Liberal Arts vs. STEM: Finding the Best Major for You

As a student looking forward to college, you have several large choices ahead of you. What college will you attend? What will be your major? Will you be able to afford it all?

When it comes to choosing a major you’ll need to decide what most interests you as a long term career and determine what major will help you reach your goals. For example, majors can be broken down into one of several areas including but not limited to – liberal arts, business, healthcare and “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” – perhaps better known as STEM.

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Liberal arts degrees encompass a number of majors that are not related to science, technology, engineering or math such as language arts, literature and philosophy. Below, we’ll cover some popular majors in the liberal arts and STEM fields to give you an idea of majors contained within each area.

Liberal Arts Majors

Majors within liberal arts include the following:

  • Liberal Arts\General Studies – this major may be good for students who aren’t quite sure what they want to do when they get out of high school. This is the most popular liberal arts degree with over 144,000 students graduating each year. General studies offers students a wide variety of courses and helps prepare students to become lifelong learners, but if you wish to go into a specialized career, you may need additional schooling. Average starting salaries for students with a general studies degree is $36,000.

  • Visual and Performing Arts are great for students looking to use their creativity to perform or create artistic pieces. You may go on to work in the theater or become a full time artist, work in a museum as a curator or art gallery. Students graduating with this degree can expect an average starting salary of $35,000. Just over 100,000 students graduate each year.

  • English Language and Literature majors are best for students wishing to study or teach English or literature. They may go on to become teachers or someone who works as an author or editor. About 45,000 students graduate with these degrees each year. The average starting salary is just over $36,000.

  • Foreign Languages and Linguistics majors deal with the art of language. Students studying in this area can go on to become teachers or can work in international businesses as a translator or interpreter. About 25,000 students graduate with these degrees. Students can expect an average starting salary of about $36,000.

  • Philosophy and Religious Studies is the last main area of liberal arts. With about 13,000 yearly graduates, it is one of the least popular liberal arts areas. These graduates however have the highest average starting salary of any of the liberal arts degrees at $37,000. Students wishing to work with others can go into various humanitarian careers such as lawyers, politician, pastor or teacher.

STEM Majors

There are many different majors within the field of STEM so we will only focus on the most popular here. If you want to learn more about STEM majors be sure to check out the majors list on College Factual.

  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences are very popular today and have the most yearly graduates of any other STEM area with over 122,000 graduations. This field has many different associated majors including biology, ecology and microbiology – students have to love researching and studying life. The average starting salary for graduates is about $37,000.

  • Engineering is a wide area of study encompassing many different majors. Majors and concentrations include mechanical, aerospace, civil and computer engineering. With over 118,000 yearly graduations, the engineering field is very popular. Students graduating can expect an early starting salary of $58,000 – the highest starting salary in all of the STEM areas. 

  • Computer and Information Sciences majors are great for students wishing to go into a computer related field including computer science, information systems and networking. There are about 83,000 yearly graduations with an average starting salary of $50,000.

While other majors exist within STEM including physical sciences, mathematics, agriculture, natural resources and architecture, these areas do not have the popularity of the three above.

Liberal Arts VS. STEM

When it comes down to choosing liberal arts versus STEM, you should closely look at what you like doing. While liberal arts degrees can set you up for future success, they tend to lean towards more people focused careers – teaching, humanities, and public service as examples.

STEM tends to focus more on products or specific outcomes – whether you are building a physical parking lot or creating a program, the output of your career is more product focused. Because of the large demand in technical careers, students graduating with STEM degrees tend to have higher starting and mid-career salaries than their liberal arts counterparts.

Major Matcher

If you are still undecided, you may want to try out College Factual’s Major Matcher tool. Simply create a profile on College Factual and answer some basic questions related to your strengths and interests. It only takes about fifteen minutes. Afterwards, Major Matcher will give you a list of potential majors that align with your strengths and interests. You can also see a list of top colleges that match your preferences as you continue to fill out your profile. Be sure to try Major Matcher today – it’s free!