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EDUCATION RANKINGS
 
 
Most VALUABLE Arts Majors
2015

It wasn't long ago when arts and literature programs were the subject of jokes about the sagging employment market, but times have changed. Today's graduates of arts and literature disciplines can find professional niches where their academic training provides specialized advantages in the workplace.

While expectations haven't been completely flipped -- companies who need engineering talent aren't foregoing STEM majors in favor of literature scholars, for example -- the data we uncovered suggests employers are certainly beginning to realize arts and literature students often have skills that graduates of programs like business administration may lack. Here's a little about how the rankings of the top 15 arts and literature majors were calculated.

Methodology

For this study, we drew from a wide swath of education and employment data and distilled them into four metrics that could be used to rank each degree:

  • Educational Availability: An accounting of the number of degree programs available at the minimum degree level required for entry-level work in the field
  • Earning Index: A measure of the relationship between the average cost of a degree and the national mean annual salary reported for its relevant profession
  • Employment Opportunity: A representation of both total employment growth projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and expected raw job gains in each sector
  • Educational Affordability: A survey of average tuition costs for available programs in each degree track

The following official data sources used to compute each proprietary metric:

  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2012-2022 job growth projections
  • Mean annual salary figures reported by the BLS
  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in-state tuition data for the 2013-14 academic year
  • NCES Educational program data (2014)

 

TOP ARTS AND LITERATURE MAJORS AND RELATED CAREERS

Below is the list of our top-ranked arts and literature majors, as well as spotlight careers that ties into each field of study.

1 Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies

Liberal Arts

An average in-state tuition of just more than $12,000 and a high degree of flexibility when transitioning into a variety of related fields of study at the graduate level combine to give liberal studies degrees the highest overall marks on the list. While it didn't take top spot in any individual category, scoring well across the board was enough to land general liberal arts and sciences degrees at No. 1.

Major Overview: Liberal studies brings together concepts from numerous academic fields, including political science, cultural studies, education and the social sciences, to help students form an interdisciplinary perspective.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 84.4

Earning Index: 85.7

Job Opportunity: 66.2

Educational Affordability: 94.8

Spotlight Career: College Professor

  • Entry-level degree required: Master's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $73,140
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 13.0%; 69,500 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $12,291

Explore Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies programs

 

2 Graphic Design

Graphic Design major 

Graphic design ranks among the top five most available majors on the list, with options for both online and on-campus study popping up at most institutions across the country. It also came in second out of 15 on our Earning Index, since advanced graphic designers can find opportunities to transition into art director positions, which paid an average salary of $96,650 in 2013.

Major Overview: Graphic design students often study design theory, color, photography, typography, Web concepts, visual communication and commercial design.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 90.9

Earning Index: 94.8

Job Opportunity: 48.1

Educational Affordability: 80.5

Spotlight Career: Art Director

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $96,650
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 3.0%; 20,000 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $16,299

Explore Graphic Design programs

 

3 Visual and Performing Arts

Performing Arts major 

Earning a master's degree in the visual and performing arts can give students more than an expert-level understanding of their chosen discipline. The Employment Opportunity score for arts teachers at college level came in at No. 1 in this study, and the salary for tenure-track positions at some schools can be considerable.

Major Overview: Visual and performing arts students often concentrate their study in a single discipline such as art, design, dance, music or theater. Interdisciplinary degrees are also available.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 41.6

Earning Index: 80.5

Job Opportunity: 98.7

Educational Affordability: 88.3

Spotlight Career: Performing Arts Professor

  • Entry-level degree required: Master's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $72,630
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 16.0%; 35,500 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $15,341

Explore Visual and Performing Arts programs

 

4 Game and Interactive Media Design

Game Design major

Game and interactive media design degrees scored well on the financial side of our metrics, particularly in the Earning Index category, where they ranked in a tie for No. 4. On top of that, as more schools begin to offer programs like these, professorial positions may begin to open up and help fill out the Employment Opportunity score.

Major Overview: The typical game and interactive media design curriculum combines computer programming elements with animation, graphic and sound design training.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 70.1

Earning Index: 89.6

Job Opportunity: 55.8

Educational Affordability: 87.0

Spotlight Career: 3D Animator

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $72,400
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 6.3%; 20,600 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $15,349

Explore Game and Interactive Media Design programs

 

5 Fine/Studio Arts

Art Studies major

Considerable employment potential for fine artists in the education sector helped tie this degree for No. 1 in the Job Opportunity category. Education Availability was also high, with degrees in fine art offered at both public and private institutions all across the country.

Major Overview: The specific coursework of a studio and fine art degree typically focuses on the branch of art that students choose, like painting, sculpture, illustration, animation or performance.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 83.1

Earning Index: 63.6

Job Opportunity: 98.7

Educational Affordability: 54.5

Spotlight Career: Art Professor

  • Entry-level degree required: Master's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $72,630
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 16.0%; 35,500 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $20,922

Explore Fine/Studio Arts programs

 

6 Drama and Dramatics/Theater Arts

Theater Arts major

Degrees in theater arts came in at No. 2 in Educational Availability, with programs at the bachelor's, master's and associate level available from coast to coast. Producers, directors and other leadership positions in the theater industry earned a mean annual salary of $90,240 in 2013.

