Liberal Arts Major? Don't Despair

by Cathy Vandewater | December 31, 2012

So called "soft" major get a bad rap. But English, Communications, and Medieval Literature majors shouldn't panic—there are plenty of pluses to a degree of the basket weaving variety. Chances are you're a better communicator, a critical thinker, and you can more easily see the big picture among a lot of little details.

After all, it's what you do when you read a tough literary novel and write an essay about its major themes or cultural significance. And it's a lesson straight out of Literature 101.

Here's why shouldn't stress about your degree:

1. You know how to think critically

You know that old saying, work smarter, not harder? That's where critical thinking comes in. Practically speaking, it's the difference between transcribing a lecture and taking notes on the important takeaways, and it's a great skill to have in a leadership position.

Why? Because people have short attention spans. By extracting key information times, or applying familiar concepts from one idea to new one, you can develop quicker and deeper levels of understanding from your team. Or in an interview, when catching an employer up on your background. The possibilities are many.

2. You have "real world" skills

Take any psychology, sociology, or foreign language classes? Chances are you've worked on your "real world" skills. Those are the softer skills you need on the job every day, no matter what your line of work is. Being able to communicate effectively, empathize with coworkers or bosses, understand clients' wants and needs and their ways of communicating those feelings—these are the lessons you'll need to have learned succeed in almost any role, but that you'll rarely see in a job posting. And those beginning courses in French? It never hurts to know "Hi" "Bye" and "Thank you" while trying to impress a foreign customer.

3. Extracurriculars and electives go far

Internships, volunteer work, hobbies—these are more likely to lead you to a job that turns into a career than your major alone. The passion and the practical experience go further than course loads alone. Being able to say, "I've done this before!" is much more powerful in a cover letter than, "I think I want to try doing this."

And all those quirk electives you got to choose from? Acting 101 may have helped you discover a talent for public speaking, while art history uncovered your obsessive attention to detail and presentation. If nothing else, you may come out of school with a few funny stories, new interests, or unique bonds (never underestimate the quality of castmate networking) that can enrich your character and, even more, your value as an employee.

4. You're in good company

Business Insider just released a list of the most successful people with "Soft" majors. Read it and weep, software engineers! The more prominent names include Mitt Romney, Michael Eisner, Brian Moynihan, Ted Turner, and perhaps most shockingly, Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein.

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

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Filed Under: Education | Job Search


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