Study Humanities: The Ultimate Student Guide (2023)

SCHOLARSHIPS   |   STUDENT RESOURCES   |   MORE SUBJECT GUIDES

Thinking about applying for a humanities degree? The humanities encompasses a wide range of exciting subjects and career paths. Find all you need to know about a humanities degree using our guide.

Are you asking yourself, what is a humanities degree? Or maybe you’re wondering, are humanities degrees useless? And what can you do with a humanities degree? You’re not alone! Read on to discover how to find a humanities degree program that’s right for you!

In this guide:

Find a humanities degree in your dream destination

Find & compare humanities degrees from universities around the world!

Search now

What is a humanities degree?

Confused and asking yourself, what is a humanities degree? Think about the name itself. Humans are fascinating beings who have created all the realities of the modern world from the foundations of the old. The humanities is an umbrella term for a wide range of subjects that explore and analyze aspects of human society from a critical perspective. These aspects might cover human history, literature, language, ethical problems, religion, and systems of thought, which all intersect to give us a deeper understanding of the world today. 

A humanities degree can focus on one subject or a number of subjects, examining the chosen field(s) through an interdisciplinary lens. Whether the subject is Museology, Social History, or Bioethics, all humanities degrees will study the world and its historical and cultural context from a critical perspective. Each discipline will vary widely in terns of interpretation method. For example, several branches of the historical method will be used by history students, while philosophy students will use experimental approaches and conceptual analysis.

In general, humanities classes will largely focus on literature, a close analysis of texts, academic essays, and expository writing. The focus on generating and analyzing ideas leads humanities majors to graduate with strong backgrounds in research, writing, and critical thinking skills rather than industry knowledge. This of course depends on your specific degree subject and chosen program. Even so, it is best to choose a humanities degree with the intention of joining a profession that requires an advanced understanding of humanity and society or skills in communication, critical thinking, and organization.

What's the difference between humanities and social science?

When you’re just getting to know the field of humanities, a common question may come up. That is, what's the difference between humanities and social science?

Humanities and social sciences share commonalities, as both disciplines share a primary focus on human life and culture. Some fields, such as history, fall right in between. However, there is subtle difference between humanities and social science, especially regarding their methods and the types of questions they ask. 

What to expect from a humanities degree:        What to expect from a social sciences degree:
  • Focus on the unique elements of human culture
  • More subjective
  • Critical and analytical approach
  • Focus on the sociocultural context of human behavior
  • More objective
  • Scientific approach

While the humanities asks what makes us human, the social sciences asks why people behave and think in certain ways and how those patterns of behavior influence society. Nevertheless, this is a very simplified distinction. Different programs might lean more into one side than the other, and it's important to look closely to understand how individual programs are balanced.

Which areas of humanities can you study?

In order to get further in your student journey, you’ll need to choose what kind of humanities degree you want to study.


If you’re interested in the nature of human language:

Study the structure of human language. Sharpen your skills in interpretation and translation, or gain expertise in the fields of modern languages and literacy.

Linguistics 🈴

Learn how to document patterns in languages. Develop practical applications with applied linguistics, or focus exclusively on the English language and linguistics.

Literature 📚

Whether you decide to focus on comparative literature, English literature, or literary studies in general, the study of themes, theory, culture, and history will be at the forefront.

Writing ✍️

A degree for those with an eye for words and a passion for storytelling. Develop your skills in creative writing and poetry, or steer towards professional writing instead.


If you're interested in studying the past:

Archaeology ⛏️

Explore the development of humankind through literature and field research. Discover artefacts that give clues about the cultural practices and environment of past civilizations.

Delve into the history, philosophy, literature, religion, medicine, architecture, and culture of the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome.

History 📜

With options for focusing on anything from ancient history and medieval times to economic, cultural, or modern history, this major can be tailored to your exact interests.


If you're interested in religion and culture:

Explore the diverse ideas, customs, and social behaviors underpinning people, cultures, and societies around the world.

Focus on the development and role of cultural heritage from historical and contemporary perspectives.

Examine how culture, ethnicity, and other social characteristics interact in diverse regions and countries.

Delve into the historical development, cultural significance, and modern functions of major world religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.

Theology 🛐

Research religions that began millions of years ago and build an understanding of how they influence society in today's modern culture.


If you're interested in the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence:

Ethics 🤔

Pursue a comprehensive education of moral philosophy. Consider specializing in applied ethics, bioethics, or business ethics to jumpstart your career in specific fields.

Logic 🧠

Become an expert in both formal logic, the deduction of logical truths, and informal logic, the theory underlying fallacies, critical thinking, and argumentation.

Philosophy 💭

Muse over human existence and interaction through the lenses of diverse intellectual, political, and social theories.


