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A complete guide to humanities degrees

Wondering whether a humanities degree is right for you? Explore your subject options, how to apply, which career opportunities you’ll unlock and much more.

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What does it mean to be human? It’s a big question, and not easy to answer in the first instance. So, it’s not surprising that there are a whole host of humanities disciplines that seek to analyse human society from different perspectives, and answer this age-old question.

For example, you’ve got the historians hoping to uncover truths about the human condition, human relationships and human behaviour through critical study of the past. You’ve also got the theologists, digging deep into religions from past and present to understand how different cultures and belief systems originated and continue to function as a pillar in many societies.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Essentially, the humanities are a very broad set of subjects exploring the place of humans in the world. Rather than being about one objective truth, the humanities value interdisciplinary perspectives, varying interpretations of sources and subjective thought. 

If this sounds interesting to you, and you want to follow in the footsteps of influential poets, philosophers and linguists, it may be worth doing some more research into a humanities degree. And you’re in the perfect place, as this ultimate guide to humanities degrees will explore your degree options, different subjects, how to apply, entry requirements, and much more.

What does a humanities degree involve?

There are many different kinds of humanities degrees, but what they all have in common is that they teach students to critically engage with, analyse and interpret sources, usually through essay writing.

Some people choose to focus on one humanities subject, like English Literature, while others take a multi-disciplinary approach and choose a double major, like Philosophy and Anthropology. 

This really increases the options open to you as a humanities student, allowing you to tailor your degree and study humanities through the lens that you’re most passionate or curious about.

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What are the humanities subjects?

Let’s break down the different humanities disciplines. It’s worth noting, however, that there is often overlap between different fields and subjects in humanities, and each degree program will take a different approach. 

For example, studying wildlife conservation could count as humanities because you’re studying the relationship between humans and different species, but there will also likely be science involved. In a similar vein, although psychology is a social science, there may be aspects of humanities in a psychology degree program.

Below are just some subjects that often come under the scope of humanities.

  • English Literature
  • Linguistics
  • Foreign languages
  • History
  • Classics
  • Philosophy
  • Ethics
  • Theology
  • Politics
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Human Geography
  • Film
  • Law
  • History of Art
  • Fine Art
  • Performing Arts

>> Explore our collection of online humanities degrees

Skills you’ll learn on a humanities degree

It could be said that humanities degrees aim to provide students with a new way of thinking and a critical approach to everything, rather than necessarily a clear-cut set of skills. But despite this, you’ll still develop a whole host of useful hard and soft skills on a humanities degree.

Hard skills:

  • Writing
  • Critical reading
  • Source analysis
  • Academic referencing
  • Media literacy
  • Oral presentations
  • Debating
  • Research 

Soft skills:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Argumentation
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity

Types of humanities degree

There’s an extremely wide range of humanities degrees out there to explore, but below, we’ve listed the most common types. If you haven’t got a degree already, you’ll be looking at bachelor’s programs, but if you’re coming back to study, then you might want to hone your specialism with a master’s.

  • Single major bachelor’s degree. This is an undergraduate level degree where you pick one disciplinary focus, like Politics.
  • Double major bachelor’s degree. Also at undergraduate level, but you choose two majors, e.g. BA English and Drama.
  • Liberal Arts degree. This is a humanities degree program, also at undergraduate level, that functions more like the American model — students study a wide range of humanities subjects, and may eventually choose two subjects to major and minor in.
  • Master’s degree. This is a postgraduate degree, and can be broad or very niche depending on your goals and interests.

How long does it take to get a humanities degree?

Most humanities degrees are the same length as other degrees in the UK, though you can choose to study either part-time or full-time, depending on the amount of free time you have to commit to university. 

If you choose to study abroad, which many humanities students enjoy due to the opportunities to immerse themselves in different cultures and languages, you can expect to add on a year to your studies.

  • Bachelor’s degree: 3-4 years
  • Master’s degree: 1-2 years 

Entry requirements for a humanities degree

So, perhaps you’ve got your heart set on a humanities degree. But do you meet the requirements? The specific grades you’ll need to get will vary a lot depending on the degree program and university that you choose. Generally, universities with more prestige and better academic reputations will ask for higher grades. 

While you certainly can pursue a humanities degree with a diploma or apprenticeship under your belt, more traditional qualifications like A-levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB) are favoured for humanities degrees.

It also might be a good idea to choose further education subjects that relate to your potential degree specialism, though they don’t have to be identical. For example, if you’re interested in a classics degree, you might choose to take A-levels in English, history and philosophy.

Due to the large amount of reading and writing that you’ll undertake on a humanities degree, you will most likely need at least a grade C/4 in English GCSE.

For master’s degrees in humanities subjects, you’ll probably need to have a 2:1 bachelor’s degree in a subject that relates to your new program, and you’ll definitely need to be passionate about your specialism.

Must-haves 

  • Relevant academic qualifications
  • Passion for your subject
  • Excellent written communication
  • Strong reading skills
  • Empathy and open-mindedness

Good-to-haves 

  • Reading around your subject
  • Interest in cultural institutions, e.g. museums, galleries
  • Relevant work or volunteering experience

How much does a humanities degree cost?

