I am the proud holder of a liberal arts degree — a major-less one at that. However I never envy STEM program graduates in spite of all of the talk nowadays about how important it is to go to college and major in something “practical”. My response to such naysayers is twofold: 1) 70-90% of what you study in college does not directly prepare you for what you will be doing as part of your future job. College is more about developing a foundation in high-level problem solving and learning. 2) Everyone has different strengths and interests; it would be unnatural for the majority of people to go into medicine, engineering or computer programming simply because they are lucrative careers.
But my opinions still have yet to be taken to heart by most hiring managers — which is why all liberal arts graduates really need to come up with some sort of plan on how to market themselves as competent professionals. Here are 10 ideas on how to accomplish this (and it’s certainly not an exhaustive list):
#1 – Tout your writing and communication skills. On a weekly basis, I encounter writing and documents that are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. This hampers communication and communication problems on the job can make your work environment a very ineffective one. Writing skills are always in demand by employers; so don’t be modest about showcasing yours.
#2 – Do an internship or work part-time. Getting work experience while still in school can be very valuable; even if the work is not in the field that you would like to work in eventually. Potential employers can be impressed with someone who was able to juggle both school and work. You can also use these positions to start building your network.
#3 – Pick a minor – preferably in a non-liberal arts field. That way potential employers can have some confidence about your quantitative skills.
#5 – Shoot for academic excellence. College is too long and expensive to not be passionate about your chosen major. Channel your passion and try your best to get the best grades that you can. Join your college’s honors program (if applicable) and look into joining academic honor societies.
#6 – Get online. No, Facebook doesn’t count! Google your name and see where you appear. Create an About.me site, create you own space on your own domain or blog. Become a dynamic, accessible individual who is more than just a name and a resume.
#7 – Join in and lead. Participate in extracurricular activities and, if possible, become an officer. That way you can demonstrate that you have leadership skills and passion.
#8 – Be a tutor or mentor. Some argue that you never really know a subject until you can teach it to others. Believe it or not, there are people who struggle with liberal arts studies. Connect with them and by doing so, you further your expertise in said subject area.
#9 – Study abroad. Liberal arts majors are often presented with study abroad opportunities. If you can swing it financially, you should certainly consider it. Nothing can broaden your horizons and make you more humble/appreciative than spending time overseas. Employers like people with exposure to more than just their immediate surroundings.
#10 – Become a research assistant. Talk to your professors about helping them as either a research assistant or as an editor or a grader in one of their courses. In addition to honing your research and writing skills, you’ll be setting up a great situation for the professor to write letters of recommendation on your behalf.
Ultimately you want to be the one who sets the value of your liberal arts degree…not the media. Be confident in your choice of a major and it will spill over and create success for you in the professional world as well.