If you're interested in preserving the past for the future:

Archival Science 🗂️

Collect, organize, and curate documents, recordings, and other stored materials. Specialize your skills in library science, or follow your passion towards museology.

Understand how information is used, stored, communicated, and transferred by people and organizations.

Return to top ☝️


How long does it take to get a humanities degree?

There are many types of humanities degrees out there. Ensure that you understand what your future career path requires, and plan your higher humanities accordingly.

Humanities certificate or diploma

A certificate or diploma in humanities takes around one year depending on the program. A humanities certificate will usually focus on critical and empathetic thinking skills, and a certificate in a humanities subfield may explore foundational disciplinary knowledge. A humanities certificate may be ideal for student who want to test their interest before committing to a full degree.

Bachelor's degree in humanities

A bachelor’s degree in humanities will usually take around three or four years. Students need to choose a major within humanities, or the degree would fall into more general studies such as the liberal arts. Students studying a bachelor's degree in humanities will typically learn about more holistic core concepts of the humanities alongside skills specific to their chosen major.

Master's degree in humanities

A master’s degree in humanities takes around one or two years. This degree type is ideal for students who want to join academia or build knowledge in a very specific area. It's also common that an undergraduate degree in humanities is used as a stepping stone for a graduate degree in another field, such as law. To determine if this option is best for you, reach out to people who work in your desired field and ask if a master's degree in humanities would be useful.


Why study humanities abroad?

Why study humanities abroad? With the humanities being one of the best disciplines to take overseas, a better question might be, why not? 

1. Study where the pillars of your discipline were formed

If you're an aspiring Archaeology or Classical Studies major, head to Rome to see the Pantheon or explore the ruins of Pompeii. Studying Theology? Head to Israel and walk the streets of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Whether you dive into Indigenous Studies among the First Nations in Canada or English Literature in the homeland of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, the humanities is embedded in the world around us, waiting for you to explore.

2. Learn a new language

A huge part of the humanities centers on learning about different ways of living in the world. Learning a new language will deepen your understanding of the ways that language and human nature are intertwined. Especially for students studying Translation and Interpretation, the importance of the context surrounding words and language will become clear. An additional language on the resume of any humanities major will boost career opportunities and open doors to working internationally. 

3. Understand the intricacies of culture

Culture is difficult to define for a good reason. Yet, the customs, heritage, social institutions, art and history that make up the culture of particular groups of people are worth studying, as this knowledge will help you understand both what differentiates people from each other and what binds people together. By learning about ourselves as humans, we are more easily able to understand how we could create a better world in the future.

4. Take on new perspectives

From navigating the ethos of philosophical theories to embodying diverse characters as a creative writer, understanding different perspectives is a superpower that not only helps you consider other beliefs and experiences, but also generates deeper empathy and reduces bias. The new world-views you encounter abroad ultimately widen your personal horizon to different ways of being in the world.

5. More easily transferred credits

In professional degrees such as engineering or medicine, requirements specific to different fields or locations make a degree more tricky when it comes to transferring credits. A huge benefit to the humanities is the more easily transferred credits across different countries due to the universality of the discipline and the subjectivity of its contents. Take advantage and take some or all of your studies abroad!

Return to top ☝️


What can you do with a humanities degree?

Of course, employability is at the top of the list when it comes to choosing a degree. One question that many students ask themselves is, what can you do with a humanities degree? To help you out, we've highlighted possible career paths in a variety of fields that you might consider after graduation.

Humanities jobs within the field:

• Archeologist

• Critic

• Cultural Affairs Officer

• Curator

• Editor

• Historian

• Librarian

• Linguist

• Researcher

• Teacher

• Translator

• Writer

In today's job market, we're aware that many students might be asking, 'Are humanities degrees useless?' To answer that, first we'd say no, and secondly we'd say it really depends on what you would like to do. 

It's common to hear that some degree subjects give students more practical education for a career in specific industries, especially in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). For students interested in highly specific careers as scientists, engineers, and mathematicians asking themselves ‘Are humanities degree useless?’, the answer might be closer to yes.. However, that doesn't mean that the more theoretical foundations of a humanities degree is useless in all fields. The reality is far from it!

Humanities students intensively work with ideas, which hones their critical thinking and creativity skills and develops a broad skillset that's applicable to many career paths. Whether you decide to work as a historian or in the business world, the fine-tuned problem-solving skills you build in a humanities degree will prepare you for the job. 

Here are skills from humanities subjects to emphasize in your resume:

• Argumentation

• Attention to detail

• Communication

• Critical thinking

• Problem-solving

• Research

That being said, it's still important to know if a humanities degree will actually benefit your chosen career path. A humanities degree will be much more relevant to positions that need general skillsets related to critical thinking and problem-solving rather than specific skillsets like in programming or medicine.

Pursue internships and network during your studies to explore different industries while getting some work experience at the same time. Regardless of the field of your degree, a graduate with some work experience and connections is much more likely to land a job than one without.

