Choosing a major? The humanities may be more practical than you think.
While humanities majors make less money than graduates in STEM fields, they see more job satisfaction on average, according to a a 2014 report.Image By: Max Homstad
When Rebekah Paré was studying jazz piano in college, she didn’t imagine the skills she was learning in her music theory classes would someday be directly applicable to a career outside of piano performance.
Today the improvisation skills Paré learned in her piano classes inform her everyday work as the associate dean for the College of Letters and Science career initiative at UW-Madison.
Students are often pressured into science, technology, engineering, mathematics or pre-professional majors due to a myth that students who study the humanities are unable to compete in the job market without a graduate degree, according to Paré.
“Our humanities students, as well as our social science and natural sciences are graduating with a really fantastic set of skills that are in high demand,” Paré said.
While UW-Madison’s humanities graduates may be prepared for the workforce, they still earn about $50,000 less, on average, than those in the natural sciences, according to a 2014 Letters and Science Careers Outcome Report, which surveyed graduates from the 2003-’04 and 2004-’05 school years.
However, Paré warns, future salary is not the best measure of a degrees worth, or a student’s success.
“I’m always very concerned about talking to students about salary because sometimes we define success by dollars and I think that dollar signs and salaries is not the only measure of success in somebody’s life.” Paré said. “Being in a job that is fulfilling and exciting ... is probably for many people the most important thing.”
Eighty-seven percent of workers with a bachelor's degree are satisfied with their job, according to the State of the Humanities study on college graduates. The study also found that job satisfaction is not correlated with earnings.
However, these “fulfilling” and “exciting” jobs that often draw humanities majors also tend to pay less, according to Paré.
Only 42 percent of graduates in the humanities reported having enough money to accommodate for their lifestyle, compared to 51 percent of graduates in engineering.
As a dean at UW-Madison, Paré helps students find jobs that are both intellectually and economically fulfilling, jobs she says are out there for humanities graduates. Through the revamped L&S career advising program, SuccessWorks, Paré said, students can connect with alumni in their field, practice interviewing with trained professionals and even access donated business attire.
Critical thinking, problem solving, research, writing and teamwork are among the list of skills humanities students gain in their coursework that employers are looking for, according to Paré.
“As a jazz musician I learned a lot of really interesting skills,” Paré said. “These kinds of skills have made me really flexible, I can think much better on my feet than some of my peers.”
These are skills Paré uses in both her personal and professional life, something she says is important for students to keep in mind when reflecting on their coursework.
“As educators we want people to look back on their education as having done something for them,” Paré said. “These skills aren’t only good for the workplace ... it’s also about life satisfaction.”Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter