Your Guide to Liberal Arts Majors

Written by Coursera • Updated on

As a liberal arts major, you'll gain a flexible education by studying a subject in the humanities, sciences, social sciences, or fine arts. Learn more about this appealing undergraduate education.

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The term “liberal arts” has long been used to describe the education of the mind, as opposed to mechanical or occupational education. It's a versatile bachelor's degree that focuses less on a specific career outcome and more on a diverse set of skills that are valuable in the modern workforce, such as creativity, collaboration, effective communication, and critical thinking.

As a liberal arts major, you will study a subject in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, or fine arts, taking a variety of courses that are designed to make you a more critical thinker and empathetic citizen. These types of majors can also help prepare you for a wide range of employment opportunities. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common liberal arts majors.

Liberal arts majors

Depending on the major you choose, you will either earn your Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Each four-year degree requires completing a number of core courses in broad subjects, like the arts and sciences, before focusing on courses related to your major. When it comes to liberal arts majors, there are four main disciplines. Let's review each one.

Learn more: What is the Difference Between a BA and a BS Degree?

Humanities

The humanities focus on the study of humans and human society. Choosing a humanities major could mean developing critical skills like persuasive communication, critical analysis, reasoning, and empathy. Majors that typically fall within the humanities include:

 

  • Communication: Earn a communications degree to study topics like public speaking, mass media, and digital literacy. With this degree, you can prepare for jobs in public relations, human resources, or marketing. 

  • Philosophy: By studying the nature of knowledge and existence, you can hone your ability to communicate clearly (both orally and in writing), craft persuasive arguments, and think critically on complex topics—skills suitable for a career in law, counseling, or teaching. 

  • History: When studying history, you look to the past in the hope of building a better future. Use coursework in history to help develop your research, critical thinking, writing, and presentation skills. History majors may go on to work in politics, journalism, law, or museum curation.

  • Language: Majoring in a foreign language means honining your ability to communicate cross-culturally, analyze multiple perspectives, and problem solve. The ability to communicate in another language can unlock opportunities for careers in health care, education, foreign service, travel, or translation.

  • English: By learning to read and interpret English literature, you can become a more analytical writer, accurate writer, and careful editor. This major could be a good fit for anyone interested in a career in editing, writing, or marketing.

Read more: 10 High-Paying Jobs For English Majors (Besides Teaching)

Social sciences

The social sciences examine the way humans operate within society, including how they behave individually and as communities, and sustain economies. The following list of common social science degrees shows the variety of disciplines within this field of study:

  • Anthropology: Anthropology majors study humanity through the lenses of biology, culture, linguistics, and history. Choosing this major can be a great way to build skills in statistical analysis and research methods, which can transfer to careers in public policy, marketing strategy, social work, or user experience (UX) design.

  • Criminal justice: Prepare for a career in criminal justice or public service with this major, which focuses on the court system, policing, corrections, and criminal psychology. Build knowledge and skills in ethics, statistical analysis, and the law.

  • Economics: This field of study analyzes resource management at the local, community, corporate, national, and global levels. The skills you build while studying economics can lead to careers in law, finance, business, government, sales, or public policy.

  • Political science: Study how governments work, both independently and in relation to one another. Choosing this major can help you to become a stronger writer, presenter, and critical thinker, all key skills for roles in journalism, government, foreign service, or finance.

  • Psychology: Studying psychology doesn’t mean you have to become a psychologist (though that’s an option). Learning more about human behavior builds research, reasoning, and problem-solving skills for possible careers in counseling, social services, education, marketing, or criminal justice.

  • Sociology: With this major, you’ll study social groups and how they behave and interact. Broad coursework in criminology, research methods, statistics, race and ethnicity, and gender studies can build your capacity for critical thinking, research, and analysis. This major can lead to a career in criminal justice, education, market research, or counseling. 

Arts  

This subcategory of liberal arts majors encompasses the creative and performing arts. Some of these degrees tend to be research-based, while others may be more performance-oriented. Examples of these degrees include:

  • Art history: Research and analyze famous works of art. By developing skills in research, critical thinking, and synthesis, you could prepare yourself for a career in museum curation or academic research. 

  • Theater arts: You can concentrate on acting, directing, production, design, or stage management. If you’re interested in a career in the theater, whether on stage or behind the scenes, this could be a fun and fitting major.  

  • Graphic design: Through a graphic design curriculum, you can learn to combine your creativity with technology for a possible design career in a range of industries.

  • Music: Majoring in music doesn’t limit you to a career as a musician (though you’ll likely develop your creative and performance skills). Music majors may also go on to become teachers, journalists, music therapists, event marketers, or sound technicians.

  • Film: As a film major, you’ll take a deep dive into all the elements of bringing an idea to the screen, including screenwriting, editing, light and sound, and cinematography. Prepare for a variety of jobs on a film set with this major.

  • Interactive media: Choose this major to study a range of digital media skills, including web, video game, and app design. Build skills in communication, imaging software, collaboration, and user experience (UX) design to apply your creativity to a career in tech. 

Natural Sciences 

Majors in the natural sciences invite students to study the physical world. They typically include these five fields or majors:

  • Astronomy: Observe and analyze the elements of the known universe—planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies, and other phenomena—with this course of study. Develop investigative and mathematical skills that can serve you well in a range of careers.

  • Biology: As a biology major, you’ll study the characteristics, functions, and behaviors of living organisms. If you’re considering a career in health care, biology may be a good choice of major.

  • Chemistry: Chemistry is the study of matter, and those who study it can apply those learnings to an assortment of careers—everything from research or medicine to criminal forensics or food science.

  • Geology: Learning about the physics and chemistry of the Earth can be an entry point to a career in the energy, environmental, nonprofit, government, or educational sectors.

  • Physics: In a physics degree program, you’ll study the natural laws of science and engineering, building your capacity for problem-solving, critical thinking, and research along the way. Choosing this major can be the first step toward a career in many science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) professions.

Why study liberal arts? 

Even though a liberal arts degree doesn't always lead directly to a specific job, the skills you learn in your coursework can prepare you for careers in education, research, politics, public service, and more. 

You'll also have opportunities to build additional skills you can bring to whatever career you decide to pursue. Here are more reasons to consider a liberal arts program:

  • Learn how to ask the right questions to identify and solve problems.

  • Develop creative solutions for complex problems.

  • Bring a human touch to technical fields.

  • Quickly learn new information.

  • Make complex information digestible.

  • Adopt a lifelong love of learning.

  • Prepare for graduate school.

Next steps

Earning your bachelor’s degree can enhance your career prospects in many fields. Learn more about what it’s like to earn your bachelor’s degree online from a top university in a field like applied arts and sciences, business administration, marketing, or computer science. 

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