Liberal Arts Majors Linked to Future Success

By Erin Cotton

A recent study performed by the Association of American Colleges & Universities revealed that students completing a degree in the liberal arts, especially with majors in anthropology and philosophy, have a higher chance of getting a job after college compared to those with degree-specific training alone. 

In a survey released by the association, most employers expressed the need for employees to have career-specific skills that are not always degree specific. Such skills involve written and verbal communication, teamwork, ethical-decision making, and critical thinking. Nina Bourne in “Degrees Matter Less Than Skills to Employers Per New Survey,” published on the LearnU website, discusses the significance of this study. 

According to Bourne: “91% of the 400 employers surveyed reported that they preferred job candidates who have a ‘demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems.’ This essentially lifts the common perception that most employers would value a candidate with a business degree over one with an anthropology degree.”

With an emphasis on the individual skill sets of applicants and current employees, employers are looking toward liberal arts majors who have developed these essential skills. Anthropology is an example of one such major. 

The Sociology and Athropology Department at Wheaton College instills many valuable skills within its majors that employers look for, to name a few: the both written and oral articulation of thought; the experience of using ethical data collection methods; the ability to time manage; and the capacity to provide insightful perspective on relevant issues such as human rights, the environment, and educational inequality. 

Donna O. Kerner, Chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Wheaton, explains that the rigor of an anthropology major, as well as the creation of a senior thesis after independent research, is what makes for success in post-graduate life.

“Our majors, having mastered the rudiments of research design and employing some data collection techniques in our Research Methods core course, are highly successful in crafting proposals to support their summer research as undergraduates and also their research, travel, and work overseas when they graduate,” said Kerner. 

“Graduates talk about the importance of having designed, conducted, written, and presented the result of their independent senior thesis research,” continued Kerner. A 2011 Wheaton graduate, Issac Llguin, is the Director of Educational Accounts at Kognito International. Llguin says that the research skills he developed as an anthropology major have helped him tremendously in his career. When he is assigned a new project, he has to get up to speed quickly, synthesizing and analyzing data in a short-turnaround time.

Patrick Crane (Wheaton 14) who works as a Local Development Officer with the English Lacrosse Association in Manchester, UK, credits his job-finding success to the training he received as an undergraduate. “My experience writing a thesis in Anthropology prepared me for doing high level work independently,” said Crane.

With the competitiveness of the job market today, it appears as though liberal arts majors have a leg-up. The ability to succeed in a career based on an individual skill set developed from a background in the liberal arts is an achievement that employers celebrate.

“Graduates in the business world talk about the ‘hidden edge’ that anthropology graduates possess over colleagues,” Kerner concluded. “Because they have learned to observe and analyze how organizations work, the types of roles that different individuals play, how to approach problems holistically, and how to take the cultural relativist stance by understanding why someone with a different cultural background might value or practice things differently from them.”

Erin Cotton is a junior at Wheaton College majoring in Anthropology and Creative Writing. Wheaton College is the home of the Kappa of Massachusetts Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.