Audrey Fastuca has been working at an Italian archaeological site for about a year, earning roughly the same salary as a grocery store cashier: $23,000 annually, with no benefits. Fastuca, who graduated from GW last May with a major in philosophy, makes $10,000 to $20,000 less than the majority of GW graduates who have recently entered the job market, according to a Career Center survey.
“It’s what I have to pay for studying what I love,” said Fastuca, who said her salary is “clearly below-par.”
Jobs for liberal arts majors such as Fastuca have become increasingly scarce and lower-paying, as the need for more specific and “hard” skills has risen, according to job market observers. Hard skills are usually picked up in studying such subjects as engineering, computer science and math. Liberal arts disciplines include philosophy, anthropology, sociology, political science and English.
While skills acquired in a liberal arts education such as critical thinking and writing abilities are needed for the daily performance of almost any job, the demand for specific abilities is much more coveted in the today’s high-tech society, said James Murray, assistant director of career services, in a presentation at the Career Center last month.
“It’s a tight labor market,” said Roberta Spalter-Roth, director of research and development at the American Sociological Association, in a phone interview. “The market is fairly good for math, science, and engineering.”
While engineering majors can almost be certain of a future in engineering, the broadness of a liberal arts education makes it less desirable to prospective employers, Roth said.
“Everything now is professional,” said senior Daniel Foster, a philosophy major. “You’re expected to have a set of skills. It’s replaced the idea of the university as a place where a person is educated broadly.”
Some liberal arts graduates work for years doing menial tasks before landing a job in their desired field. A blogger who goes by the moniker “The Liberal Arts Dude” washed dishes for three years after graduating from the University of Vermont with a 4.0 grade point average.
“It’s the reality of liberal arts majors,” said the blogger, who requested anonymity because he makes critical comments on his Web site. “Being a good student is not enough; employers want to judge you quickly. If you’re a philosophy major who’s really well versed in Marxism, how is that going to translate?”
Murray said lack of experience is holding back liberal arts majors.
Students of the physical and mathematical sciences can more directly put their knowledge to use than undergraduates who have majored in broad disciplines such as English.
Senior Kirsten Benham, an anthropology major, said not having experience as a liberal arts major is a catch-22. “They’re expecting me to have experience, but how can I get that if they don’t hire me?” she said.
Benham added she recognized the importance of building connections and experience through internships.
“With the right kind of experience you can compete,” said Murray, who also touted internships as a way to gain skills and experience.
“The Liberal Arts Dude” recommended that all liberal arts majors get internships so that the little experience gained through their education can be enforced with concrete tasks.
Even at the risk of getting low-paying jobs, students are encouraged to follow their callings and study what they feel is best suited to their personalities.
“Statuses of majors change over time,” Spalter-Roth said.
“You should follow your passion.” Students such as Benham, who is thinking about joining the Peace Corps, are heeding that advice.
“I just really love it,” Benham said about anthropology. “This is what I really want to do.”