Four Reasons Why Getting a Humanities Degree Is a Good Idea

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Let’s face it: humanities degrees get a bad rap. In fact, the mere mention of the word “humanities” -- defined by Stanford University as “the study of how people process and document the human experience” -- brings to mind another four-syllabic word for many people: “unemployment.” But do these stereotypes hold up in the real world? In short: No. Read on to learn four reasons why a humanities degree may be the right choice for you.

 Read more about studying Humanities.

1. Develop Creative and Critical Thinking Skills

Creativity leads to ideas and innovation. Critical thinking fosters execution and implementation. While both play invaluable roles in moving the world forward, their fusion achieves true synergy. Enter the humanities-based education.

Think about it. Our complex world requires people with the ability to think logically and objectively about subjective information in order to derive new levels of understanding. But what good is understanding without the ability to also think creatively toward solutions for the ongoing challenges we face as a society?  Even in matters of science, scholars are increasingly pointing to the importance of the study of human behavior in answering the toughest questions.

The takeaway? Within the context of humanities studies, critical thinking and creativity are two sides to a priceless coin.

 2. A Fulfilling Career And a Not-So-Shabby Paycheck?

Sure you could choose a career entirely because the money’s good, but where’s the personal fulfillment in that? A degree in the humanities, meanwhile, offers entry into a number of careers where people make a difference every single day. From teachers, artists and counselors to linguists, writers, and marketers, humanities majors and minors can be found in all walks of life. Why? Because the skills and knowledge acquired in humanities study surpass the barriers of discipline and can be applied to nearly any career or context.

Now consider that a whopping two-thirds of humanities majors go on to work in the private sector, and the majority of CEOs studied in the humanities. These figures are likely to grow when you factor in the rise of multidisciplinary studies between humanities studies and more traditionally lucrative fields, such as medicine, business, and law. Not to mention employment rates for humanities majors -- many in some of the economy's most quickly growing fields -- comparable to employment rate for grads with non-humanities degrees.

And what if we told you that humanities salaries are actually higher than you think they are? That’s precisely what the latest report from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences suggests. Released earlier this month, the study rebuts common misconceptions about humanities salaries to reveal that humanities majors earn more on average than the average American worker. While there’s a slight lag behind those at similar degree levels, the difference is minor and narrows with age. 

And then there’s that whole personal satisfaction thing that goes along with choosing a career of great societal consequence. Ultimately, salary is only part of the comprehensive “compensation” earned by people with humanities degrees.

 3. Outthink the Machines

Machines may be pushing the frontiers of science, but they’ll never replace free thought, nor the need for human interaction. Despite scientific advancements and the juggernaut of modern technology, we still live in a service economy in which the majority of the world’s jobs still require a human element. Ultimately, while coders and number crunchers may face a threat from machines in the future, plenty of jobs will remain for people skilled at doing things machines simply cannot do.

 4. Make More of Your Major

Stevens Institute of Technology instructor John Horgan writes that in our science-dominated, certainty-rooted world, humanities leave room for an oft-undervalued commodity: uncertainty, and the truth it aims to discover. His assertion? “It is precisely because science is so powerful that we need the humanities now more than ever.” In other words, while science and technology may be in a state of flux, the humanities transcends these changes to remain checkpoint and lodestar.

Still not convinced? Well, what if we told you that a minor in the humanities offers all of these benefits -- perhaps even more when studied alongside an alternate field? When merged with another course of study, a humanities minor has the power to amplify the value of your degree.

There are many schools and universities across the globe offering programs in the Humanities: from France to the USA, Germany to the UK, and many more. Faculties, like the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Strathclyde, are renowned for their high quality programs across a wide spectrum of disciplines as well as for their professional approach of the Humanities.

If you’ve been considering a course of studies in the humanities but deterred by negative conceptions about this field, here’s your reality check. Not only have the humanities long held sway in the shaping of society -- a value far broader than the constraints of dollars and cents -- but they will continue to do so in pace with the changing of the world. Because according to the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, they are not only a source of enhanced understanding but the very “heart of the matter.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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