Return to top ☝️


What are salaries for graduates of a humanities degree?

The earnings of humanities jobs vary widely. We’ll provide some expected salaries of a few of the most popular humanities jobs according to the average salary for a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

Literature graduates

📚

UK (GBP)    BA: £27k/year    MA: £29k/year
USA (USD) BA: $68k/year   MA: $61k/year
Germany (EUR) BA: €33k/year MA: €44k/year
Canada (CAD) BA: $57k/year MA: $62k/year

History graduates

📜

UK (GBP)    BA: £31k/year    MA: £30k/year
USA (USD) BA: $71k/year   MA: $62k/year
Germany (EUR)  BA: €46k/year MA: €44k/year
Australia (AUD) BA: $77k/year MA: $71k/year

Cultural Studies graduates

🎎

UK (GBP)    BA: £29k/year    MA: £29k/year
USA (USD)  BA: $58k/year   MA: $57k/year
Germany (EUR) BA: €33k/year MA: €37k/year
Canada (CAD) BA: $54k/year MA: $52k/year

Philosophy graduates

💭

UK (GBP)    BA: £33k/year    MA: £36k/year
USA (USD) BA: $75k/year   MA: $78k/year
Germany (EUR) BA: €40k/year MA: €50k/year
Canada (CAD) BA: $63k/year MA: $55k/year

Library & Information Science graduates

📖

USA (USD) BS: $59k/year   MA: $60k/year
Australia (AUD) BA: $71k/year MLIS: $63k/year
Canada (CAD) BA: $61k/year MA: $55k/year

Return to top ☝️


Tips for choosing a humanities degree

Both undergraduate and graduate level humanities degrees are very reading and writing intensive. where you will be consistently reading hundreds of pages of text and writing long essays or research papers. This type of coursework and assessment will give you the ability to see issues from multiple perspectives and create coherent, critical arguments in both writing and public speech. Due to the intensive focus on reading and writing, ensuring that you will be actually interested in the courses different programs offer is crucial. 

Look into the different courses that humanities programs offer at different schools. While many core courses will look quite similar, the courses you get to choose or specialize in at different schools will depend on the professors' areas of expertise.

Some common core courses might sound like 'Ethics and Society' or 'Twentieth-Century East Asia'. More specialized courses taught by field experts will delve into specific topics like 'Philosophy of Emotion', 'China under the Ming Dynasty', or 'Cultural Perspectives on Immigration and Citizenship'. If the material sounds intriguing and relevant to your interests, the program will likely be a good fit.

When deciding on a humanities degree, answer the following questions:

  • How much time and money can I devote to a program?

  • Do I need to travel or relocate to study a program?

  • What skills do I hope to gain from a program?

  • Would I like to specialize in a particular area?

  • What kind of certification or degree do I want to receive?

  • How does my chosen degree relate to the industry I want to work in?

  • What is the employability rate for graduates in my chosen field?

  • Am I willing to read and write intensively during the program?

  • Do I have a strong interest enough in subjective argumentation?

Do some self-reflection on your own goals and priorities before you start looking for a program. Once you have a better idea of what kind of program to study and where, you’ll be able to choose a degree more easily, whether that be an online program, an undergraduate abroad, or a graduate program at home.

If you want to join the growing number of international students who study humanities programs abroad, you can find more country-specific study abroad information in our country guides. You can also check out our degree guides to learn more about the requirements and benefits of different degrees, and consider your career goals in the process. Hunt down some job ads that sound interesting and match different programs to what your dream job may require.

Return to top ☝️


Helpful advice from degree graduates

We talked with some graduate students who had recently completed their humanities degree or are currently undertaking it to see what they thought about their program and if they have any advice to share with you.

"You have to enjoy reading and analysing texts, learning history and understanding how language develops. Be ready to read A LOT in short periods of time; have an open mind and, in literature, (almost) everything you think about a topic is correct as long as you argument it and provide evidence from the text!"

-  Lola, BA in English Literature & Linguistics from Universidad de Málaga

"Philosophy is great subject to study if you are interested in the world basically. It's a very broad subject where you consider the underpinnings religion, society, ethics, law, history, science, technology, and much more. It's basically the foundation all of knowledge! I have found particularly that the critical thinking skills I developed on my degree have helped me assess and come up with solutions to many, many issues, in both my professional and personal life. "

-  Joel, BA in Philosophy from the University of Kent

"Study in a language you understand the most, and that you can use the most outside of your degree. Catalan is very limited but if you chose Spanish or English, it opens doors for you out there"

-  Maria, BA in Linguistics and Classical Philology from the University of Barcelona


What questions should you ask a university to find the right humanities degree?

We also asked the same students above if there were any questions they asked or wished they had asked during the research and application process to determine which program was right for them. Here were the most common and helpful questions they think you should be asking universities before you apply.

