How to graduate with a Liberal Arts degree and not end up working at a coffee shop

Like a good chunk of students across the world,I have graduated my college with a Liberal Arts degree. As fascinating and enriching as the experience was, lets be honest – it’s probably one of the least marketable degrees you can get, especially in this economy. But if you take the right steps, you need not end up serving fast food and living with your parents! Here is my success story.

Recognize your limitation

It was towards the end of my freshman year that I realized I am not going to get anywhere with my Humanities degree. Now, I am not saying it was useless, on the contrary – I learned great many things I wouldn’t have otherwise, I discovered my passion for filmmaking, and I had the freedom to experiment with my creativity. Something I would have missed out on if I ended up pursuing Computer Science like I initially wanted.

While choosing Liberal Arts was a “happy accident” I would have gladly gone through again, it did not leave me with many career prospects. But the key was – I recognized the career limitations of my degree. And I still had three years to prepare and make up for it.

Tip #1: Use classes and extracurriculars to build employable skills and portfolio

I joined our University Student Union as the main website and newsletter administrator. I picked up a part time job at our IT department. And I even took an awesome Artificial Intelligence independent study in lieu of the math requirement. I learned a lot of practical skills, while slowly building a nice set of experiences to put on my resume!

Always be on the lookout for those “hidden opportunities”, both inside and outside the classroom, and never fear speaking to your professors and staff about what you want to do, even if its not always offered. Although they may not be your main interests, it never hurts to pick up fail-safe, practical and employable skills.

Tip #2: Summer isn’t just TV and couch time: Intern, Intern, Intern…

My first summer I was already working for a small company back home, doing some basic web design thanks to the skills I picked up working for the Student Union. Second summer, I was interning at a video game company as a programmer, solely thanks to the strong portfolio I manage to build the past two years via extracurriculars. And the third summer, I went on a tangent and spent three months living in LA and shooting movies, learning about the industry and meeting people.

Each summer is a great opportunity for an entry-level work or internship. Even during the semester, an internship may be a better idea than overloading an extra class or two. The employers will be much more lenient to glance over your not-so-useful degree and train you up a bit, since you’re still a “student.” And by the time you are done, you will have had enough professional experience that your degree will not matter anymore. But more importantly…

Tip #3: It’s all about Connections!

That first summer job after my freshman year doing web design? Guess what… it’s THIS. Writing this blog post. Yup! Six years later, I am still working for my first ever boss because I did a great job during the trial period and kept in touch. The video game internship? It translated to a part time job for two more years while I was finishing school. And the film contacts I made, I still meet up and shoot with on occasion.

Point is, regardless of your degree, you need to get yourself “out there,” start meeting people, and start proving yourself. A new skill you did not obtain in school can always be learned later, but qualities such as dedication, passion and efficiency is what will really sell you to the employers. You have four years to demonstrate that, an ample time – get noticed and get remembered!

Happy Ending

And so, upon graduating my university, I already had three years of either part time or interning experience as a programmer and web developer, several good references, a strong portfolio, and a pending job offer. And, on top of that, I had a blast and creative freedom learning about Nietzsche and exploring my filmmaking interests thanks to the “Liberal” part of my Arts.

My success story is by no means unique and anyone who sets their mind to it, with (quite a bit) of research, can do it! Don’t just rely on your Student Services office, go out and seek your own opportunities. Stretch your school resources and activities to gain more practical skills. Send out emails to companies you’d love to intern for even if they don’t advertise (my video game company wasn’t looking for interns but they still hired me). And lastly, always make a good impression, and always stay in touch with the people you work with. You will be glad you did!


2 thoughts on “How to graduate with a Liberal Arts degree and not end up working at a coffee shop

    • Sarah,

      Thank you for your comment, that is actually a really good idea, and something I had to deal with a lot both interning and current freelancing. I will definitely add it to my list of future posts!


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