The liberal arts can be lucrative too

Employers want candidates with skills reflective of a liberal arts education

Liberal arts majors may earn less than their peers in other fields early on in their careers, but that gap narrows later in life, George Anders reports for the Wall Street Journal

The financial outlook isn't particularly bright for liberal arts majors right out of college. According to PayScale, English or sociology majors with up to five years of experience earn $39,000 per year on average. Meanwhile, finance majors with the same experience earn $52,000, nursing majors earn $57,000, and computer science majors earn $63,000.

But over time, liberal arts majors tend to pursue graduate degrees, launching them into lucrative fields such as politics, law, and sales, according to the Association of American Colleges & Universities. This helps them narrow the earnings gap. Liberal arts majors earn an average of $66,185 annually once they reach the peak earnings ages between 56 and 60. At this point, they outpace their peers with degrees in vocational fields by 3% in earnings, and trail science and engineering majors by only about 20%.

The numbers get even better for liberal arts majors when considering the top 10% of earners. The Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project found that the highest-earning computer science majors have lifetime earnings of at least $3.2 million—but the highest-earning philosophy majors accrue $3.46 million and history majors accrue $3.75 million. 

The workforce isn't too welcoming to liberal arts majors at the onset of their careers. A survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that at least 68% of companies want to hire candidates who majored in business and engineering, compared with 24% who want communications majors, 21% who want social sciences majors, and 10% who want humanities majors. However, when it comes to the most important résumé traits, the survey found that employers seek skills that are consistent with a liberal arts education. Four of the top five traits were teamwork, clear writing, problem-solving aptitude, and strong oral communications. Technical skills were ranked as the 10th most important trait.

"I love hiring liberal arts graduates," says Dave Elkington, founder and chief executive of "They think broadly and communicate effectively. They aren't stuck in a rut. They can challenge ideas" (Anders, Wall Street Journal, 9/11). 

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