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Why Liberal Arts Majors Thrive in Business

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What are the best liberal arts degree jobs? When you chose your liberal arts major you probably didn’t have a career in business in mind. But the skills you developed through your liberal arts degree—like communication, creative thinking, and problem-solving—make you in-demand for leading companies and a force to be reckoned with in boardrooms around the world.

Though most assume that successful businesspeople majored in a business-related subject, this is often not the case at all—several of the world’s most highly regarded businessmen and women started out in fields like English or history. Billionaire venture capitalist and “Shark Tank” personality Mark Cuban actively seeks out philosophy majors when investing in entrepreneurs he thinks will succeed, as he believes that these people tend to contribute valuable human, social, and cultural skills.

In fact, a liberal arts bachelor’s degree can be just as predictive of career success as the conventional wisdom of choosing a STEM or business undergraduate degree. This becomes clear when you look at people’s career trajectories over time. It’s true that many new graduates with STEM majors do enjoy higher salaries at first, but this advantage fades over time. By the age of 40, liberal arts majors have completely caught up.

What makes liberal arts majors successful in business?

Liberal arts majors are successful in business because of two main things: the speed of technology and the value of soft skills. Think about just how much has changed with technology in your lifetime. Technical skills that are in high demand today will be obsolete in just a few years. While STEM students learn current tech skills in school, they’ll have to constantly learn new skills on the fly or face losing their expertise to the next wave of STEM students.

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Liberal arts students catch up and sometimes surpass their STEM peers because of the foundation of soft skills they learned in school. While some majors teach a strict skill set, liberal arts majors teach students how to think. This may be hard to quantify, but it becomes clear as liberal arts students progress in their careers. Just ask former CEOs Starbucks Howard Schultz from Starbucks, Andrea Jung of Avon, or Michael Eisner from Disney, all of whom credit their liberal arts majors with helping them succeed in business. 

Liberal arts foster soft skills

Whether you studied literature, history, sociology, or something completely different, take a moment to reflect on how your liberal arts major developed your soft skills—skills like how to be flexible, communicate, think creatively, solve problems, and work on a team. Your liberal arts major made you both a well-rounded individual and an attractive employee for just about any kind of business.

The top three skills that employers consider to be the most important when looking at potential employees are written communication, problem-solving, and the ability to work in a team. The demand for graduates with a liberal arts education is only growing with 80 percent of employers agreeing that all students need a strong foundation in the liberal arts and sciences. You can see this demand in companies regardless of industry or size. Even technology giants like Slack Technologies value liberal arts majors, where the chief executive holds a master’s in philosophy and half the leadership team majored in humanities.

Must read: Technologies Changing the Business Landscape

Business school can accelerate your success

There is still one myth to bust about majoring in liberal arts: that business school is not for you. That’s not true at all. Business schools value students from different backgrounds and are making more room for the liberal arts in their programs. Students at NYU’s Stern School of Business can take up to half their courses in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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A business master’s degree will give you foundational business knowledge, grow your network, increase your salary, and demonstrate your commitment to a career in business. Your nontraditional liberal arts background will also help you stand apart from the competition when you’re interviewing with potential employers. With a foundation in soft skills from your liberal arts background and strong business acumen from a business master’s degree, you will be well-positioned for success and ready for whatever business challenge comes your way. 

Map out your career plan

Every journey needs a plan. Our free Career Planning Guide will walk you through key personal and professional questions you need to explore to set the course for the next steps of your career. This career plan template will help you learn about yourself, understand your responsibilities, identify what you want, and bring your career vision into focus.