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What Does a Career in Humanities Entail?
Humanities degrees don’t exactly come with the same reputation as STEM degrees or with as clear a career path. That said, a humanities degree program isn't useless. These days, degrees in liberal arts and humanities majors and humanities disciplines are on the decline due to the misconceptions that they do not provide a good basis for a career, and that’s a shame because humanities degree program graduates have a versatile credential and interdisciplinary education that can lead to a wide range of options in the job market, with decent salaries, benefits, and fulfillment. Students interested in a variety of fields find that a humanities program supports their interests very well.
The challenge with turning a humanities major into a career is that there’s no clear-cut path, like when you study nursing or computer science. Instead, you’ll have to blaze your own trail and make connections, whether you do so with a liberal arts degree, foreign languages, social sciences, or another in-person or online humanities degree program. Here’s what you need to know about pursuing a degree in the humanities and the opportunities available.
The humanities are a wide-ranging class of disciplines, often referred to as interdisciplinary education. This area includes everything from music to religious studies, art history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, foreign languages, writing skills, and more critical skills for nearly any career. A humanities degree—in any discipline—comes with some core employability skills. For example, those who do well in their classes will have good communication skills such as reading, writing, and speaking; will be analytical, with critical thinking skills, and will be versed in research. With those skills under your belt, you can be successful in a wide range of fields; from writing and marketing to teaching, law, and working in the public sector and social sciences.
Still, your options are somewhat dependent on the specific major you select within this discipline. For example, art majors will bring project management, problem-solving, and design know-how into the mix. Philosophy majors may well turn that natural curiosity into a writing career, teaching, or decide to go to law school.
Anthropologists and art historians may work in the museum world in some capacity or find work at a college or university. Technical writers and marketers, as well as communications, can present you with a rewarding career in business, you might just need to do more networking than someone with a business degree. And online students can earn a Bachelor of Arts in a liberal arts program without moving or even leaving home. They could even finish their general education courses in an associate degree program and complete their online bachelor's degrees at local community colleges.
Components of A Successful Career In "Humanities"
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that growth in jobs for humanities varies dramatically by profession. That said, we’ll consider success in the framework of working in a field you love—that also relates to your coursework. Many students who complete a humanities degree end up working in a different field than they originally planned. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; your goals and needs may change over time and a humanities degree will give you more flexibility than a career in accounting or construction management.
The reality is, though, if you want a job in the exact field you majored in, the likelihood of landing in that role increases with a master’s degree or higher. Additionally, it’s worth noting that while senior positions in the humanities can come with a reliable paycheck, many—like curators, archivists, or librarians—will be working for lower wages for a lot longer than their peers in other industries.
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What can you do with a Humanities Degree?
There are many reasons one might choose to pursue a career in the humanities. Because humanities programs train students to think critically and develop versatile skills, like independent research, in-depth analysis, and oral communications—humanities graduates have a long list of options available whether they choose to pursue the academic track or enter the workforce with their bachelor’s degree.
Traditionally, humanities graduates might look toward careers like becoming a professor or a K-12 teacher. Others choose to become writers, researchers, or curators. Some become linguists or opt to use their skills in a different field. Journalism, marketing, and communications can all be great fits for humanities majors, even if it’s not what students initially had in mind.
Typical Humanities Degree Requirements
The associate's degree is an entry-level program available to any student with a high school diploma or GED. Typically, you’ll complete about 60-65 credit hours covering your general education requirements.
A bachelor’s degree program requires students to have already completed their high school education or GED. Beyond that, schools each have their own set of conditions. A bachelor’s degree in humanities is a four-year program that includes about 120 credit hours of coursework in specific humanities disciplines, as well as general studies.
Master’s programs require that you’ve completed your bachelor’s in a relevant area of study. Programs range from 1-3 years and train students to develop their ideas in the form of a thesis, research project, or lecture.
