How to Become a Humanities Professional

Tammy Ostrander is the dean of the School of Arts and Letters at St. Scholastica University.She previously served a 10-year term as the director of the honors program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in English at Truman State University, and a PhD in communication at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Tammy also directs one play each year at St. Scholastica University.

What is the study of humanities?

The study of humanities is the study of all things that are human: our history, our beliefs, our creative endeavors, our hopes, our fears. Humanities tells the human story.

What do you find most interesting about the humanities?

The variety. There are so many ways to tell the human story: music, theater, literature, theology.

What is your least favorite aspect of the humanities?

Having to defend the humanities as a legitimate educational choice in this current tide of voc-tech favoritism. People view higher education only as training for a job rather than educating a person holistically so that he or she can be a better person or citizen. A nurse can be trained on how to be a nurse, but if he or she doesn’t understand why to be a nurse or why people deserve to be treated with dignity, he or she won’t make a very good nurse.

Are there subfields of humanities that students might not be aware of?

Humanities is a broad label for a number of disciplines that include English, languages, cultural studies, communication, theater, music, art, history, political science, theology, philosophy, etc.

What careers do students commonly pursue with a degree in humanities?

These are too numerous to name. Students who study humanities are good critical thinkers, writers, and communicators. They have good analytical skills and can put issues into a broader context. Humanities students can work in almost any setting.

Is a graduate degree preferable for a career in the humanities, or can someone enter the field with a bachelor’s degree?

A graduate degree is preferable in most fields, but a bachelor’s degree will certainly open doors.

What personality traits do you think a student should have in order to be successful in a humanities program?

Curiosity, open mindedness, intelligence, a love of learning and reading.

What electives would you recommend that a student in a humanities program take?

A wide variety of liberal arts courses.

What study tips would you give to a student to help him or her succeed in a humanities program?

Develop good writing and reading skills.

Do you think humanities is a subject that can be studied online, or is a traditional class environment ideal?

Yes, the humanities can be studied online. But I do prefer an on-ground setting, personally. And some areas (e.g., acting, dance, music) would be difficult if not impossible to study online.

What subjects should a prospective student of humanities study before entering a formal college program?

Literature, history, and the arts.

What pieces of advice, or caution, would you offer to a prospective student of humanities?

Don’t let the popular press distract you from studying what you love. If you love to read, study literature. If you love movies, study film. If you love the arts, study the arts. There is a lot of pressure on students these days to only consider a career as the end game of a college education. As a result, there are a lot of unhappy students in business and nursing programs. An educated, thoughtful person is always in demand.