Online degrees in the humanities can help us make sense of the world and why the things in it matter through a theoretical approach to learning. You can study interdisciplinary subjects such as history, art, philosophy, English, or law and distinct topics within those disciplines. A degree in the humanities isn't worthless, despite the perception. On the contrary, it can be vital to develop critical, analytical, and communication skills for personal and professional growth, skills frequently sought by employers and necessary in our personal relationships.
A humanities degree is considered a subset of the broader liberal studies degree. A humanities degree is an arts degree, such as a Bachelor of Arts, that covers standard general education requirements and allows you to specialize in an area of interest. It can be earned at the undergraduate and graduate levels depending on your career goals. As a humanities major, you'll study human society and culture and how we use art, language, and literature to express ourselves now and throughout history. Through critical analysis, you can cultivate an appreciation and respect for our similarities and differences as part of the human race and how we all coexist.
As a humanities major, you'll study human society and culture and how we use art, language, and literature to express ourselves now and throughout history.
The National Endowment for the Humanities defines humanities as including, but not limited to, "the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism, and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life."
What Is the Difference Between Arts and Humanities?
While both disciplines examine how we as humans use words and non-verbal expressions to interpret our collective experience, the arts have more to do with the act of creating than the humanities, which is more about research and critical analysis of the human experience.
What Will I Learn in a Humanities Degree Program
A humanities degree program aims to teach you more about the things that bind us together as humans as well as those that set us apart from each other. Through coursework and research, you can strengthen the following soft skills that are applicable to almost any aspect of your personal and professional life:
Analytical and critical thinking
Empirical and quantitative reasoning
Leadership and teamwork
Personal and social responsibility
What Types of Humanities Degrees Are Available?
Humanities degrees cover many disciplines and are available at most colleges and universities at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. You may be interested in an undergraduate humanities degree to enhance your job skills and marketability, or the graduate level, such as a PhD or doctorate if you are interested in academic research and teaching.
You can complete a humanities degree on campus or online, which may benefit you if you find it challenging to maneuver a college campus due to a disability, live far away from school, or juggle multiple responsibilities. Admission requirements are typically the same whether you attend online or on campus and generally include a completed application and fee, high school and college transcripts, entrance exams, an essay, letters of reference, and a resume.
Humanities majors generally include the following:
A music degree includes several areas of focus including the history of music (musicology), the technical aspects of music production and engineering, vocalization and instrumentation, and music therapy.
Philosophy is the study of basic ideas about human existence, knowledge, morals, ethics, reasoning, and values. These topics were first explored by Greek philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle.
Religious studies explores our faith and beliefs, behaviors, and institutions of worship. This also includes studying religion and interpreting it from a cross-cultural perspective.
Humanities classes touch on numerous topics of interest in humanistic inquiry that require critical exploration. These courses support a curriculum that aims to impart knowledge of how we as humans have lived in the past, relate to one another, and build cultures and societies. While course titles may change from school to school, learning outcomes are similar and generally include:
Introduction to Archaeology
This introductory course provides an overview of archaeologists' disciplines and methods for studying the human past. Class discussions and assignments trace the history of human cultures, from the earliest stone tools used in Africa to complex Old and New World societies.
Introduction to World History
The first of a series of world history courses aimed at providing an overview of world history from the earliest years to the present. Each course covers a specific time, including origins to 1000 CE, 1000-1600 CE, and 1600-present.
Literary Form and Analysis
Lessons intend to acquaint students with literary form, close reading, and writing critical arguments. This work prepares you to write a full-length critical essay to pass this class.
Pagans, Christians, and Jews
Lectures and assignments are designed to enable you to explore the changes that occurred after the Roman Empire's fall that promoted the Christian faith. In addition, lessons may provide opportunities to read ancient literature from late antiquity, such as inscriptions, prayers, stories, and the sayings of esoteric philosophers.
Philosophical Methods and Concepts
Once you're introduced to the basics of philosophy, this is a more advanced philosophy course that's structured to survey the major strategies and concepts central to philosophical reasoning, including strategies of proof and disproof.
Are Humanities Degrees Worth It?
