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Top Salaries: Highest-Earning Humanities and Social Science Programs

Nov. 6, 2013
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“What are you going to do with that degree?” is a question that humanities and social science students find themselves having to answer frequently. Unlike engineering or business degrees, the traditional liberal arts education has gained a reputation of providing students with limited career choices in low-paying jobs. The average starting salary for humanities and social science grads ranges from $37,000 to $41,000 depending on the major, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Some schools, however, have helped their recent graduates take home salaries well above the humanities and social science average. Through various professional development programs and interdisciplinary academics, humanities and social science students are gaining skills valued in the job market.

This week NerdScholar ranked the top 10 highest-earning humanities and social sciences programs using self-reported grad surveys. We also feature unique academic and extracurricular programs at these top-earning schools that help students prepare for starting a career.

1. Carnegie Mellon University – Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences: $57,329

Recent graduates of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon make, on average, over $57,000 a year. This is an astounding $20,000 more than the national average. Topping the list for highest salaries for arts and sciences schools, Dietrich sets the bar very high.

Dietrich College, in Pittsburgh, has its own Academic Advisory Center to provide support to its students. With information about picking classes and exploring majors as well as advisors who are ready to help, the center is a one-stop shop for students who know they are interested in the social sciences but have not yet declared a major.

To give Dietrich students a head start, freshmen and sophomores interested in research can participate in a semester-long research training program. Participants work with faculty sponsors on research projects, such as women’s rights in American politics, personality psychology and adjustment to chronic illness. The range of options allows students to choose a project that is not only related to their studies about also one they find genuinely interesting. This one-on-one training is extremely beneficial for students who later participate in the senior honors program—which requires an honors thesis.

2. Claremont McKenna College: $50,801

Claremont McKenna, in Claremont, California, is one of five undergraduate Claremont Colleges. Ranking No. 2 on the list, Claremont McKenna grads can expect to make over $50,000 upon graduation. With less than 1,300 students and an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Claremont McKenna is able to provide individualized attention and ample resources to its students.

The sponsored summer internship program provides financial support for Claremont McKenna students to gain internships in their areas of interest. For example, students who choose to spend the summer working for a nonprofit organization can apply for up to $3,500 to cover their costs. Additionally, funds are available for international internships, particularly for those interested in working in Asia.

Claremont McKenna is also a member of the Selective Liberal Arts Consortium, a group of 13 top liberal arts schools that work to provide quality internships and full-time employment opportunities for juniors and seniors at all consortium schools. This, in turn, helps Claremont McKenna students land high-paying jobs.

3. University of Pennsylvania – College of Arts and Sciences: $50,287

Also bringing in over $50,000 a year are graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. This is Penn’s largest undergraduate school, enrolling 60% of all undergraduate students. There are over 50 majors in the College of Arts and Sciences, including various interdisciplinary majors such as the philosophy, politics and economics major and the health and societies major.

Penn Civic Scholars is a four-year program for students interested in civic service. Before classes even start, incoming Penn Civic Scholars participate in a four-day pre-orientation where they are introduced to Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and exposed to urban social problems. During their freshman and sophomore years, Penn Civil Scholars take part in seminars to discuss and learn about social problems. Before graduation, all scholars must complete the capstone research project to receive their certification.

4. Bucknell University: $48,912

Students at Bucknell University in Lewisberg, Pennsylvania, can expect to make almost $49,000 upon graduation. Bucknell believes in bringing together the liberal arts education and professional programming to create a well-rounded curriculum for their students.

To foster an environment where learning isn’t defined by the classroom, Bucknell students can participate in living-learning communities. In these communities, students live with others who share similar interests. For example, students can pick houses focused on the black diaspora, LGBT awareness or sustainability.

Bucknell is also home to the Institute for Leadership in Technology and Management, which is a hands-on opportunity for students in engineering, management and liberal arts programs. This institute kicks off with a six-week summer course that brings in industry leaders to discuss hot topics such as ethics, leadership and globalization.

5. Georgia Institute of Technology – Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts: $47,950

Georgia Tech grads rake in top salaries for many majors, and liberal arts is no exception. Students in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts can expect to make an average of $47,950 annually upon graduation. The Atlanta college’s six schools combine to offer a robust intellectual environment and an ambitious array of disciplinary and interdisciplinary learning experiences for students. Graduates are distinguished by their ability to address complex problems by bridging technological and non-technological realms. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 5:1, Ivan Allen College students expect and are given personal attention. Students can even log on to the college’s website and chat with a customer service representative.

Undergraduates also are provided with ample opportunities to get involved with research through one-on-one faculty mentorship. These research projects focus on a wide variety of topics, including “Dynamic Families: Lesbian Kinship in the Social, Cultural and Legal Context” and “Optimizing Project Management of Long Term Projects with Short Term Workers.”

