Don’t Worry, Liberal Arts Majors Can Find Jobs

by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributor *

Since starting my website, EducatedQuest.com, I have visited over 150 colleges. I usually attend the same open houses and take the same tours as parents and prospective students. Unless the tour is designed to give student’s questions priority, parents almost always ask more questions than their children. Their greatest worry might be costs, but on tours with prospective liberal arts majors it is: will my dear son or dear daughter find internships while pursuing their degree, and will they find a job after they graduate?


My answer: yes they can, provided that they have a skill set that complements their major, and are open to working for a broader choice of organizations including small businesses, start-ups, state and local government and non-profits. Not everyone is going to begin work at a high-profile, multi-national corporation during the summer after they graduate from college.

What should their skill set be?

Be collegial and get along with people: Anyone who has ever had an internship or first full time job did not know everything on the first day, or even the first couple of years. They need to be diligent but also need to know whom and when to ask for help inside and outside of their company. Dressing appropriately to the job also helps new employees get along. It is a sign of respect for the organization, its culture and customers. 

Knowing the right questions and listening for answers: If you have ever taken a course where you had to do interviews and sum them up, you’ve learned that you need to need to have questions that lead your subject to talk and keep talking. The best reporters listen more than they talk, and they report their subjects accurately. 

Professional writing and editing: Most likely, wherever someone will work, she will be expected to explain why you need to hire someone or need money to carry out a project—and be expected to explain why—in one page! Maybe she can add graphs and tables to support your proposal, but she cannot drown a more senior executive in text!

Reading and visualizing data: No matter the job any hire needs to learn what numbers mean in terms of dollars, trends, customer satisfaction and new opportunities. Products, services and events are launched based in large part on how well a manager knows their market, and how well she explains what she knows. Mastery of Calculus, the bane of many a college education, is not required. But interns and entry-level hires are expected to understand statistics and become more comfortable with software. 

Be curious, but also be willing to “start small”

A liberal arts student needs something more than a skill set. She should also be curious about a problem that she would like to try to solve, and be willing to “start small” to solve it.

If it’s a science problem, she might want to work for a smaller company that would give her more responsibility in a lab. If she wants to influence public policy, she might consider working in state or local government or for a non-profit that lobbies elected leaders and raises awareness. If her interest is in advertising or marketing, she might want to take any sales position you can to gain first-hand knowledge about customer service and consumer behavior. 

The first internship, and full-time job will likely have more tasks that a new employee will not enjoy at first.  But they must always remind themselves that the first job will not be the last. New hires must be a sponge; soak in everything that they will need to know to help them solve the problem that they want to become more engaged in solving.

Anyone who has pursued a liberal arts degree, especially at a college where they could not hide in large lectures for the first two years, and did very well in your classes has already been exposed to this skill set. Most likely they were asked to work in groups, conduct research and report findings in writing and presentations, and use different software packages. But while the skill set is certainly important, it is curiosity that really carries a college graduate into a rewarding career. A lack of curiosity about the material studied, or anything else, is likely to lead to under-employment, and possibly longer periods of unemployment than anyone would want.

An independent college/transfer/graduate admissions advisor based in Central New Jersey, Stuart Nachbar writes on colleges, careers and majors at EducatedQuest.com. He may be reached at stuart@educatedquest.com