Professors and professionals offer their insights on majors’ prospects
While some nationwide studies reveal that students who graduate with degrees in the humanities earn either near or above the median starting salaries, data from Lafayette career services may suggest otherwise.
According to the 2013-2014 PayScale College Salary Report, graduates in history, French and English literature reported nationally that starting salaries were comparable to starting salaries graduates in biology and biochemistry, all lying around the median.
The most recent data of Lafayette graduates paint a different picture. In 2013, chemical engineering and computer science had the highest mean salaries of $81,000 and $80,250, respectively.
In contrast, English and French majors began with salaries of almost 60 percent less, $39,860 and $35,360, respectively. These data are below the median in the PayScale study
Humanities professors recognize that there is a stereotype that surrounds studying their subject.
“[The stereotype] is an idea that doesn’t come from nowhere,” Coordinator of the College Writing Program Christian Tatu said. “There’s a reason why this came about: it’s true.”
“I would tell [students who are considering humanities majors] that they need to be realistic about what their earning potentials are and to make sure they’re doing it for the right reasons,” Tatu said.
Assistant professor of religious studies Jessica Carr placed importance on the process of studying within the humanities.
“College shouldn’t only be career-driven,” Carr said. “It’s a time do to explorative, intellectual thinking. By having a liberal arts education, people can think more creatively and critically. So long as humanities programs continue to flourish, they will continue to play an important role in developing people’s critical thinking skills.”
The distinction between the humanities and natural sciences in determining starting salaries may not be as clear cut as common conceptions. For example, those who graduated from Lafayette with a biology degree between 2011 and 2013 reported on average a starting salary $5,000 less than English graduates.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the traits that employers rank as most important when recruiting are the ability to make decisions, solve problems, verbally communicate, and obtain and process information. Nationally renowned career advisor Don Asher points out that none of these traits are related to a person’s major, but to the personality of students and the experiences they have.
“It’s not about the major, it’s about success,” Asher said. “Your success is more determined more by what you do over the summer than what you major in. It is more important to have experiences in the industries you want to work in. It doesn’t matter if you want to work in a bank, but major in English. As long as you get summer internships that are in banks and get that experience, you’ll be successful.”