Illustrated by Emily Turner.
If you were a liberal arts major, you were probably reminded from the first day of freshman year that your degree would mean a paltry paycheck — at least compared with that of your engineering friends. You know, the whole starving artist thing. But, does that really pan out in the long run?
A new report claims otherwise. The Association of American Colleges and Universities — a group that advocates for a comprehensive liberal arts education — examined U.S. Census salary data and found some pretty surprising results.
It’s true that, between the ages of 21 and 25, grads with degrees in the humanities or social sciences make just 84% as much as their peers in professional and pre-professional fields, like nursing or business, The Wall Street Journal reports.
But, during the peak earning years (56 to 60 years old), American workers with liberal arts degrees actually end up raking in, on average, about $2,000 more than their counterparts. In other words: Patience is the key to a liberal arts career, at least when it comes to your paycheck.
One reason these grads might be catching up in the long term? About 40% of liberal arts majors eventually head to grad school or earn professional degrees, like J.D.s or M.B.A.s., which helps to boost their annual salaries by nearly $20,000.
“Recent attacks on the liberal arts … have painted a misleading picture of the value of the liberal arts,” AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider said in a press release. “As the findings in this report demonstrate, majoring in a liberal arts field can and does lead to successful and remunerative careers in a wide array of professions.”
While these findings are promising, footing a grad school bill now for the promise of a higher salary later might not be worth the loans you’ll have to take out to cover tuition. Use our Grad School Calculator to determine whether an advanced degree is worth it.