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Typical Humanities Certifications Needed
In most cases, humanities majors will not need to obtain a certification to move forward in their career. Humanities graduates tend to bring more subjective skills to the table and are valued for things like problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication.
That said, you might decide to become a certified teacher after earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In that case, you’ll need to enroll in a teacher preparation program to get your teaching credential. Once you’ve earned three years of on-the-job experience, you can apply for your National Board Certification, the highest level of certification that a teacher can receive.
Academic Standards for Humanities Degrees
The arts and humanities span a wide array of disciplines but have some core similarities. Any decent program—at any level—will help students develop a solid intellectual foundation and the ability to view world events, text, and works of art in a broader cultural context. Other academic standards, like a required GPA, vary from school to school.
Exam/Experience Needed for Humanities Degree
Those applying to humanities programs should have their high school transcripts or GED scores ready. At the associates or bachelors level, you don’t need any experience to start taking classes, though, to get into college you may need to have a certain GPA or ACT/SAT score. Master’s programs vary based on how competitive the school is. In many cases, you’ll need to take the GRE, a general knowledge exam.
In bachelor’s and master’s online programs, requirements depend heavily on the area of study, the program, and other factors. If you’re applying for an arts program, for example, you’ll need to submit a portfolio. Writers may need to provide some samples; art historians might need a paper or research.
Your average online associate's degree program is a two-year degree requiring about 60 credit hours. In general, coursework involves a lot of foundational classes. Associates in humanities may help students find entry-level work, but typically lays the foundation for a bachelor’s degree. A general humanities degree may be a great place to start for students unsure of what they’d like to study in a four-year online program. Students might try out several liberal arts classes as they earn their degree. Some examples include foreign language, literature, religion, philosophy, or art.
A bachelor’s degree in humanities is generally about 120 credit hours long, completed over four years. If a student already has a two-year associates degree, they may be able to skip some of the entry-level coursework and finish the remaining two years. A bachelor’s degree in humanities might involve selecting a specific discipline like history, language, literature, or political science. In some cases, a general humanities major may be offered.
Earning your bachelor’s degree opens up a wide range of options. Many people choose to enter the workforce upon graduation, while others use a humanities undergrad as a foundation for a law degree, medicine, or an online master’s program focused on deepening knowledge of a topic.
In any case, a bachelor’s in humanities is a versatile degree bound to deepen your critical thinking skills, writing, and communication in general.
- Anthropology History)
- Biblical Studies (biblical studies)
- Logical Thinking (Philosophy)
- Ancient Literature (English/Literature)
Earning a master’s degree in humanities is typically associated with a desire to work in academia. Here, you’ll deepen your understanding of your concentration—be it philosophy, English, linguistics, or something else. While earning a master’s in humanities, you’ll present papers and spend a good deal of time researching.
You’ll undoubtedly come away from your online program with the qualifications to join the ranks of academia, but the skills learned here are valuable everywhere. Like the bachelor’s degree, the masters focuses on developing your written and verbal communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills—building on the knowledge from your previous experience.
- Master’s Thesis (Art)
- Conducting (Music)
- Value Theory (Philosophy)
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Earning Potential for Humanities Degree Fields and Occupations
Humanities, as we mentioned, provides a strong foundation for a wide range of career paths. Your earning potential depends on so many factors that it’s hard to provide a definitive assessment of your degree’s potential return on investment (ROI). Below, we’ve included the average income for several different humanities specializations.
Humanities Fields of Study Median Salaries
|Field of Study
A literature major is primarily focused on reading and analyzing written works. You’ll develop the ability to communicate well, frame a narrative, and hone your writing abilities. This major is ideal for students who have a passion for reading various forms of writing and developing a familiarity with its historical and cultural context . Your online degree program might focus on race, gender, or socioeconomic issues.
Linguistics majors look at the various aspects of human language – syntax, sounds, meanings, and the origins of words. A linguist might study several different languages, but they also look at how language relates to the human condition. How do children acquire language, how does language influence how we relate to each other or view the world?
