual wage for historians as $63,100; however, two industries pay higher-than-average wages for this occupation. According to BLS, the federal government pays historians an average of $102,530, and professional, scientific, and technical services pay historians an average wage of $66,750. The federal government offers a significantly higher earnings potential for historians.

Human Resources Specialists
According to BLS, human resources specialists earn an average annual wage of $63,490. The lowest 10% of earners in this occupation make less than $38,000 per year, while the highest 10% bring in more than $109,350. The highest-paying industries for human resources specialists include professional, scientific, and technical services; government; and manufacturing. In manufacturing, HR specialists earn an average annual wage of $66,980, slightly higher than the overall average. HR specialists working in government see an average earnings of $70,410, and those working in professional, scientific, and technical services earn a slightly higher wage of $71,960.

BLS reports the median annual wage for psychologists as $82,180, with the highest 10% earning more than $137,590. Several industries pay higher-than-average wages for psychologists, including government, hospitals, and ambulatory healthcare services. In government, psychologists earn a median annual wage of $100,360, considerably higher than the average wage for all psychologist jobs. Hospitals–state, local, and private–offer average earnings of $90,640, and ambulatory healthcare services offer average earnings of $85,970.

Technical Writers
Technical writers earn nearly double the average wage of $41,950 for all occupations. In fact, BLS reports the average annual wage for technical writers as $74,650, with the highest 10% of earners bringing in more than $119,040. Top-paying industries for technical writers include publishing and professional, scientific, and technical services. In publishing, technical writers earn $77,920 per year, on average, and they earn $76,310 in professional and scientific services.

Job Outlook for Liberal Arts Careers

BLS reports a favorable, yet slightly slower than average, job outlook for editors through 2030. According to BLS, editors should see a five-percent growth in employment over the next several years. Approximately 11,200 new job openings are expected for editors, though some job losses may occur in traditional publishing of print magazines and newspapers. Despite some decline in that area, the occupation should see growth in online media.

High-School Teachers
The employment of high-school teachers is projected to grow eight percent through 2030, according to BLS, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. BLS anticipates 77,400 job openings over the next 10 years. With rising student enrollment, the demand for new high-school teachers will rise, though growth is contingent on state and local government and budget constraints. Also, demand will result from the growing need to replace teachers who exit the workforce.

The overall employment growth for historians is expected to be slow for the next 10 years. BLS reports a five-percent growth in employment through 2030. Despite limited growth, industries show about 300 job openings projected for the next decade. These openings will primarily result from the need to replace retiring workers or those who transfer to another occupation. Employment growth will largely depend on available funding, especially in organizations that depend on donations, like historical societies.

Human Resources Specialists
The job outlook for human resources specialists is favorable for the next 10 years, according to BLS. In fact, employment for this occupation is expected to grow 10% through 2030. The anticipated job openings should result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or retire. BLS also reports that the need for HR specialists and generalists will rise significantly in organizations that handle employment laws and benefits services.

A reasonably steady and favorable job outlook is projected for psychologists over the next 10 years, according to BLS. In fact, the overall employment for those in this occupation should rise eight percent through 2030. BLS reports that approximately 13,400 job openings for psychologists should occur over the next 10 years. These openings should result from the need to replace workers who retire or transfer to different occupations outside of psychology. Due to the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the general population, psychologists have experienced an increase in demand for mental-health counseling.

Technical Writers
According to BLS, technical writers should see a 12% employment growth through 2030, resulting in approximately 5,500 job openings. The favorable growth rate is faster than the average (eight percent) for all other occupations. Many of these job openings will result from the need to replace workers who exit the industry through retirement. The occupation will also see growth in areas of continued expansion, such as scientific and technical products and web-based product support. BLS projects a very favorable employment growth for technical writers in scientific, professional, and technical services.

Qualities Needed to Succeed in Liberal Arts Careers

Depending on your occupation, certain qualities may be beneficial. “Soft skills” are not always taught in the classroom, but are instead acquired through experience or found within. These soft skills are a combination of character or personality traits, communication skills, social intelligence, and more. Below are several qualities that prove to be beneficial in a liberal arts career.

Analytical skills: In occupations like that of a historian, one must be able to examine historical resources and draw conclusions based on findings. Conclusions must be logical and clear, thus having strong analytical skills helps.

Communication skills: Communication skills are important in any role, but especially for individuals with degrees in liberal arts. Teachers, psychologists, and writers must all possess strong and effective communication skills. For example, teachers must share ideas, convey information, and speak with parents and other teachers on a day-to-day basis. Having strong communication skills, both in listening and speaking, will be useful in any role in the liberal arts.

Creativity: Liberal arts degree programs place value on creativity, innovation, and talent. While creativity can be honed and developed, it is not always taught in the classroom. Individuals who can solve complex problems through creativity are highly sought after by employers.

Resourcefulness: Resourceful problem-solvers are important in jobs that require creativity, focus, and innovation. With a liberal arts degree, you may consider yourself a creative thinker. Students with liberal arts degrees see opportunities where others don’t, and as a result, they often think in nonlinear ways. Resourcefulness is appealing to an employer.

BDP Staff
September 2021

Related resources:

30 Great Small Colleges for a Teaching Degree
30 Most Affordable Bachelor’s in Communications Degrees Online: Small Private Colleges
Online Bachelor’s in Anthropology Degree: 30 Best
Top 30 Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Psychology
Ultimate Guide to Arts Degrees and Careers
Ultimate Guide to Education Degrees and Careers

This concludes our article providing information about liberal arts degrees and careers.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris