Careers for people majoring in American Studies vary widely, and ultimately they depend on the interests and goals of the individual student. A bachelor’s degree, as opposed to an advanced degree (a Master’s or Doctorate), is very similar to other liberal arts degrees like literature, history, and political science in that it doesn’t offer an automatic career track at the end of college, but instead offers important skills necessary to do professional work in any field: the student will acquire the ability to do research, organize material, and communicate his or her findings to others. Most important, the student will be required to do a lot of reading and writing.
The greatest value of the American Studies major is diverse thinking. In no other curriculum is the student offered such a wide exposure to thinking and scholarship in so many areas: political, intellectual, social and economic history, literature, religion, music, art, folklore, and material culture are all studies in American Studies programs. Of course, it is not possible in an undergraduate program to offer a comprehensive study of all these areas. However, it does offer the exposure, and it encourages critical and creative thinking aimed at drawing connections and building bridges between these diverse aspects of the American Studies experience, both past and present.
As such, the American Studies major (and approach) provides a demanding challenge for the motivated, independent thinkers who are seeking a well-rounded preparation for life…and for careers in a variety of fields: from teaching (at the high-school or college level), to law, journalism, social work, medicine, government, business, museum work, and city planning, to name a few.
Along with broader analytical and writing skills a student will gain in an American Studies major, he or she will probably want to add some “specialized” or “technical” skills to his or her repertoire. American Studies requirements are usually pretty flexible, so a student should have the chance to take some courses in marketing, finance, statistics, journalism, education, or communications. Likewise, it is probably a good idea to take advantage of internship opportunities (with newspapers, law offices, legislators, research organizations etc.) or summertime employment, to gain work experience and to see whether or not the student is interested in potential careers in the areas to which he or she is exposed. In a practical sense, these experiences will provide the student with employer recommendations and a strong resume, besides personal enrichment.
Public sector jobs, government agencies, or publicly-supported institutions, often seek to employ American studies students and graduates as interpreters, explaining an agency’s or institution’s function, projects, activities, or history to the public.We know, for example, that American Studies programs have placed their students in various public sector jobs and government agencies given the number and variety of internships held by American Studies students. This desire to utilize individuals with a skill in “Applied America Studies” serves as a sign that American Studies students have marketable skills… whether they ultimately decide to pursue such lines of work or not.
American Studies is a great major for someone who is confident and comfortable in their educational and life experiences and in their self-knowledge - it is not for people who are unwilling to take a few chances. More than anything else, studying American culture past and present gives one the critical thinking skills that are invaluable in an ever-changing world. In whichever career, American Studies education enables one to confront confidently challenges the professional world might contain.