Philosophy is an in-depth study of what it means to be human. A good online program will cover everything from ethics, social, and political philosophy to aesthetics, justice, and what it means to live a good life. While a philosophy degree is often thought of as impractical , it is ideal for those who wish to deepen their intellectual abilities—and it serves as a great place to develop the skills needed to succeed in law school, as a journalist, writer, or public servant.
Political science is a major focused on the study of political institutions and behavior. Here, students will learn about political theories, world governments, and the politics of specific countries. It focuses on developing the ability to question processes and institutions, debating, and developing persuasive arguments.
As such, this major provides a robust set of skills that can transfer to a wide range of applications post-graduation.
A religious studies major is similar to a history or literature degree. In this field of study, you’ll learn more about various religions around the world, studying world history through a religious lens. The goal is less about developing your faith and more about understanding religion in a greater context.
Art history is the study of art throughout the ages and developing a historical and critical awareness of paintings, sculpture, architecture, and other works of art. While they learn about materials and meaning, there’s also focus on what was happening in the world when a work was created.
Most majors end up focusing on a specific era—ancient or contemporary art, the Renaissance, modern art, etc. A good online art history program will develop skills like written and oral communication, research, analysis, and the ability to work independently.
Humanities Salaries by Occupation
Historians research, analyze, and interpret past events by studying documents and sources. Choosing to become a historian involves getting your Master’s degree and potentially a PhD. According to the BLS, a historian typically needs a master’s degree to enter the field and can expect to make about $59,000 annually. There are few positions available in the field, relative to those looking for work.
Curator’s manage, present, and catalog artistic or cultural collections. A curator may work in an art museum and put together exhibits, coordinate volunteer programs, and is involved with interpreting the work for the public. In this role, a background in art history, anthropology, archaeology, or a related field is ideal. Curators usually hold master’s degrees and work in a range of institutions that preserve and maintain art or artifacts.
An art director is one of the more lucrative career paths that fall under the humanities umbrella. In this role, the art director is responsible for the visual aspects of a media or advertising campaign. This role typically requires a bachelor’s degree and an understanding of photography, design, typography, and printing. Successful art directors will also be skilled communicators and possess high-level interpersonal skills.
A humanities degree can also be a jumping off point for a teaching career. Students will need to enroll in a credentialing program after earning a bachelor’s degree and from there, can find work as a K-12 teacher. Teachers are responsible for creating lesson plans, tests, and assignments and presenting lessons to a class. Teachers must also prepare students for standardized tests and make sure that they are meeting learning benchmarks appropriate for each grade level.
A degree in humanities also lays a terrific foundation for becoming a writer or an author. Pay is determined by a number of factors, like whether you’re writing novels or articles, scripts, or working as a ghostwriter. Your humanities degree will help you develop proofreading, writing, and editing skills, as well as the ability to research independently and turn your findings into unique works.
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Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)
How long does it take to earn a Humanities bachelor's degree online?
Traditionally, it takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in any discipline. Humanities majors can learn at their own pace online, but they’ll still need to consider how much they can afford to pay per semester. Most colleges charge by credit hour, so how long the program takes has more to do with how much time you have and your budget.
How much does a Humanities bachelor’s degree cost?
The cost of an online humanities degree depends on the type of school you attend, as well as the number of credit hours required to complete the degree.
Private schools generally cost more than public schools. However, enrolling in an online program may cut back on certain expenses—since you might not be living on campus or commuting to the school.
What is Humanities Coursework like?
Humanities courses span a range of subjects, but many delve into cultural theory and interpretation and involve a great deal of reading, writing, and discussion. Students may spend time doing research, listening to lectures, and participating in seminars. Typical subject matter includes art, philosophy, cultural studies, social movements, and history.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
Naturally, you won’t want to end up at a school that doesn’t have the online program you’re considering. The beauty of an online program lies in the ability to “attend” a school that might not be nearby, so it may open up your options.