Major Overview: Drama and theater degrees take a balanced approach to the discipline, giving students instruction in reading, acting, directing, drama theory, design and backstage/tech concepts.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 96.1

Earning Index: 81.8

Job Opportunity: 53.2

Educational Affordability: 59.7

Spotlight Career: Director

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $90,240
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 2.8%; 37,900 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $20,240

Explore Drama and Dramatics/Theater Arts programs

7 Art/Art Studies

Fine Arts major

Coming in at No. 3 on the Educational Availability scale, general art and art studies degrees can be found in every state, typically in the form of Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees. Based on BLS data, hundreds of thousands of jobs are expected to open in the secondary education field between 2012 and 2022, which should give aspiring art teachers their choice of location.

Major Overview: Art and art studies degrees often include historical, cultural and anthropological elements alongside aesthetic and compositional study.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 94.8

Earning Index: 51.9

Job Opportunity: 62.3

Educational Affordability: 79.2

Spotlight Career: High School Art Teacher

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $58,260
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 5.5%; 312,600 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $16,547

Explore Art/Art Studies programs

8 Interior Design

Interior Design

Degrees in interior design are less expensive than many other arts degrees, coming in at No. 3 on the Educational Affordability scale, and enjoy fairly widespread distribution across U.S. colleges. Competition in this field can be intense, but designers willing to think outside the box and strike out on their own as entrepreneurs are likely to have a wider range of opportunity than those who limit their career search to established firms.

Major Overview: Common subjects studied in interior design programs include architectural drafting, color theory, lighting design and sustainability.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 89.6

Earning Index: 66.2

Job Opportunity: 24.7

Educational Affordability: 93.5

Spotlight Career: Interior Designer

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $54,200
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 12.8%; 21,500 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $12,502

Explore Interior Design programs

9 Rhetoric and Composition

Rhetoric and Composition

Ranked at No. 8 in availability and No. 4 in affordability, rhetoric and composition degrees can give aspiring writers and English teachers a deep and nuanced understanding of the language. The mean salary of $69,250 for writers and authors in 2013 stacks up favorably against the average in-state tuition figure of $13,773 the same year, and the top 25 percent of writers made more than $84,190 in 2013.

Major Overview: Students in rhetoric and composition programs often study literature, poetry, journalism, advanced scholarly writing, composition theory and other aspects of verbal art and communication.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 80.5

Earning Index: 55.8

Job Opportunity: 44.2

Educational Affordability: 90.9

Spotlight Career: Writer

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $69,250
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 3.0%; 31,800 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $13,773

Explore Rhetoric and Composition programs

10 Digital Arts

Digital Arts major

Digital art is a relatively new discipline, but that doesn't stop it from taking the No. 3 spot on our Earning Index category. Graphic designers and other art pros with digital arts degrees may have advantages when it comes to finding employment in the tech sector, where graphic and Web design salaries can fall on the upper end of the spectrum.

Major Overview: Digital arts degrees typically focus on modern, computer-focused art concepts like Web video, 3D modeling and animation, with some programs also including courses on computer programming and scripting.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 57.1

Earning Index: 90.9

Job Opportunity: 48.1

Educational Affordability: 68.8

Spotlight Career: Graphic Designer

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $49,610
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 6.7%; 86,000 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $18,877

Explore Digital Arts programs

11 Fine and Studio Arts Management

Arts Management

No other degree on our list ranks higher on the Earning Index than fine and studio arts management, which makes sense given the 2013 mean annual salary of $110,550 for management occupations in general. It's the most expensive degree on the list, but the expected mean annual salary of $96,410 for arts agents and managers can go a long way toward balancing out the total cost of education.

Major Overview: Fine arts management degrees focus on the business aspects of the art world, such as legal issues, financial issues, human resources, marketing and fundraising.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 63.6

Earning Index: 96.1

Job Opportunity: 61.0

Educational Affordability: 44.2

Spotlight Career: Artist Manager, Booking Agent or Talent Agent

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $96,410
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 9.7%; 5,800 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $22,703

Explore Fine and Studio Arts Management programs

12 Commercial and Advertising Art

Commercial Art

The No. 1 Educational Affordability ranking of commercial and advertising art can make it an attractive option for students who want to apply their creative talents in the business world. Depending on the school you choose, advertising art degrees may be given a different title -- professional art and mass communication design are two fields that may cover similar ground.

