When humanities majors ask about grad school, they are generally asking,
What about additional education after I graduate from college? Everyone says I’ll need a graduate degree to succeed in the world. How should I get started on that?
“Grad school” can mean a lot of things, and how you get started will depend on what you mean by that. Let’s start though with the premise behind the question: that you need a grad degree to get ahead.
In some fields, yes.
If you want to be a lawyer, you need a law degree. The U of I’s excellent pre-law advising program, directed by former English major and lawyer, Jamie Thomas-Ward, can help you on that path.
If you want to go into one of the health professions (and yes, humanities majors become doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and lots of other things), you’ll need the relevant credential. The U of I’s health professions advising can help you with that.
Other fields offer entry-level positions that you can attain with your four-year undergraduate degree, but you will need a master’s degree in the field to advance beyond the entry level, for example:
Some fields don’t require a master’s degree, but opportunities are more plentiful for those who one, for example:
There are fields, like journalism, museum studies, and communication where you CAN be professionally employed with a four-year degree in that particular field, and opinions vary widely on whether a master’s degree makes a difference. Graduate school can give students greater exposure to the field and valuable networking opportunities, even though the credential isn’t required to advance beyond the entry level.
There are a lot of paths to a career in primary or secondary education for those who didn’t get a teaching credential as part of their four-year degree. MA programs and alternative pathways like Teach for America and Indianapolis Teaching Fellows can help you get a teaching credential, but there are also ways to teach without seeking certification: teaching abroad, working in after school or tutoring programs, teaching at a private school.
You don’t need an MBA to success in business, but some people find it helps. “Business” also means a lot of things, and our alumni mentoring network includes a number of humanities majors who have succeeded in business some with and some without MBA’s.
An MFA in creative writing will give you time and opportunity to hone your craft around other writers of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and it can qualify you to teach at the college level (but see the caveat below).
An MA in your major (or an adjacent field) is a cool thing to have — if only because it means you get to spend another couple of years taking interesting classes. It may not improve your employment prospects, and in some cases it can hurt them (as when, for example, the additional degree makes you more expensive to hire than someone with just a BA).
Mostly, though, an MA in a humanities field is the gateway to a Ph.D. in that same field, which will qualify you to teach at the college level. Be warned, though: there are not a lot of jobs available in college-level teaching, particularly if you want to teach full-time and get paid a professional-level salary for it.
Bottom line? Don’t assume that a graduate degree, any graduate degree, will help you succeed. Much depends on the field you want to go into.
- Learn as much as you can about the return on the investment of money and time that you will put into a graduate program.
- Admissions professionals and graduate students in campus graduate programs can be a helpful resource. So can alumni of your major and people currently working in the areas that interest you.
- Look for opportunities to volunteer or job-shadow to get a better sense of what that career path feels like day-to-day.
- Getting some work experience in between leaving college and starting grad school can help you figure out what kind of grad school you want to go to and whether grad school is really necessary for your particular goals.