Class of 2013 finds strong job market for liberal arts majors

By Beverly Clark | Sep. 26, 2013

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The vast majority of the Class of 2013 had a job or graduate school placement in hand when they graduated. Recruitment and hiring trends for this year's senior class are strong. Ernest Brown is among many graduates in the class to land a competitive job. Emory Photo/Video.

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The majority of liberal arts majors in Emory’s Class of 2013 report that they have a job or are headed to a graduate school program, maintaining a strong trend of positive placements for students.   

The annual Emory Career Center survey of graduating seniors in the Emory College of Arts and Sciences finds that 85 percent had definitive post-graduation plans in place when they graduated last May.  

Of students who responded to the survey:

  • 43 percent are headed to graduate school.
  • 26 percent of graduates entered the job market, up from 16 percent in 2009.
  • Only 15 percent of the class reported that they are currently seeking an opportunity or are unresolved with their plans, down from 23 percent in 2009.  

Ninety-nine percent of the Emory College Class of 2013 self-reported information about their plans to the Emory Career Center, which closely tracks outcomes for graduates of the university’s largest undergraduate college.  

“With increasing scrutiny around the rising cost of higher education, particularly among the liberal arts institutions, it is imperative to be able to demonstrate a solid measure of return on investment for their education,” says Paul Fowler, executive director of the Emory Career Center.    

"We closely track the outcomes of all Emory College graduates prior to commencement to gain a better sense of how our students are obtaining the post-graduate outcomes they are seeking," Fowler says. "Compared to the data I've seen other schools and universities release, Emory students continue to do well."  

For 2013 graduates not entering the workforce or heading to graduate school, about 10 percent of students say they are taking a "gap year" before graduate school or entering the workforce, up slightly from seven percent in 2012. For many, that involves travel, informal internships and volunteer work that gives them the opportunity to explore career options, says Fowler.  

Four percent are taking post-graduate internships and two percent are entering the military or returning to their home country.     

Translating academic passion to the real world  

Ashley Belmer, a comparative literature and African studies major from Boston, is in her first job as an assistant account executive with a graphic design agency in Atlanta.  

"You wouldn't think comp lit connects with what I do now, but it does. I write and read and analyze a lot of material. I have to be able to explain things in detail and communicate effectively between clients and designers," Belmer explains.    

"The best thing I got out of college was picking a major I was passionate about, that I truly enjoyed, and that made it a successful experience for me," says Belmer, who initially was interested in studying international business.  

In addition to tackling Emory's rigorous curriculum, "extracurricular activities helped just as much as my major" in shaping her experience, says Belmer, who was active in Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and the Alpha Kappa Psi Business Fraternity. She credits the networking available through those organizations and Emory alumni with helping to land her first job.  

2013 graduate Madison Li spent the summer as a specialist for GIGTANK in Chattanooga, Tenn., as part of the company's competitive summer internship program.  She developed a 3-D printing project as part of the company's Internet startup enterprise, something new for the double major in economics and Chinese language and literature.  

"It was a lot of fun, but super challenging. I definitely put my strategic thinking and analytical skills to work," says Li, who adds she has also appreciated the support of alumni out in the field.    

In September, she started a new position as a consultant for Hitachi Consulting – a job she had lined up before graduation. She says the four years at Emory prepared her well for the transition into the “real world.”    

The liberal arts "skill set"

The ability to process information, think critically, communicate, and continue to learn and adapt in the workplace, "are skills that can be applied in any industry and field," Fowler says, and these attributes help draw companies to recruit liberal arts students at Emory.  

The annual 2013 survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities  on employers, and the skills and education they want to see in college graduates, supports this trend. 

More than 90 percent of the employers surveyed agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” More than 75 percent of employers said they "want colleges to place more emphasis on helping students develop five key learning outcomes, including: critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings."   

So far for seniors this year in Emory College, recruitment trends are strong. The Career Center's Fall Career Fair had the largest employer population in the past 10 years with 75 companies attending and a waitlist for companies wanting to attend, says Fowler.   

"We also had over 750 students attending which indicates the students are getting the message to take every advantage to connect with prospective employers," he says. "Our appointments for career services are up significantly this year as well."  

The number of companies recruiting on campus continues to build every year. Companies range from major corporations like Home Depot, Google, IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bloomberg and the Walt Disney Company, to the federal government, multiple consulting firms and national nonprofits.