Unfortunately, bachelor’s degrees aren’t free in the UK (unless you’re a Scottish student at a Scottish university), but students can get their tuition fully covered by Student Finance. That tuition fee is £9,250 per year on average, though it’s roughly half of that in Northern Ireland. 

Master’s degrees cost somewhere between £12,000 and £25,000, depending on the specific program and whether you commit to full-time study or not. For both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, some students are eligible for student loans and grants to support living costs, but this is often dependent on your parents’ income and how many years you’ve already received loans. 

Funding options for humanities degrees

Luckily, there are additional routes you can go down when it comes to funding your degree. You may be eligible for a scholarship or grant, and it’s also worth looking into financial aid packages and payment plans at your chosen institution. 

Where to look

How to get into a humanities degree

To apply for a humanities degree in the UK, you’ll need to submit an application through UCAS for undergraduate programs, or apply directly to your chosen university for postgraduate degrees. 

Once you’ve decided on your degree and university choices, you’ll need to write a personal statement that really convinces the institution that you’re passionate about your chosen subject. We give our specific tips for a humanities personal statement below.

Personal statement tips

  • Explain what your subject means to you. Why do you want to hone in on your major? What about it interests you, what have you read or watched before that inspired you, and what do you hope to gain?
  • Write about your school studies and past projects. Explain what you’ve most enjoyed learning about, the pieces of work you’ve been most proud of, and any favourite research projects you’ve been involved with.
  • Dive into your experience. Do you have any experience writing about this subject, whether in a personal or professional capacity? 
  • Showcase your skills. Since you’ll be doing a lot of writing on your degree, this personal statement is a chance to show off how clear, well-written and sophisticated your writing can be.

How will you be assessed on a humanities degree?

Whether you’re at undergraduate or postgraduate level, you can expect to be assessed using a mixture of essays, research papers, exams, and then the odd presentation or group project. However, this will depend on your degree program to an extent.

How difficult is a degree in humanities?

While a humanities degree can be challenging due to the large amounts of reading and essays to write, you shouldn’t find it too difficult as long as you’re truly passionate about your subject. 

Humanities degrees tend to have less contact time (lectures, seminars and tutorials) at university in comparison with STEM subjects, averaging at around 8-12 hours per week. This may not sound like a lot, but it gives you plenty of time to catch up on reading and writing.

Job satisfaction and prospects for humanities graduates

When choosing a degree, it’s natural to wonder, ‘Is this going to get me a good job?’, or ‘Am I going to be satisfied with my career?’ Unfortunately, humanities has developed an unfair reputation for not being worth it, but this is absolutely untrue. 

According to Prospects’ ‘What do graduates do?’ 2023/24 report, around 85% of humanities graduates were in work, study or both 15 months after graduating. In addition, the proportion of students engaged in further study after their humanities degree was found to be between 10.6% and 15% — slightly higher than the average. 

In terms of satisfaction, things also look pretty good. A report by Oxford University called ‘The Value of the Humanities’ found that humanities students said that their degree had a “transformative impact” on their identities and lives. 

What can you do with a humanities degree?

Unsurprisingly, there’s a long list of careers you can get into after taking a humanities degree. While you may not be preparing for one specific career through your degree, the skills you’ll learn are highly transferable, and the humanities are all about shaping minds and critical thought. 

Take a look at some of your extensive options below — keep in mind, the opportunities open to you may vary slightly depending on your subject expertise.

  • Historian
  • Politician
  • Writer
  • Civil Servant
  • Archaeologist
  • Teacher
  • Lawyer
  • Anthropologist
  • Journalist
  • Translator
  • Academic
  • Editor
  • Curator
  • Film director
  • Marketer.

Salary prospects: How much do humanities graduates earn?

Your potential salary varies quite a lot with humanities degrees, since you have such a wide range of career paths to choose from. However, according to the ‘What do graduates do?’ 2023/24 report, average starting salaries for humanities graduates that don’t pursue further study ranged from £23,320 for English Literature graduates to £28,307 for Philosophy graduates.

These are only starter salaries though — there’s plenty of room for career and salary progression in the humanities, especially in certain fields like history, languages and marketing.

Why choose a degree in humanities?

So, now you know a bit more about your degree options, salaries, prospects and job satisfaction for humanities graduates. But what’s the main reason you should pursue a degree in humanities?

Really, the humanities are all about passion and curiosity. If you love learning new things, if you’re passionate about people, if you’re curious about the world around you, then you’ll get a lot out of a humanities degree. 

Getting the opportunity to learn from world-famous academics and discuss a wide range of fascinating topics with like-minded students can truly be transformative when it comes to your personal and professional development.

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If you’re looking to expand your mind (and your future career opportunities) from the comfort and ease of home, we have some incredible online degree programs on FutureLearn. They allow you to study a degree in your own time, so you don’t have to give up your current job or creative endeavours in order to fast-track your future.

From degrees in creative writing to environmental law, get ready to deep-dive into the subject you’re most passionate about.

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