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Emsi: Data Works

Labor market insight for higher education leaders

Career Outcomes for Non-Technical Degrees

December 2016


Nursing graduates usually become nurses. Mechanical engineering graduates, mechanical engineers. But what about programs with less obvious career outcomes?

It isn’t an easy question to answer. But it’s a relevant one.

The workforce is competitive. College debt is at an all-time high. Students—and colleges—should be preparing accordingly.

Our Experiment

To shed more light on the issue, we examined three majors with a bad reputation for non-employability: liberal arts proper, history, and English, through the prototype.

Here’s what we discovered: The career options available to graduates of general liberal arts degrees are far more diverse and attractive than we usually assume. Of course, liberal arts grads need to develop additional skills (either on the job or through separate courses, such as a writer who learns some coding to be a more effective blogger), but the truth remains: Employers in every sort of industry are interested in people with these majors.

“The career options available to graduates of general liberal arts degrees are far more diverse and attractive than we usually assume.”


Why? Employees hailing from a liberal arts background have honed valuable skills that might be left underdeveloped in other majors. Businesses value these graduates’ critical thinking skills, communication abilities, and creativity. The breadth of focus gives the students knowledge that can help them thrive in a wide variety of fields. In fact, to many employers, the name of your degree doesn’t really matter as much as you might think. English? Communications? History? Job postings call for one and all in the same breath.

Let’s consider the real-life career opportunities for the three degrees.

Liberal Arts

Numerous companies want these graduates. At the top of the list is Leidos (spelled incorrectly as “Leids” in the prototype): a large defense, intelligence, and homeland security contractor. Other companies include American Express and The Hartford Financial Services Group.

The jobs with highest demand for liberal arts majors are surprisingly diverse: intelligence analyst, client service specialist, signals intelligence (SIGINT) analyst, business development manager, and project manager—compelling, high-demand careers.

The top skills sought after are management, communications, research, and operations. Some of the top cities for these jobs are Columbia, Maryland, and McClean and Reston, Virginia (think about all the defense contracting).


What can you do with a degree in history? A lot more than teach! (Though there’s certainly an ample number of professorial positions.) Not surprisingly, the National Park Service and institutions such as the University of Maryland-University College are seeking history majors, but so are Aecom, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Deloitte.

Career options for history majors include intelligence analyst, management consultant, research analyst, and patient services rep. The top desired skills are management, research, teaching, communications, project management, and writing. Among the top cities for history majors are Washington, D.C., New York, Bethesda, Columbus, and Denver.


As with history, a degree in English doesn’t restrict you to dull-wage teaching jobs. The top positions for English majors include writer/editor, communication specialist, marketing coordinator, and sales manager. Companies seeking English majors are all over the map, ranging from health care to technology to logistics: United Health Care, Oracle, Amazon, and others.

Surprisingly, the most sought-after skill (after writing) is management. Other skills vary widely—everything from marketing to recruitment to operations. The top cities hiring for English majors are New York, Seattle, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco.


Data shows that as long as graduates are equipped with relevant skills, non-technical programs can lead to quality career outcomes.

This is a meaningful distinction. Students ought to pursue degrees that align with their passions—even if those passions don’t fall under STEM. And colleges ought to create programs that set those students up for career success by taking a close look at the skills employers are asking for.



For those of you who subscribe to Analyst, our labor market analytics, we’ve made it easy to do this type of analysis tailored to your region and with far more detailed results.