Liberal arts major offers job flexibility

Joanna Adolph

Michele Dauer graduated from Kent State with a bachelor’s in art history in 1992 and now works as an anti-money laundering specialist at First National Bank of Pennsylvania.

“When people see I’m an art history major, they kind of have this look on their face like ‘How did you get here?'” Dauer said.

Career paths for liberal arts students usually aren’t as straightforward as more specialized or technical areas of study, but many job opportunities do exist.

In fact, liberal arts graduates may actually be more prepared to adapt to career changes than their peers because communication, analytical and problem-solving skills don’t become obsolete over time.

“We’ve seen several studies that have come out of professional journals and business magazines that indicate people who have liberal studies majors or have a profession with a liberal studies background are extremely well-prepared for transitions in the job market,” said Diedre Badejo, chair of Pan-African studies.

For a variety of factors, people are changing careers more than ever before, according to The Princeton Review.

Baby boomers held an average of 10 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 34, a longitudinal survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found.

“If that’s going to be a trend, you need to have people who have a comprehensive and broad enough background to go with the flow, as we say, and remain competitive,” Badejo said. “People who are too rigid – they just can’t make it.”

Badejo said she estimates the Pan-African studies department serves between 1,000 and 12,000 students each academic year, many of whom go on to pursue diverse careers.

“Many of our students become entrepreneurs, interestingly enough,” Badejo said. “We have students who become writers, who go into area studies, international affairs – and of course we have some who become professors. We have a couple of students who have become PhDs themselves and are teaching at major institutions throughout the country.”

Dauer is proof of the flexibility available to liberal arts majors. Her career in banking began as a summer job at the Steel Valley Federal Credit Union in Cleveland while she was still an undergraduate working on her art history degree.

“After I graduated I worked in a frame store, but I couldn’t support myself with the money I made there, so I went back to my job at the bank,” Dauer said. “I started out as a file clerk, then I became a teller, then head teller, then branch manager and then I was operations manager. Lots of times I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time. I found an ad or knew someone who knew someone.”

While art history doesn’t have much to do with her day-to-day work of checking clients’ accounts for fraudulent activity, Dauer said she’s still grateful for it because her job requires creativity.

“You have to follow the money,” Dauer said. “You look at their accounts, but basically you have to know all about that person. You have to know where the money came from and where they spent it. You basically have to think like a thief.”

Anyone starting college with a specific goal in mind should keep their options open, Dauer said.

“In liberal arts you’ve taken so many different classes, I think it better prepares you for the world,” Dauer said. “If you can’t get in your career, you know there’s something out there. Sometimes if you’re too centralized you lose sight of the bigger things.”

It’s not degree that counts

Employers hire graduates based on their skills, not their degrees, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2000.

“It doesn’t matter what degree you have,” said Sarah Hihn, human resources generalist for Fidelity National Field Services. “I think a college degree shows some initiative, no matter what college it’s from – whether its liberal arts or business. With any kind of degree to back you, you could definitely make it to our management structure.”

While a certain degree isn’t necessary, experience gained through internships, jobs, volunteer positions or extracurricular involvement is important to employers.

“Even if you’re a supervisor at a local grocery store, it shows leadership ability and that the employer saw potential in you,” Hihn said. “There’s lots of jobs a liberal arts major can take within their college years just as easily as a business major.”

Graduating without an internship or some other type of applicable experience often means starting at a much lower salary, Career Services Center counselor Crystal Ake said.

“I think the biggest mistake liberal arts majors make is that they graduate without those experiences,” Ake said. “They have no idea what they want to do because they’ve not had that practical experience, and they start at the bottom level in jobs they could have done without a degree because that’s the way to get the experience they need to be where they want.”

Brenton VanFossen, 1999 Kent State history graduate and current director of Sylvan Learning Center in Stow and Independence, said he credits leadership and extracurricular experiences with helping him land his first job as an admissions counselor at Bethel Community College. During his undergraduate years at Kent State, VanFossen was president and vice-president of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, a student orientation instructor for two years and a campus tour guide.

“Those groups probably had the biggest impact on how I went into fields not necessarily related to my major because of the presenting skills you have to have to be a group leader or member of a fraternity,” VanFossen said. “There’s a direct relationship between what I did there and what I did as an admissions counselor.”

VanFossen said he originally planned to become a social studies teacher and majored in education and history until he realized he liked the social studies part of the degree more and switched to only history.

“I always thought I should study something I could get a job in, but I decided to study what I loved, and I’ve never regretted that,” VanFossen said. “One thing that stood out in my mind was that John F. Kennedy was a history major. I thought if someone like that could do everything he did, I wouldn’t have trouble finding a job.”

As director of the Sylvan Learning Center, VanFossen said he uses the same criteria to evaluate applicants as his employers used to evaluate him.

“If I looked at a student who had a high GPA but was not involved in outside things, I probably would go with someone whose GPA was lower but was involved,” VanFossen said. “You have to have leadership skills, not just a degree.”

Contact alumni affairs reporter Joanna Adolph at [email protected].



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Source: Liberal Arts Job Search Guide