What is a Humanities Degree?

humanities-degreeAs you begin to think about a potential college major, you may be wondering about a humanities degree.

“Humanities” is a catch-all term for a broad-based array of subjects involving arts and culture.

You may be wondering what kinds of subjects constitute this kind of degree, and what kinds of jobs or further studies such a degree might prepare you to pursue.

An Array of Subjects

Many subjects, such as art, history, literature, philosophy or music, fall under the category of the humanities. At some universities and colleges, students can choose a general humanities major that allows them the opportunity to explore a combination of those kinds of classes. That may sound like a novel idea in an age that seems dedicated to specialization, but this multidisciplinary approach is still an appealing option for many students.

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You will also sometimes hear of individual degrees in specific subjects areas referred to under the overarching category of humanities. If you are considering a degree in English Literature, Geography, the Classics or the Performing Arts, just to name a few examples, your degree will likely be described as a liberal arts or humanities degree. Within some of the broader based degrees, you will likely be able to narrow down your studies with some level of specialization. For instance, you may be interested in pursuing an Ethnic Studies degree and decide to focus on Asian American Studies, or go for a General Geography degree but focus specifically on Water Resources.

What It Will Prepare You For

People sometimes try to disparage humanities degrees as being old-fashioned, impractical or too broad-based to really prepare you for a job. However, there are many professional fields where you could be well served by a general degree in humanities or by a specific degree that is considered part of the humanities field. Jobs in academia are just one example; clearly, if you are going to teach a given subject in the humanities, you need to be well-versed in it. However, there are also some professions, such as retail management or Civil Service jobs, that look more at general academic performance than at a specific major.

Acquiring Critical Thinking and Interpersonal Skills

It’s also not true that successful people in science and engineering fields can’t come from a humanities background. A recent study that surveyed over 600 engineering and technology and company founders showed that only 47 percent of them had degrees in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering or math). The remaining 53 percent had degrees in business, healthcare, and yes, liberal arts or humanities. People are beginning to recognize that a degree in the humanities can help students develop critical thinking and analytical skills as you read and explore different fields of human endeavor. A grounding in the humanities can also help you become more empathetic and curious about human behavior, which can be a great asset in all sorts of jobs, including social services and marketing.

So if you find yourself strongly drawn to a certain subject area, don’t let the fact that it’s a humanities area discourage you from pursuing your academic goals. There can be all sorts of good and practical reasons to pursue a humanities degree.