Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Great News! Your So-Called "Worthless" Liberal Arts Degree Actually Makes You a Better Leader

student reading in library

When I announced my major to my parents—psychology—my dad rolled his eyes and told me to please pick a real major. As a physician, he simply didn’t think there was any point in having a degree in psychology unless I were to go on to get my PhD (which I wasn’t planning on doing). So, I tacked on English and became a double major, appeasing my father and satisfying my own curiosity. Because everyone was looking for good writers, according to my dad, the second area of study was a smart one.

His belief remains true today: Good writing is a coveted skill. It will serve you well everywhere, in any and every job you ever have.

And so will leadership skills. A study by DDI and reported by Fast Company suggests that both undergrad business majors as well as humanities majors scored high in areas that we generally link leaders to, including entrepreneurship and influence. But, the perhaps more notable finding was that that “humanities graduates did better than MBAs in a number of areas essential to performing as a leader.”

Let me repeat that for all the parents out there who shook their heads at their kids’ choices: The humanities produce better leaders than an MBA.

Considering that a liberal arts degree is the most popular undergraduate program, this is encouraging news for young professionals with a degree in any number of studies—music, religion, Spanish. Despite what people (and the media) love to say, your four years spent studying what’s interesting to you wasn’t worthless—not at all.

While I could list off a number of valuable professional skills I picked up simply learning in college (and not getting on a specific professional path at 18), I’m sure you could, too. From navigating difficult or awkward conversations with co-workers to finding a way to recover from a massive email error, there’s so much more to excelling in your career than having the required skills you often see listed in a job description.

So, regardless of your college major, remember that when you’re applying to a new field outside your expertise. Know that a philosophy student’s “compelling communication” skills may easily outshine the engineering major who’s after the same job. Or that one’s classical studies degree can help him or her nab a position in marketing. It’s all about figuring out how to tailor your education beyond the classroom for the job market that you’re passionate about.