Georgetown University Report Reveals Median Wages for Liberal Arts Majors

Posted By Terri Williams on November 2, 2015 at 4:53 pm
Georgetown University Report Reveals Median Wages for Liberal Arts Majors

Liberal arts programs have a reputation for producing graduates with no “marketable” skills, who barely manage to survive on their subpar salaries. On the other hand, Steve Jobs long touted the importance of the combining technology and liberal arts in Apple’s success. And so, the debate rages on. Does a liberal arts degree lead to an insignificant, lowly-paying career, or are these graduates an integral part of the workforce, earning wages that are at least comparable to some of their peers?

According to The Economic Value of College Majors, a report by Georgetown University, these are some of the median annual wages for liberal arts and humanities graduates with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree:

Major Wages with a Bachelor’s Degree Wages with a Master’s Degree
History $54,000 $80,000
Liberal Arts $53,000 $71,000
English language and literature $53,000 $68,000
Intercultural and international studies $52,000 $73,000
French, German, Latin and other common foreign language studies $52,000 $67,000
Philosophy and religious studies $51,000 $68,000
Other foreign languages $51,000 $69,000
Area ethnic and civilization studies $51,000 $77,000
Linguistics and comparative language and literature $50,000 $68,000
Humanities $49,000 $71,000


Obviously, these wages don’t compare to the $83,000 median annual wage earned by engineering graduates with a bachelor’s degree, or the $76,000 median annual wage earned by those who majored in computers, statistics, and mathematics.

However, these are definitely livable wages. So why does the field of liberal arts have such a bad reputation? GoodCall sought out several experts to explain the various dynamics involved in this issue.

The misconception

Those who suggest that the liberal arts are ill-suited for the 21st century world of work aren’t listening to employers, according to Timothy M. O’Donnell, Associate Provost for Academic Engagement and Student Success at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “Survey after survey indicates that employers are looking for exactly those things which have always been a hallmark of the liberal arts experience.”

Dr. William Carpenter, Chair of the Department of English at High Point University in North Carolina, explains, “Often, liberal arts degrees are stereotyped by critics as pathways to low wages, usually because such degrees do not emphasize specific, current technologies or practices.

The reality

“The truth,” says Carpenter, “is that a liberal arts education teaches students to adapt to new ideas and contexts, thus making them flexible and capable of evolving within an organization.  Liberal arts majors often develop precisely the skills and attributes that enable them to learn on the job, take initiative, and manage large projects.

According to Carpenter, these traits include strong communication skills, critical thinking, empathy, and intellectual curiosity. “Liberal arts majors know how to learn – they can enter new situations and quickly determine what needs to be done and what resources are required. They are good at adapting to office culture, cultivating partnerships, and synthesizing information from multiple sources.”

The skills employers want

In his 25 years of experience, Steve Langerud, a workplace culture consultant, and principal at Grinnell, Iowa-based Steve Langerud & Associates, says he’s never worked with an employer – outside of technical or scientific fields – that excluded good candidates because of their major, or even asked for candidates with specific majors.

“Instead, they ask, “Can this person do the job? Will this person do the job? Will this person embarrass me in public? They are most concerned with skills, work ethic, and character.” Langerud says that these liberal arts fields are well paid and thrive over time because they prepare students for quick integration on the job and leadership over time.

In fact, Jennifer Magas, an English Professor at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, says, “I currently have two students who are Communications and English majors and both were offered either an internship or a job from a financial company.  Recruiters told them they were not concerned with the fact that they did not have strong math skills; they were more interested in their writing abilities.”

Magas says there is a critical skill that the highest-paying majors in liberal arts have in common: the ability to write.  “Being able to articulate your thoughts and ideas and to successfully communicate opens up a multitude of doors in any field.  More and more companies require writing samples from job candidates because they are tired of losing their credibility and trust due to their employees’ misspellings and incorrect grammar usage with clients and investors.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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