We should also mention that you’ll need to make sure the schools you’re considering offer your desired program online if you plan to attend from home. Many schools offer more options for on-campus students than online.
If you haven't decided on a concentration, seek out a school with several options. The first year or two of your bachelor’s degree is primarily about fulfilling general education requirements so you'll have some flexibility.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
According to the US Department of Education, nearly half of all students do not graduate within four years. While there’s nothing wrong with taking a couple of extra years to graduate, looking at school graduation rates can be an excellent way to gauge whether a program “delivers.” A low graduation rate means the school might not be providing all of the tools necessary for students to succeed or that the program isn’t affordable. Plus, extra time means a higher bill.
What kind of accreditation does the online program hold and how is it regarded in the field?
You want to make sure you find a school that is accredited in some way. Unaccredited programs will present you with more hassle than they are worth. Whether you opt for regional, national, or programmatic accreditation is largely dependent on what your long-term goals are.
Accrediting agencies take the time to ensure that you’re enrolling in a program that is known for upholding high standards. Look for online programs recognized by The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the US Department of Higher Education.
The reputation of the school you choose will affect how employers view your credentials, impacting earning potential down the road. That said, there are plenty of great options at every price point. Start your search by looking at online college rankings and student reviews. The latter, especially, can give you some honest insights into student outcomes—and reveal some insider information you won’t find in a brochure.
Your average humanities major doesn't need to be super tech savvy, but they should know their way around a computer. However, in this day and age, any student or professional should have a firm grasp on the modern tools used in their field. Humanities majors should, for example, be able to use the internet to conduct in-depth research and be able to identify a high-quality source versus a disreputable one.
Regarding general skills, humanities majors should be analytical, curious, and possess the ability to think critically about the world and humanity as a whole.
- Analytical thinking
- Ability to work independently
- Word processing
- Ability to learn and synthesize new ideas
Agnes F. Vaghi Scholarship Fund,
The National Italian American Foundation offers the Agnes F. Vaghi Scholarship for female humanities majors focused on Italian, English, linguistics, literature, or another form of language studies. Applicants must be US citizens descended from at least one Italian immigrant, hold a 3.5 GPA or higher, and attend college full-time.
Critical Languages Scholarship Program
This scholarship is offered to humanities majors who wish to study abroad. The program is fully funded by the US Department of State and students learn in-demand languages like Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Urdu, Turkish, and others during the course of an overseas summer trip. Students must be enrolled in an accredited US college, be in good physical and mental health, and have an aptitude for learning languages.
Josephine de Karman Fellowship Trust
This scholarship is granted to undergraduate and graduate-level humanities scholars based on academic merit. The scholarship is awarded to students entering their senior year or working on their dissertations—and students should have an outstanding record of original research, professional involvement, and ambition.
Mister Rogers Memorial Scholarships
The Television Academy Foundation set up the scholarship fund to honor Fred Rogers’ 34 years as a children’s entertainer, offering $5,000 to rising seniors and graduate students pursuing the arts and humanities. Applicants must complete an online application along with a proposal for a research project on the subject of youth media or learning. Applicants must also submit a video essay, transcript, and two professional letters of recommendation.
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Professional Humanities Organizations
The NEH is a federal agency that has been around since 1965. The NEH is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the US, and the organization offers grants to libraries, colleges, universities, museums, and public media—as well as individual scholars. Their goal is to strengthen the institutional base of humanities and provide access to quality cultural and educational resources.
HERA is a professional humanities organization for humanities teachers, scholars, and museum directors. This organization is committed to promoting the teaching and understanding of humanities across disciplines. The organization puts on conferences and offers scholarships, as well as a handful of online resources. The site provides some aggregated information—such as a list of colleges and universities with humanities programs, job postings, and more. Additionally, the site allows humanities professionals to join and periodically puts out a call for papers.
