THE CURSE OF A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE


Will you ever make enough $ that you buy $16 bread in LA?

Will you ever make enough $ that you buy $18 loaves of bread in LA?

Just graduated with a great liberal arts degree? Spent four years learning about Sociology, History, or Women’s Studies? Don’t make the colossal mistake that most people do in thinking that all you can do is grad school.

I graduated with a double major in Political Science and Family Studies (yes, that’s a degree thankyouverymuch!), devoting five years to liberal arts and as little other stuff as I was able to. Honestly, I barely survived my science requirement, Earth and Ocean Studies. We all asked ourselves, what do you do with a Political Science degree, outside of going to law school? But the better question is what can’t you do with a Political Science degree? And yes, same goes for Family Studies.

 

The thing is – it’s not about what you have to sell. It’s about what other people need and showing how you can be the solution. You need to remember that what anyone learns through their degree is rarely useful in business. Obviously there are exceptions, but ask anyone in a senior, general management position and they’ll usually say they learned how to do the job while they were on the job, not in a classroom.

 

I was recently talking to someone who has an Education degree and who has been teaching for a year in China now. She is open to non-teaching roles once she comes home but doesn’t know what she can do. For one, there are some jobs where her skills, experience and education are directly transferable – for example in a company’s training department, at an academic textbook publishing company, or at a private learning center. She also could go a different route. She’s an English teacher and so could focus on her communication skills (verbal and written) to get her into Marketing or Journalism. It could almost be anything, so long as there’s a ‘story’ explaining why it’s such a natural fit. And the more you believe it, the more others will believe it too.

 

I lived in the UK for five years, and one thing I loved is how much they appreciate a liberal arts education. Lots of top executives there, even at banks, studied Philosophy, Classics, English Literature, and other similar subjects. To them, studying business actually seemed like you went to a polytechnic lower tier college. Unfortunately this isn’t the case in North America. One article on this topic suggested liberal arts students become postal service workers as a ‘lucrative’ career. No offense to postal service workers, but I think I have a different definition of ‘lucrative’! Liberal arts degrees are often getting a bad rap, ranking on the lists of degrees which net the lowest pay. This simply doesn’t need to be the case, though. You just need to identify transferable skills, be creative in thinking through your opportunities, create a compelling story as to why a company should take a chance on you, and hustle!

 

Do you have a degree that you feel is taking you nowhere? Or have you seen someone become really successful with a seemingly irrelevant education? Comment away!

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Comments & Responses

4 Responses so far.

  1. Matt says:

    The problem is that employers aren’t willing to hire you with these kinds of degrees. What would you recommend if you’re really set on a company that seems to always go for people with more technical degrees?

  2. Kari says:

    Hey Matt! It’s definitely a challenge, and the onus is on the candidate to show how their knowledge, skills, and experience is relevant. Instead of pretending you’re who they typically hire, you could address it head on. Explain that you know they usually look for A, B, and C, and then describe how not only can you bring those to the table, you’ll give a different perspective and some diversity in terms of background. Let me know how you get on!

  3. Thomas says:

    Have you tested this (i.e. conducted information interviews at the company to make sure that it’s interested in non techies) or are you going by the job postings? If it’s the latter, you need to find people who work at the company. If it’s the former, then you need to ask him or her for referrals into other departments who could use your liberal arts skills (believe me, you’re more valuable then you think. All you need to do is study the company and map your skills to it.

  4. Boredom to Boardroom says:

    Great comment Thomas! Sorry that you didn’t get a reply ages ago Matt… I’ve been having a few issues with the comment system. Thomas is absolutely right to ask if you’ve tested out your theory? Some are narrow minded, but there’s a lot you can do to help your case.

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