6. Cornell University – College of Arts and Sciences: $47,213

“The humanities has always been one of the gems of Cornell,” said Gretchen Ritter, the Harold Tanner dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Ritter said the college develops in its students “critical thinking skills, human understanding and the ability to problem solve” that are valuable to the economy. Currently, Cornell Arts and Sciences grads are valued at just over $47,000 per year.

At a time when colleges and universities are especially careful about how to use their resources, Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, has made a significant investment in the humanities. Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences has raised $93 million over the last three years for a new humanities building, a faculty-hiring initiative and program support.

Klarman Hall, the new humanities building, will provide 33,250 square feet of space for the humanities, including offices for some of the 48 new humanists hired in the last three years – positions that accounted for more than 60% of all College of Arts and Sciences hires at Cornell during that time.

7. Georgetown University – Georgetown College: $45,977

Georgetown University’s Georgetown College was built on the principle of “education of the whole person.” The college aims to provide a curriculum that combines humanities, sciences and social sciences. Its well-rounded grads earn almost $46,000 annually.

In collaboration with the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service, Georgetown College students can earn credit for community-based learning. Students at the Washington, D.C., campus work with nonprofit organizations in the area and take classes that focus on topics such as social entrepreneurship, and peace and justice.

Each year, 20 juniors and seniors join the Baker Scholars Program, a highly competitive program that was started in 1973. Through mentorship and interactions with Baker alumni, Baker Scholars broaden their understanding of business. The program offers hands-on experiences such as trips to a range of businesses, as well as community service projects and a weekend retreat.

8. New York University – College of Arts and Sciences: $45,129

Bringing home over $45,000 a year, NYU College of Arts and Sciences grads earn well over the national salary average for their degrees. This is good news for students hoping to stay in New York City after graduation, given the city’s extraordinarily high cost of living.

The College of Arts and Sciences makes an effort to support students who are minorities. The college’s Academic Achievement Program (AAP) supports Latino, Black, and Native American students through their academic and leadership pursuits. AAP members can attend weekly activities and events, which vary from rap sessions to game days to an end of the year Gala. All AAP students are required to participate in a peer-mentorship program for incoming freshmen.

Female students interested in science and mathematical programs can apply to be a part of the highly competitive Women in Science program. Selected students meet throughout the year for discussions, networking, research and socializing. Each member receives a modest scholarship as well as the opportunity to interact with students from the NYU Abu Dhabi campus via videoconferencing.

9. University of Notre Dame – College of Arts and Letters: $44,717

The College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame helped its recent graduates earn an average annual salary of $44,717. In addition to this salary, a recent graduate study determined that only 4% of graduates were seeking employment six months after graduation.

John McGreevy, I.A. O’Shaughnessy dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the Indiana campus, encourages students to study what they love, whether that is economics or music or philosophy. “College is short; life is long,” he says. “We believe that the most important decision a student can make is to pursue their intellectual interests while in college, using this rare opportunity to explore questions of great meaning and to develop the writing, analytical and speaking skills nurtured especially well within the liberal arts. We know, too, that employers value exactly these skills, which enable graduates to flourish not just in their first job but well after graduation.”

The Arts and Letters summer internship program helps defray travel and living expenses to help undergraduates pursue valuable internships around the world. Recent internships included a psychology and Spanish double major interning at Goldman Sachs as well as a design major working for the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation and a sociology and Japanese major interning for the U.S. Department of State in Japan.

10. Lehigh University – College of Arts and Sciences: $44,596

Rounding out our top 10 is Lehigh University’s College of Arts and Sciences in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Its students can expect an impressive $44,596 salary after graduation. With a strong belief in hands-on, integrated and interdisciplinary learning, the College of Arts and Sciences works to prepare its students for the real world.

This focus on diversified learning allows Lehigh grads to deeply explore many of their interests. For example, the sustainable development program gives students the opportunity to learn about development both in the classroom, by taking classes on social entrepreneurship and research, and in the field, through international immersion programs in Cambodia, Haiti and Kenya. For students who are looking to truly customize their studies, the Eckardt Scholars program exempts students from traditional general education requirements and allows them to develop their own curriculum.

Ranking University School Average Salary
1 Carnegie Mellon University Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences $57,329
2 Claremont McKenna College (n/a) $50,801
3 University of Pennsylvania The College (School of Arts and Sciences) $50,287
4 Bucknell University (n/a) $48,912
5 Georgia Institute of Technology Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts $47,950
6 Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences $47,213
7 Georgetown University Georgetown College $45,977
8 New York University College of Arts and Sciences $45,129
9 University of Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters $44,717
10 Lehigh University College of Arts and Sciences $44,596

Data based on 2-4 year averages for data available between 2010-2013, collected from individual colleges’ self-reported data by NerdScholar