Humanities degrees are worth it as long as you keep several factors in mind. You'll need to consider your interests, financial situation, and career goals. You'll also want to consider the time available to invest in your education daily. If you've been working for a while and are looking for faster job growth and development opportunities, a certificate program may be a viable option taking less time and money.
As with making any major life decision, it helps to carefully weigh the pros and cons of earning a humanities degree and how it may affect your career.
Potential Benefits of a Humanities Degree
You'll develop professional skills that employers often value. No matter which humanities major you choose, there are opportunities to develop interpersonal, communication, analytical, and critical thinking skills, which employers need, and cultural insight into people of diverse backgrounds. These skills can help you work in teams, make decisions, find and solve problems, and see the bigger picture.
A humanities degree can be self-enriching. The insight you can gain by studying the humanities can be helpful in your personal life and career. As you learn about the human experience, you may become more empathetic and compassionate towards others as you begin to make sense of the world. This knowledge can strengthen your relationships and give you a better understanding of yourself.
A humanities degree is highly transferable if you plan on attending graduate school. Because of the broad range of courses offered, you can develop a basic understanding of several subject areas, which may prove invaluable if you pursue a master's degree. This knowledge can also help you hone in on one specific area to study as you move forward with your education.
Potential Benefits of a Humanities Degree
A humanities degree doesn't prepare you for a specific job. This is the biggest drawback of a humanities degree. You may have heard the term "Jack of all trades, master of none." This can apply to a humanities degree because while you'll study several subjects, none may prepare you for one specific job. As a result, you may graduate feeling like you've learned a lot but unprepared to enter the workforce because you lack specific technical skills.
Employers may not see or understand the value of your education. In addition, recruiters and hiring managers may be unfamiliar with the skills gained through a humanities degree. While these skills are invaluable and may help you develop professionally, it may take extra effort to frame your resume, interviews, and any online profiles such as those on LinkedIn to prove how applicable and transferable your skills may be.
You may have a greater chance of experiencing unemployment. According to the latest American Academy of Arts and Sciences study, younger graduates in the arts (ages 23 to 32) and older humanities and arts graduates (ages 48 to 59) experienced higher unemployment rates than undergraduate degree holders in other majors.
What Can You Do With a Humanities Degree?
The skills you can gain through a humanities degree can benefit almost any career. Specifically, you may be interested in occupations that are in demand, have high job growth, and have high salary potential. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) finds that liberal arts majors earn a $50,000 annual median salary which is $10,000 less than all other occupations, there are jobs that pay significantly more that require the skills you can aquire.
The skills you can gain through a humanities degree can benefit almost any career.
For example, art directors earn a $100,890 annual median salary and require a bachelor's degree in a discipline such as fine arts or art design. Careers with an English degree include that of technical writer, which pays $78,060 and requires a bachelor's degree, school principal, which pays $98,420 and may require a master's, and postsecondary teacher, which pays $79,640 and may require a master's as well. If you choose to work in business with your bachelor's degree, human resources professionals such as training and development and HR managers earn over $120,000 annually. Of course, these salaries are also dependent on the industry and location.
Funding a Humanities Degree Program
Completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be the first step in seeking financial assistance to pay for college. It'll determine whether you qualify for government-funded grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and low-interest student loans with flexible repayment options. Once determined, you can explore other options to help defray tuition costs and save money. Your school's financial aid office can help you with your research.
Many industry and professional organizations and foundations offer private scholarships, which are great because it's like getting free money that doesn't have to be repaid. Your school may also offer scholarships based on merit and financial need that you may automatically apply for when you complete your enrollment application.
GI Bill Education Benefits
If you are a military veteran or the child or spouse of one, you may be eligible to tap into your GI Bill benefits to help pay for your education. We've also identified some of the best schools for veterans.
You may apply for private loans to pay for college, especially if you don't qualify for federal financial aid. However, remember that they often come with high-interest rates and rigid repayment requirements.
Employer Tuition Reimbursement Programs
Your employer may help you pay for college. Check with your supervisor or human resources department to see if they offer a tuition reimbursement program for employees. They may not help you pay for your entire degree, but they may help pay for tuition and supplies on a class-by-class basis.
How to Choose a Humanities Degree Program
When choosing a humanities degree program, there are several factors to consider — your education is a serious financial investment and time commitment that should not be taken lightly.
