Fall Back Careers for Humanities Majors

September 20, 2022

Fall Back Careers for Humanities Majors

Humanities majors continue to take a bit of a beating in the press. A recent Washington Post article, citing a Federal Reserve study, bemoaned that 48 percent of humanities majors would choose a different field of study in hindsight. Underneath the headline, however, the article noted that humanities majors were not the only graduates who would choose a different field of study if given a chance. Forty percent of education majors would choose to study something else, as would one-third of health majors, to name a few. So it’s not just humanities majors who second-guess their educational choices.

Average Income by Field of Study

Nevertheless, we decided to delve deeper into what humanities majors do after they graduate from college. What we found was a little surprising. Despite the bad rap the humanities get, many (but not all) graduates earn more than the average for all fields of study.

Bar Chart showing the average income by Field of Study with History at the top, followed by Philosophy and Religion in second, All PODS in third, Geography in fourth, English Language and Literature in fifth, Anthropology and Archaeology in 6th, and Sociology in last place

Source: Gray Associates analysis of US Census, American Community Survey

Share of Graduates in Direct-Prep Occupations by Major

Furthermore, unlike many other majors that prepare graduates for specific jobs, humanities majors go into a wide variety of occupations.  Most nursing majors go on to become nurses.  Likewise, most computer science majors go into computer science occupations. On the other hand, humanities majors are much more likely to go into occupations not directly related to their major.

Bar chart showing the share of graduates in direct-prep occupations by major.

Source: Gray Associates analysis of  US Census, American Community Survey and IPEDS Completions Data

Top 15 Occupations for Graduates in Each Major

So what do they actually do after graduation?

We looked at data from the American Community Survey to plot career paths for the largest humanities majors. The chart below shows the top 15 occupations for graduates in each major (by population). At the top were lawyers and judges (with average earnings ranging from $170,194 to $180,649). Teaching (across all levels) was another very popular career. Many other graduates go into various types of management positions, and quite a few even become CEOs and legislators.

Source: Gray Associates analysis of US Census, American Community Survey

While there is nothing wrong with other majors, beating up the humanities may be a little misguided. Many young college students do not know precisely what they want to do “when they grow up” and often defer their choice until they apply to graduate school, especially in law and education. Overall, majoring in the humanities provides students with skills that are applicable across a wide range of occupations and career paths. The possibilities are seemingly limitless.

Mary Ann Romans


Mary Ann creates, defines, and executes the content marketing strategy at Gray, collaborating with the entire team to support our higher education partners through effective communication and provision of critical industry information.

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