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Arts and Humanities

“The humanities should constitute the core of any university worth the name.”
-Terry Eagleton

The arts and humanities seem to be in a state of permanent emergency. On a weekly basis, some new study emerges announcing the imminent decline and fall of each discipline, followed by a flood of editorials which either lament or applaud the situation: the humanities are an essential part of classical education and lifelong learning, or an impractical, unproductive study better left to individual pursuit. But, putting side this age-old debate, it’s worth asking: are the arts and humanities really in danger? History suggests no.

After all, the debate is “age-old” and so far unsettled; in fact, that the debate still exists implies apologists for arts and humanities hold the advantage. The fact is that the liberal arts have always had to defend their case against career-oriented STEM subjects. The difference today is largely circumstantial: the Great Recession continues to cast a long shadow over the economy, resulting in a cautious, risk-averse work force; the digital revolution is upending 20th century labor dynamics, leveling whole industries and creating new ones out of nothing. Meanwhile traditional on-campus tuition rates continue to skyrocket. For students that want to get the most bang for their buck, the arts and humanities look like an unnecessary risk.

But these fears, while understandable, are misplaced: reports of the death of the humanities have been greatly exaggerated.

Why Study Arts and Humanities?

  • Contrary to common assumption, arts and humanities graduates are happily employed. The unemployment rate for humanities majors is just 4.3% (and just 3% for those with an advanced degree). Further, according to a Gallup poll they tend to be happy: nearly 87% of humanities graduates report being satisfied with their jobs, and the majority report being “deeply interested” in the work they do (higher than social science and business graduates). 60% report working in a supervisory or managerial role, and one-third of of Fortune 500 CEOs have degrees in the liberal arts. Who said the humanities are impractical?
  • Arts and humanities graduates have skills that can’t be taught on the job. Communication is perhaps the most important skill, followed closely by critical thinking. Even considering the recent technological explosion, strong writing and verbal skills remain crucial in day-to-day business. (There’s a reasonable argument that such skills are actually more important than ever.) Further, English, Philosophy, History, and similar disciplines develop analytical and critical thinking skills in ways that specialized disciplines don’t. For a broad-based, interdisciplinary foundation, the arts and humanities remain the standard in higher education. Consequently….
  • Arts and humanities graduates can pursue a variety of careers. With the exception of perhaps medicine, no job is off-limits. (Then again, that’s not entirely true, either: plenty of liberal arts grads complete premed course work and continue to med school.) Arts and humanities majors work in business, finance, politics, media, tech, journalism, advertising and marketing, nonprofits, healthcare, and creative fields. According to LinkedIn, 40% of liberal arts majors work at an Internet or software company, and CEOs like Susan Wojcicki (YouTube), John Mackey (Whole Foods), and Mark Cuban are actively recruiting liberal arts grads over STEM.
  • Arts and humanities graduates are lifelong learners. If it’s a cliche, it’s a true one. Not only are liberal arts majors primed to pick up new and complex concepts on-the-go, the humanities inculcate a searching, inquisitive mindset. Liberal arts majors are politically engaged, active in the community, and understand and appreciate culture’s place in society. Most important, liberal arts majors know that education doesn’t end with a degree, and that if one ethic is superior to the rest, it’s the examined life. The arts and humanities enrich, challenge, and sustain us for the long haul.

Job Prospects and Salaries for Arts and Humanities Graduates

The annual median salary for individuals with a terminal bachelor’s in the humanities was $52,000 in 2015 – less than the median for all graduates, but not by much. Further, multiple studies have shown that pay gaps decrease over time, and in some cases liberal arts and humanities majors earn more over the long term than their STEM counterparts. An English major in the 60th earnings percentile makes $2.76 million over a lifetime; History majors make $2.74 million. Across the board, high-achieving liberal arts graduates can outperform median or even above-average business and social science graduates in the long term.

Of course, that all depends on your job, which as we’ve explained can be nearly anything, so let’s take a look at a few potential careers (with a focus on traditional salaried positions).

Types of Jobs for Arts and Humanities Majors

  • Copywriter: Writes, proofreads, and edits advertising, marketing, and promotional copy for print and digital distribution
    • Median Annual Salary: $62,191
  • Editor: Edits long and short form documents (depending on outlet); manages writers, assigns stories, and buys, sells, and manages publication rights
    • Median Annual Salary: $66,164
  • Communications Manager: Manages organizations internal and external communications, including advertising, marketing, and public relations, with additional strategic responsibilities
    • Median Annual Salary: $101,895
  • Creative Director: Oversees and develops organization’s creative projects, including copy, graphic art, and digital and print media
    • Median Annual Salary: $117,476
  • Sales Manager: Manages and directs an organization’s sales strategy and execution as well as sales goals, data analysis, and research and development
    • Median Annual Salary: $117,960
  • Lawyer: Advise and represent individuals, organizations, and government agencies on legal issues
    • Median Annual Salary: $118,160

Online Degrees in Arts and Humanities

Compared to other disciplines, online offerings for the arts and humanities remain relatively slim – at least for full online degrees. MOOCs, on the other hand, offer a wide variety of liberal arts courses.

Perhaps the first resource to check out is our 50 Most Popular MOOCs of All Time, which in addition to several specialized STEM selections (machine learning, finance, computer programming, data science, etc.) includes courses like Think Again: How to Reason and Argue, taught by Duke; Introduction to Philosophy, taught by University of Edinburgh; and English Grammar and Style.

If you’re looking for a full degree in the humanities, check out popular online options below or our ranking of the best online bachelor’s in English literature and writing programs.

Next, review our 80 Highest Rated On-Demand Online Courses. Same deal: in the middle of many programming modules, you’ll find a few liberal arts-oriented courses, including several helpful tutorials in Adobe for creative professionals.

Last but not least, Online Course Report’s DIY Syllabi page features individually selected MOOCs in subjects from 20th and 21st Century Literature to Modern Political Thought and Comparative Religion, with courses taught by professors from Harvard, Yale, Oxford University, and more.

Popular Online Universities offering Humanities Degrees

Find the Right Humanities Degree

Peruse the most popular online humanities programs as well as our rankings of the best humanities schools above.

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