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Indicator III-5 Undergraduate Humanities Majors and the Professions
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,".
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Updated (6/10/2011)

In order to assess the extent to which individuals with undergraduate majors in the humanities are prepared for professional employment, this indicator first focuses on their performance on professional school entrance examinations in business, medicine, and law. To be sure, data on the educational backgrounds of those taking professional school admission examinations do not reveal what careers those individuals actually pursue. Nonetheless, given the substantial fees and preparation involved in professional school examinations, test-taking by humanities majors does in itself indicate what career options they are seriously exploring. Moreover, test results can provide some measure of the applicability of the humanistic knowledge and skills gained in college to the entrance requirements for various professional occupations. After reviewing such professional examination data, this indicator looks more generally at professional degree holders in order to ascertain what proportion of them have bachelor’s degrees in the humanities.

Data on who takes the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which are available from the Graduate Management Admission Council, reveal that GMAT test takers are less likely to be humanities majors than graduates in any other field, constituting 4–6% of all examinees over the 2000–2009 time period (Figure III-5a). Students with humanities backgrounds have, however, performed better than business majors, on average, and approximately as well as social and natural science majors (Figure III-5b).

Figure III-5a, Full Size
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Figure III-5b, Full Size
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Like the GMAT, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) did not draw many of its examinees from the ranks of humanities majors, who must do significant work in science, in addition to fulfilling the requirements for their major, in order to be prepared for the MCAT and apply to medical school. According to data provided by the American Association of Medical Colleges, from 1991 to 2009 the proportion of those taking the MCAT who were humanities majors was approximately 3–4% (Figure III-5c).1 Even though they were in the minority, humanities majors were strong performers relative to majors in other fields. From 1991 to 2000 they were the highest-scoring group of majors on the MCAT, and from 2001 to 2009 only math and statistics majors scored appreciably higher (Figure III-5d).

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Figure III-5d, Full Size
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Takers of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) are much likelier than those of other professional school examinations to have undergraduate degrees in the humanities. From 1996 to 2009, the humanities share of LSAT examinees hovered around 20% of all test takers, according to data provided to the HI by the Law School Admission Council (Figure III-5e). Over this time period, humanities majors performed slightly better on the exam than behavioral and social science graduates, and their average score was within one point of engineering, math, and natural science majors (Figure III-5f).

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Figure III-5f, Full Size
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From 1996 to 2008, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, approximately 6–8% of all noninstitutionalized U.S. civilians with medical degrees had undergraduate degrees in the humanities (Figure III-5g). In 2008, 22% of those holding advanced degrees in law (LL.B., J.D., and Ph.D.) had majored in humanities (down from the 2001 high of 28%). This proportion was larger than that for any other field, and it would have been even greater if those with bachelor’s degrees in history—a discipline considered by the HI to be part of the humanities field, but one that the Census Bureau classifies as a social science—had been included (Figure III-5h).

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Figure III-5h, Full Size
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1 The figure excludes the percentage of examinees who reported an undergraduate major in biology. These students are the majority of MCAT test takers.

The AAMC defines the humanities field rather differently than the HI. The former considers library science and the performing arts to be humanities disciplines but treats history as a social science discipline.

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