  • What kind of connections do the program professors have in your desired industry?

  • What modules are offered in the program?

  • How much flexibility and choice is there, and are there any extra opportunities to gain practical experience during the program?

  • Are there any job positions one can get other than teaching?

  • What is the initial level of English one should have to access the program?

  • Is there a possibility to study at least one semester abroad?

  • What is the language (or languages) of instruction for the chosen program?

  • Are there any opportunities to add a minor or a second major?

Your chosen university should be able to support you as a student with relevant internships and connections while also supporting you as a graduate through alumni networks in relevant career paths. Don't hold back any questions you have have before you commit to a degree. 

Return to top ☝️


What should I look for in a university for studying humanities?

Small class sizes

The theoretical and subjective nature of the humanities makes engagement even more important. Classroom discussions are the biggest opportunity to expand your own knowledge and development beyond working on individual assignments, and small class sizes are the best way to ensure that you'll get what you need.

Reasonable cost of texts and literature

With all the reading required in a humanities program, it's prudent to look out for the cost of the required texts. While some schools might give all students access to databases like EBSCO host or SCOPUS, where students can access literature for free, other schools will require you to buy the texts on your own. 

Look for options to add another major or minor

A top concern from humanities students might be the less-stable job opportunities for graduates in their field in a world that seems to always prioritize STEM. In this case, it might be beneficial to consider adding a minor concentration or a second major in a more skill-based area of study to fall back on.

Industry connections

If you are hoping to join a specific industry, it's important that your university has good industry connections. For example, if you would like to become a writer, connections with publishing houses would be great. For aspiring curators, museums and other collectors would be ideal connections to look for. Some universities even offer a 'sandwich' year where you can work in industry for one year and return for your final year of study.

Opportunities for practical experience

A humanities degree is heavily theoretical, meaning that hands-on, practical experience will likely be something you'll need to pursue outside of class. Though there are many different industries and sectors you can go into with a humanities degree, you'll be in a much better position if you gain some work experience during your studies. Take a look at universities' student career services and ensure that there are enough potential employers and volunteering projects located near the school.

Return to top ☝️


Types of accreditation for humanities degrees

Accreditation ensures the highest quality of education, makes it easier to determine the value of college credits, allows students to apply for federal loans or grants, is considered by potential employers, and pushes schools to continually improve.

As the skills obtained in a humanities degree are subjective and broad, most humanities degrees are more focused on general institutional accreditation. However, there may be external certificates to consider after the completion of a degree for some humanities professions. For example, an ATA certification might be useful for students interested in becoming a professional translator in the US.

Ensure the quality of the institutions in terms of their regional and national accreditation. You can use the ENIC-NARIC Network to find the academic recognition of qualifications of European institutions in 55 countries and the Council for Higher Education Association's database for programs and institutions accredited by US accrediting organizations both in the US and in other countries. A quick google search should result in an official source of accreditation in your chosen country.


Popular universities to study humanities

University of Pécs

Location: Hungary

Courses available in: Archaeology, Classical Studies, Cultural Studies, Linguistics, Literature

King's University College at The University of Western Ontario

Location: Canada

Courses available in: History, Literature, Philosophy, Theology, Catholic Studies, World Regions and Culture

Goldsmiths, University of London

Location: United Kingdom

Courses available in: Archival Science, Curating, History, Global History, Military History, Literature, Creative Writing

Hampshire College

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Courses available in: Middle Eastern Studies, Native American Studies, Jewish Studies, Religion, Language, Linguistics, and Translation Studies

Return to top ☝️

Ready to study humanities abroad?

Find & compare humanities degrees from universities around the world.

Search now

Learn more about all your study abroad options!

Sign up to our newsletter to receive helpful information about programs, scholarships, and opportunities abroad!

This field is used for controlling automatic form submits. Please leave it blank:
Enter your details:

Last update: 29 Dec 2022

You might also be interested in:

Last updated: 12/29/2022

Study Design: The Ultimate Student Guide

Have you considered studying a design degree abroad? Design is a huge global industry that will only grow further over time. Read our guide to discover why a design program could be the perfect fit for you!

Read more
Last updated: 12/29/2022

Study Political Science: The Ultimate Student Guide

Have you considered studying a political science degree abroad? Read our guide to discover why a political science program could be the perfect fit for you!

Read more

TOEFL

Do you want to study abroad?

Scholarship Directory

Looking for scholarships to make your dream of studying abroad possible? We've compiled 440+ scholarships available for international students!

Access the Scholarship Directory

Win a $7,000 scholarship to study an MBA

Planning on studying an MBA degree abroad? We can help.

Applications are now open

Like us?

Leave a review on Facebook so we can help others like you find their perfect study abroad adventure!

Recommend us ⭐