A New Look at Salaries of Liberal Arts Majors


The Association of American Colleges and Universities released a report yesterday that suggests that by their peak earning years, college graduates who majored in the liberal arts are earning higher salaries, on average, than students who studied in professional and pre-professional fields such as nursing and business.

I wanted to share the study, which relied upon data from the U.S. Census Bureau, since there is unfortunately a widespread belief that liberal arts majors are condemned to lifetimes of lousy wages and crummy jobs. (Liberal arts describes majors in the humanities, arts and social sciences.)

“Recent attacks on the liberal arts by ill-informed commentators and policy makers have painted a book in librarymisleading picture of the value of the liberal arts to individual and our communities,” said AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider in a press release. “As the finding in this report demonstrate, majoring in a liberal arts field can and does lead to successful and remunerative careers in a wide array of professions.”

Key Findings

Here’s are some of the report’s highlights:

By the time a college grad reaches his/her peak earnings years (56-60), grads who majored in the humanities or social sciences were earning roughly $2,000 more a year  than those who majored in professional or pre-professional degrees. This data includes college grads working full-time, including those with a bachelor’s degree, as well as those with more advanced degrees.

I was surprised at the large number of liberal arts (40%) who end up obtaining a graduate or professional degree. Graduate and professional degrees provide a significant boost in earnings for all majors.

The unemployment rate for recent liberal arts majors is 5.2% while the unemployment rate for liberal arts majors ages 41-50 is 3.5%, just a smidgeon (.04%) higher than the rates of those with professional and pre-professional degrees.

Graduate and professional degrees provide significant boosts in earnings for all majors.  The largest graduate/professional degree earnings bump is experienced by those with science or mathematics degrees.  The smallest bump is experienced by those with professional or preprofessional degrees.

If you’d like to learn more about the study,  here are some of the other media reports on this study:

Forbes: Majoring in the Humanities Does Pay Off, Just Later

Wall Street Journal: Liberal Arts Salaries Are a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Inside Higher Ed: Liberal Arts Grads With Long-Term

Previous posts by Lynn…

Do STEM Majors Really Enjoy An Advantage?

8 Reasons Not to Get a Business Degree

Measuring Colleges By Grads’ Salaries


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