Attending an institutionally accredited school is strongly encouraged because it shows that the school has passed a voluntary peer review process to ensure programs, operations, and administrative practices meet high academic standards of excellence. Accreditation also makes it easier to transfer credits from one institution to another, and it's generally preferred by employers requiring college degrees. Some disciplines within humanities may also be programmatically accredited by industry or other professional organizations to ensure the program meets industry standards. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) can verify a school's and program's accreditation status.
There are numerous affordable humanities degree options available because most U.S. public and private colleges and universities offer these degrees. To help you decide which to choose, consider your career goals and salary expectations to determine your potential return on investment. The BLS provides median salaries in its Occupational Outlook Handbook for almost 800 occupations and is updated annually. We also apply our return on investment (ROI) methodology to many of the degrees we feature to help you decide on a program.
Online or On-Campus
If you choose to attend online, you'll want to consider whether programs are delivered synchronously or asynchronously, technology requirements, and — possibly most importantly — your learning style. Studying online takes strong organizational, time management, and prioritization skills. It would help if you were self-motivated to work autonomously and without your peers nearby. While this may appeal to some, it can feel isolating for others.
Students often review college experiences, which can provide valuable insights into a school's reputation and help you choose a program. If you can't find any reviews, a program advisor may be able to connect you with former students and graduates who may be willing to speak with you. LinkedIn is also a great source to search for and network with alumni to ask about their experience and see what they've been up to since graduating — this may help stimulate ideas about potential careers.
FAQs About Humanities Degrees
What Is Considered a Humanities Degree?
A humanities degree is an undergraduate or graduate degree in a major such as culture and ethnic studies, history, language, literature, philosophy and ethics, and religion. You'll examine what motivates us as human beings, how our environment and the social constructs we create have a social impact on our lives, and how we express ourselves through language and art throughout history.
What Humanities Degree Is Best?
Some of the best humanities degrees include English, a foreign language, and law. They can lead to versatile and lucrative careers. Ultimately, the best humanities degree is going to be the one that meets your educational expectations and career goals.
What Kind of Job Can You Get With a Humanities Degree?
There are several jobs that you can get with a humanities degree that pay high salaries. These include lawyers who earn a $127,990 median annual wage, human resources managers who earn $126,230, and art directors who make $100,890.
Resources for Humanities Students
As a potential humanities student, thanks to the internet, you'll have several resources available at your fingertips to help you study, explore careers, and connect with like-minded people.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS)
The AAAS advocates for the arts and humanities, democracy and justice, education, energy, the environment, science and technology, and global affairs. Members can access academic journals and other publications, research and general information, member events, and participate in member elections.
American Historical Association (AHA)
The AHA advocates for the protection of history and the rights of historians. Membership includes access to events and annual meetings, job listings and career development tools, and subscriptions to academic journals and other AHA publications.
American Rhetoric allows you to access video, audio, and text files of historical speeches from news events, movies, the Greek philosophers, historical figures, and politicians. There are also fun exercises to complete and a comprehensive list of academic journals.
Humanities Resource is a collection of learning resources for college students. You can access lectures, articles, tests, and music files spanning the ages.
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
The NEH is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the U.S. In addition, the NEH sponsors events, publishes a magazine and blog, recognizes achievements through honors, and awards grants.
National Humanities Center (NHC)
The NHC offers education resources, including OER materials, a digital library, webinar recording, primary source archives, e-books, podcasts, videos, and public events.
Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons
OER Commons is an online library of digital books and other learning materials that you can access for free. You can do a general search or search by subject area.
Pew Research Center
Pew Research Center researches current topics such as international affairs, race and ethnicity, generations and age, and immigration and migration. In addition, they publish articles and demographic data you can access to help with your studies and research.
Society for Classical Studies (SCS)
The SCS is a hub for aspiring philosophers. Members can look for jobs, access SCS publications, attend member events, and receive discounts on books. The SCS also publishes a weekly blog.
If you need help with researching and writing, the Writing Commons and Writing Spaces can be great places to start seeking help. Both provide guidance and tools to help you craft your essays and other assignments, so they are engaging, factual, ethical, and grammatically correct.