Major Overview: Degrees in commercial and advertising art aim to give students a strong background in branding concepts, account planning and strategic management while also covering artistic subjects like color theory and typography.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 77.9

Earning Index: 45.5

Job Opportunity: 44.2

Educational Affordability: 96.1

Spotlight Career: Commercial/Industrial Designer

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $64,570
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 4.4%; 12,100 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $12,119

Explore Commercial and Advertising Art programs

13 Music

Music major

No other degree ranks higher in Educational Availability, and careers in music education are as various as the styles of music available to teach. Graduates who don't join a touring band or symphony can move into institutional music teaching, individual tutoring, performance coaching or other educational niches.

Major Overview: A general music curriculum usually includes some combination of music theory and performance with a few courses in music business or recording technology available as well.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 97.4

Earning Index: 41.6

Job Opportunity: 45.5

Educational Affordability: 63.6

Spotlight Career: High School Music Teacher

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $58,260
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 5.5%; 312,600 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $19,451

Explore Music programs

14 Fashion/Apparel Design

Fashion Design

Fashion design degrees rank fairly high on the earning index -- tied for 4th out of 15 -- and students looking for them are likely to find multiple programs that fit what they're looking for. It's important to note the relatively low Employment Opportunity score here reflects the highly competitive nature of industry, not a weak industry. The BLS reports that the international nature of the apparel market may prevent stateside careers in fashion design from increasing over the next several years, but those with resourcefulness and a creative impulse can typically find their way. Opportunities are out there for those who know where, and how, to look.

Major Overview: Students in fashion design programs can expect to study fashion illustration, design software, drafting, fitting, draping and garment sewing for the haute couture.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 71.4

Earning Index: 89.6

Job Opportunity: 6.5

Educational Affordability: 76.6

Spotlight Career: Fashion Designer

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $73,570
  • 2012-2022 job growth: -3.0%; 5,900 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $17,009

Explore Fashion/Apparel Design programs

 

15 Professional, Technical, Business and Scientific Writing

Technical Writing

Professional, technical and business writing degrees are relatively affordable and easy to find at colleges and universities nationwide. Employers of technical writers in high-tech, science and engineering fields may expect applicants to have education or work experience in the field for which they're hired to write, which might limit employment opportunities, but on-the-job training in the specifics of an industry may be available.

Major Overview: Business, professional, scientific and technical writing degrees typically cover general skills of English grammar and usage as well as specific formal themes and technical diagramming and layout concepts.

Category Scores

Educational Availability: 68.8

Earning Index: 54.5

Job Opportunity: 20.8

Educational Affordability: 83.1

Spotlight Career: Technical Writer

  • Entry-level degree required: Bachelor's degree
  • 2013 national average salary: $70,290
  • 2012-2022 job growth: 14.8%; 22,600 total job openings expected
  • 2013 average in-state tuition: $16,128

Explore Professional, Technical, Business and Scientific Writing programs

 

Sources:

Visual and Performing Arts - Associate in Science Degree (AS), Queensborough Community College, http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/academics/degree-programs/as-vapa.html

Graphic Design - Curriculum, Penn State College of Arts and Architecture, http://graphicdesign.psu.edu/prospective/curriculum

Graphic Design Course List, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, http://www.aionline.edu/graphic-design-degree/courses/

Courses, Rhetoric and Composition, Oberlin College, http://new.oberlin.edu/arts-and-sciences/departments/rhetoric/

Writers and Authors, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes273043.htm

Interior Design Degree Curriculum, Design Institute of San Diego, http://www.disd.edu/interior-design-curriculum.php

Curriculum, Department of Art and Art History, University of North Carolina Asheville, https://art.unca.edu/curriculum

Theatre Arts Curriculum, The Theatre School at DePaul University, http://theatre.depaul.edu/conservatory/undergraduate/theatre-arts/Pages/curriculum.aspx

Curriculum, Interactive Digital Media, Drexel University, Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, http://www.drexel.edu/westphal/undergraduate/WBDV/Curriculum/

Fashion Designers, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Arts-and-Design/Fashion-designers.htm

"What Can You Do With a Music Degree?," Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins University, http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/conservatory/admissions/tips/whymusic.html

Curriculum, Fashion Design Degree, Virginia Marti College of Art and Design, http://www.vmcad.edu/programs/fashion-design/curriculum/

The Business and Professional Writing Certificate, Penn State Brandywine, http://brandywine.psu.edu/CE/30691.htm

Technical Writing, University of California Santa Cruz, http://www.ucsc-extension.edu/page/technical-writing

Advertising Bachelor of Arts, The Art Institute Virginia Beach, http://new.artinstitutes.edu/virginia-beach/Programs/advertising/2402

Liberal Arts and Sciences, Milwaukee Area Technical College, http://www.matc.edu/student/offerings/2013-2014/degrees/liberal_arts_sciences.cfm

Master of Liberal Studies Online Degree, Arizona State University, http://asuonline.asu.edu/online-degree-programs/graduate/master-liberal-studies

MFA in Arts Management and Leadership, Webster University, http://www.webster.edu/masters/arts-management-and-leadership.html

United States, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

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