Over the past few weeks in my new career as a business analyst, I realized something that I took for granted about my economics degree - it teaches liberal arts first and foremost. In addition to the math heavy courses I learned, such as econometrics and microeconomics, I also learned valuable skills that liberal arts are designed to teach - communication and creativity.
Maybe I am biased towards my own past but I think a liberal arts degree is better preparation for a career in business, especially in areas where independent thought, communication, and creativity are needed for success.
I would be lying if I said that companies valued liberal arts majors over business or skill based majors. The data suggesting one is better than the other in terms of income earned show mixed results, but companies do value the skills that a liberal arts degree teaches.
A survey found that critical thinking, teamwork, creativity, and communication were the most valued skills of fresh college graduates by employers. These skills outranked ‘practical’ knowledge.
Like most people though, employers say one thing and do another when it comes to hiring. The New York Federal Reserve publishes data regarding college major and employment. Their data showed that skill-based degrees have the lowest unemployment and underemployment rates.
The evidence absolutely says that skill based majors such as education, nursing, and engineering are a better path to job security. The degrees with the twelve lowest unemployment rates include:
Animal and plant sciences
When you factor in salary, engineering dominates the top ranks. The degrees with the highest starting incomes include:
Not everyone wants to be an engineer though, which probably is a good thing for engineers who want to keep supply low and their salaries high.
Outside of skilled based degrees, non-finance and non-accounting business majors do not outpace liberal arts majors. Political science majors earn a median starting income of $38,000. That is equal to the the median business management starting income. The political science major ends up having a median mid-career salary of $71,000 a year, which is $10,000 a year more than the business management degree at $61,000.
The political science major has a lower underemployment rate as well, but it does have a higher unemployment rate by 2%.
Why do political science majors end up outearning the business management ones? I say it probably comes down to the soft skills I mentioned earlier that most employers value.
There is a book called Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses explored the improvements in skills like critical thinking and communication. They found that traditional liberal arts majors showed a vast improvement in these skills compared to business, education, social work, and, most ironically, communication.
If you are in a career where these skills are important and change is constant, a liberal arts major is lightyears ahead of most non-skilled business majors. If you haven't gone to college and yet and are worried about the risks involved in pursuing that type of degree, buy my ebook. I dedicate a whole chapter to explaining how to make a liberal arts degree worth it.