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Five Humanities Majors For Students Interested in Business Careers

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. HBO CEO Richard Plepler. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. What do all of these business luminaries -- and many others -- have in common? They’ve all got humanities degrees. The takeaway if you’re thinking of studying the humanities but have business aspirations? You’re not only in good company, but you’ve got a bright future. Wondering which major might be the right fit? Here are five areas of study that can pave the way for a successful business career.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Education
  • Student Tips
Five Humanities Majors For Students Interested in Business Careers

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz; HBO CEO Richard Plepler; YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki; What do all of these business luminaries -- and many others -- have in common? They’ve all got humanities degrees. The takeaway if you’re thinking of studying a bachelor of humanities but have business aspirations? You’re not only in good company, but may have a very bright future.

Wondering which are the best humanities degree jobs in business? Here are five areas of study proven to pave the way for a successful business career.

1. Communications

Study Breaks magazine recently declared communications majors and communications-related majors to be “winning in business spheres.” Why? Because communication skills are held in high regard by today’s employers. In fact, many employers cite lack of communication skills as the top obstacle they face when making new hires.

There are several reasons as to why you should study commmunication when pursuing a business career. In addition to winning when it comes to the ability to interact, communications majors are also highly effective generalists and extremely trainable. Plus, they stand out in a crowded field of business majors.

Of the winding road that started with a B.S. in Communications and led to heading up a coffee empire, Schultz says, “It took years before I found my passion in life. But getting out of Brooklyn and earning a college degree gave me the courage to keep on dreaming. I can’t give you any secret recipe for success. But my own experience suggests that it is possible to start from nothing and achieve even beyond your dreams.”

2. History

Alongside psychology majors, history majors are among the most common grads to rise to the top in the business world. Consider former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, for example, who double-majored in medieval history and philosophy.

Christopher Brooks writes for Historians.org on the value of history studies in business, “Historians are well-equipped to understand the impact societal development has on financial and nonfinancial events, as well as financial transactions and models.”

Plus, Brooks says, history majors acquire skills that are fundamental not just for academia, but also for business, including strong analytical skills, excellent oral and written communication skills, a detail-oriented approach, experience presenting research and using technology, skills for working independently, excellent interpersonal and problem-solving skills, the ability to meet deadlines, and a systemic understanding of human institutions.

Fiorina says of her unusual degree choice, “While I joke that my medieval history and philosophy degree prepared me not for the job market, I must tell you it did prepare me for life. I learned how to condense a whole lot of information down to the essence. That thought process has served me my whole life...I’m one of these people who believes we should be teaching people music, philosophy, history, art.”

Fiorina also credits her degree with helping her be prepared for the technological revolution. “We have, in fact, seen nothing yet.”

Plus, should you be so inclined, you can always do a master’s in business like Fiorina, who has both an MBA and MS in management.

3. Philosophy

Philosophy is highly relevant today, especially when it comes to business. Before attending law school, Paypal CEO received a BA in philosophy. He is joined by hedge fund manager George Soros, activist investor Carl Icahn, former FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, former Fannie Mae CEO Herbert Allison Jr., former Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, Flickr co-founder Steward Butterfield, and Overstock.com founder and CEO Patrick Byrne, all of whom also have this degree on their resumes.

Big Think writes of the interdisciplinary benefits of philosophy and business, “The rising demand for both creative and concrete problem-solving as well as abstract and strategic thinking indicates the necessity to broaden the reflectivity-horizon of the narrow business perspective that future business leaders will determine their decisions within. Business tends to seek one rationalized conclusion at the expense of others. This closes opportunities, rather than opens them. Philosophy, on the other hand, can through critical reasoning continually question and rethink the assumed certainties and its basic premises. In this sense, business and philosophy might seem poles apart at first glance and their interdisciplinary potential has for long been largely unrecognized on traditional business schools.”

Plus, argues philosophy professor Thomas Hurka, “Once hired, philosophy majors advance more rapidly than their colleagues who possess only business degrees.”

4. English

While the ability to read and write is a pre-requisite for most jobs today, English majors are value for their next-level skills in this area.

Entrepreneur says, “English majors and others in the liberal arts arena read, write, communicate, and critique -- and then read and write some more. Their relationship with the written and spoken language is nuanced and informed. They are taught to express their thoughts with purpose.

This is especially true for people in leadership positions, who must be able to communicate clearly and expertly. As an example, current and former CEOs at companies like Avon, Xerox, Disney and MTV all held English degrees.”

People who major in English also tend to be critical thinkers as well as creative, a huge asset when it comes to innovation.

5. Psychology

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines behavioral psychology as “a scientific approach that limits the study of psychology to measurable or observable behavior.”

Knowledge of this field is extremely germane to the business world. Why? Because, according to analytics firm HiQ co-founder and CEO Darren Kaplan, “When you understand human behavior, you improve your chances of making your business succeed.”

Understanding of psychology can help you understand your consumers and your employees alike -- a win-win when it comes to surviving and thriving in today’s intensely competitive business world.

Psychology is so important, in fact, that many MBA programs are now offering coursework in human behavior. An undergraduate degree in this area offers a potentially invaluable inside edge. To learn more, view our blog post about studying psychology.

Are you studying in a humanities field towards the goal of becoming a business leader? If so, please share your plans and experiences in the comments section.





Joanna Hughes

Author

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.