You Want to Major in What?

major in liberal arts

So you’ve made the decision to go back to school and complete a bachelor’s degree. As you tell family and friends the good news, they will probably ask, “What is your major?” If you have chosen to major in the liberal arts, you may be asked a second, more complicated question: “What are you going to do with that?”


A Too Often True Story

Consider a young man whose father offered to pay for his son’s undergraduate education, but only if the son obtained a degree in business administration. The young man dutifully began his business administration degree program, but he felt unfulfilled in his courses and disconnected from classmates who seemed to have very different values and goals. After sticking it out for a year, he transferred into his university’s College of Liberal Arts and declared a major in philosophy, his lifelong passion. At that moment, he lost the financial support of his family and was on his own, but he began to succeed in courses that excited his imagination.


Liberal Arts Stigma

Liberal arts majors often find themselves in situations of having to justify their chosen field of study to friends, family, and co-workers. An education in the humanities is often viewed as less lucrative than one in business or the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, and frequent articles in the national media do little to counter this perception. Susan Adams of cites a study showing that no degree is better than a liberal arts degree. And in his interview with Google hiring manager Laszlo Bock, New York Times reporter Thomas Friedman reveals that companies like Google are increasingly willing to hire employees with no college degree. For those applicants with the degree, Bock prefers majors focused on computational skills.

With an economic recession in recent memory and a tight job market, students want to know that they will a receive return on their investment after graduation. Many will balance student loan payments alongside providing for their families, and perhaps even managing eldercare. At the same time, most new graduates also want their work to provide personal fulfillment. Students majoring in subjects such as English, history, linguistics, anthropology, art, and philosophy often feel torn between their passion for knowledge, and the realities of making a living.


A Moment of Opportunity

As a liberal arts major, the question, “What are you going to do with that?” can offer a moment of opportunity, rather than self-doubt:

  • What about the major speaks to your own pursuit of knowledge or truth, or your deep interest in a particular subject area?
  • What past experiences or accumulated knowledge and skills has led you to the field of study?
  • How can your newly acquired knowledge and skills transform your career trajectory into something that fulfills you?
  • How will your education in the humanities fit the needs of local employers and your community?

Liberal arts grads that actively consider these questions and act on them throughout the degree program have an easier transition into the workforce. They are also more readily able to explain how their knowledge and skills are relevant in the global marketplace.


A Happy Ending

What happened to the young man? He went on to complete a PhD in philosophy and now teaches at the college level. He combined his new knowledge with previously acquired technical skills in computer programming, web design, and instructional design. While his liberal arts degree gave him the foundation needed to pursue a career in his passion, his technical expertise enables him to leverage that knowledge to create new opportunities in online education.

Doing what you love just might be the best path to career empowerment.


Written by Adrianne Hanson, Ph.D.
Adrianne is an Assistant Professor in the College of Liberal Arts at Ashford University.



Adams, Susan (2014, May 20th). New Study: Is No Degree Better Than a Liberal Arts Degree? Retrieved from

Friedman, Thomas (2014, April 19th). How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Questions? Talk with an Advisor