ACH is a professional association for those engaged in the digital humanities. Digital humanities is a broad term, used to describe computer-based research, software, and resource creation that brings our cultural assets into the digital age.
Membership aims to connect digital humanities professionals, and fees serve as a means of providing support to academic journals, scholarships, and development opportunities. Additionally, members can get involved in a wide range of networking opportunities
Choosing an Accredited College
Accreditation is an important indicator that an online program meets a certain quality standard. While many of the benefits of a humanities degree are less defined than STEM concentrations—think soft skills, the ability to write well, think critically, and so on – still, most employers look for a degree from an accredited institution.
If you’re looking for a top-notch humanities education, regionally accredited schools are often considered the best bet. There are six major accrediting bodies in the US—divided by region. And nearly 85% of all schools in the country have been accredited by their regional association.
If you’re looking at online programs, though, things can get a bit murky. Not all online programs are regionally accredited—more have the national designation. We recommend doing some research before you start applying to schools. An excellent place to start is CHEA—The Council for Higher Education Accreditation. They have a database you can search through to find out if the online programs you’re looking at have the regional seal of approval.
National accreditation is less rigorous than regional accreditation, focusing more on career learning and a practical approach to education—which may be appealing to students looking to advance their on-the-job expertise. Nationally accredited online program credits may not be accepted in transfer if you choose to enroll in a different school. so do your research if you are looking to attend a nationally accredited school.
Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid
Today, students have the opportunity to choose an online program that works for them. Whether that’s a traditional on-campus experience or a hybrid learning environment where students take some classes in-person and others online. Online humanities courses are more flexible than on-campus programs, as many are asynchronous. Meaning, students don’t need to be online at a specific time. They can work at their own pace, so long as they meet deadlines.
Because many humanities concentrations are focused on self-guided work, as is, it’s a natural fit for the online student. You’ll likely spend a lot of time doing research, writing papers, and reading and analyzing text. That said, another critical element of a humanities education is the discussion. In an on-campus setting, students can discuss their ideas and debate issues in person. As such, you’ll want to make sure that the school you choose provides online channels for discussion—and potentially some in-person lectures, video chats, or some other form of human connection.
Frequently Asked Questions
What humanities degree is best?
While this might seem like a reasonable question – after all, isn’t it obvious that working as a business manager is better than working as a librarian? – it’s actually to broad a question to have an easy answer. Humanities, as mentioned before, covers a huge range of career options, including some you might never have considered. The truth is that, in answering this question, it will matter greatly who you are and what your interests are or what you want to get out of your career. For instance, those who don’t care about making a huge income but love reading and literature might prefer to work as a librarian rather than in business. There is no easy answer to these types of questions no matter what career you think you’ll find yourself in. With a humanities degree, you might end up teaching geography, history, or philosophy. You might go on to earn a law degree and write public policy to make sure that the government of a state best serves its people. You might choose to go into journalism and work in a foreign country or international development. Or you can find a career that will pay remarkably well but is less defined that just working as a business manager. It’s up to you, and that’s what makes a humanities degree so exciting.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
Another factor you’ll want to consider is whether the program has post-graduate job assistance or some mentorship opportunity. Many schools have career centers, alumni groups, or support from local businesses. In some cases, schools even provide prospective employers with a list of recent graduates or present students looking for recruitment opportunities.
Granted, with humanities a career path isn’t entirely as defined as other disciplines. Still, making those alumni connections, meeting donors, and working with a mentor can give you a leg up when the time comes to look for work.
Why You Need to Consider that Rating/Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary
As we mentioned, accreditation is a big deal. When it comes to looking for a job, many employers look at where you went to school. While an Ivy League education isn’t mandatory, employers generally like to see that you’ve completed your degree from a reputable institution.
Lack of accreditation may bar you from certain job prospects. For example, if a job requires a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree from school without accreditation isn’t seen as a real degree.