High-paying jobs for generalists

Not sure how your undergrad degree will get you to your pot of gold? Find out what you can do with your liberal arts major.

High-paying jobs for generalists

Where are the good jobs for people who don't have specialized degrees in fields such as medicine, engineering and law and who don't know how to do advanced coding in five different computer languages?

In other words, what kinds of good-paying jobs are out there that can be performed by the generalist—someone with a typical liberal arts degree in English, geography, history or any one of the hundreds of other majors colleges and universities offer that aren't exactly job-friendly?

The best place to turn to see what's out there is the US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It lists most, if not all, of the generally accepted job titles and the mean annual salaries accompanying them.

The most interesting and, to some extent, most distressing fact the data reveals is that there really aren't an abundance of lucrative occupational categories for liberal arts majors. What career paths are best for you and your degree in medieval history? Well, you either get an advanced degree in it so you can teach the subject you're passionate about, or you take the plunge into the waters of an uncertain job pool.

According to the BLS, the most lucrative jobs compatible with a less-than-specialized major fall under:

  • Real estate
  • Management
  • Business and finance
  • Sales

Real estate

In real estate, salaries start at modest levels but can gradually build into a great income. The BLS reports that real estate brokers had a median salary of $54,910 in 2010. People with all sorts of backgrounds end up in this field.

Find real estate jobs on Monster.


Hundreds of titles fall under the heading of "management" that don't necessarily require a degree in management. Of course, there are literally millions of managers in the workforce, and salaries vary greatly depending on the industry; a fast-food restaurant manager may make in the mid-$20,000 range, while the BLS reports that a top-earning HR manager may make close to $100,000.

Find management jobs on Monster.

Business and finance

Careers in business and finance are also available to those with obscure liberal arts degrees, although you may face an uphill battle competing for jobs against those who have degrees in business, finance and economics. Nonetheless, it's possible for a history major to land a job as a financial advisor (median salary of $64,750 in 2010, according to the BLS). Of course, you won't start at that kind of salary, but you can get there over time.

Find business jobs and finance jobs on Monster.


Sales jobs can pay anywhere from less than $20,000 annually to well into six figures, which probably makes sales the most high-risk, high-reward pursuit. It probably holds the potential to be the most lucrative occupation for the liberal arts major who has the right skill set.

Find sales jobs on Monster.

Other options

Other generalist occupations with strong earning potential include communications jobs. For example, PR specialists posted median salaries of $52,090 in 2010. Among executive secretaries earned a median of about $43,000, according to the BLS, with the top 10 percent earning $67,000. Interestingly enough, one of the better-paying occupational areas doesn't require a degree at all. The BLS reports top earners in construction jobs were making the high-$50s in 2010.

Most other high-paying occupational fields, as defined by the BLS, require a specialized education. Just a few that deserve mention include accounting, architecture, IT, law, and health care.

Qualities to cultivate

So, with your brand-new degree in oceanography, what qualities will make you the most marketable for an entry-level real estate or sales position? Here's a partial listing of soft skills Don Straits, CEO of Corporate Warriors, suggests you develop:

  • Initiative
  • Self-confidence
  • Leadership
  • Compatibility with others
  • Positive attitude
  • Social skills/interests/involvement
  • Integrity
  • Communication skills

Liberal arts majors may be more numerous than dandelions on a spring lawn, but that doesn't mean your bachelor's degree is useless. It can mean, however, that making the transition from student to employee will involve brushing up on those soft skills. And it's safe to say that a college education will be a door opener, regardless of the occupational area you choose.