Test Scores in the Humanities

Many of our students pursue graduate degrees – some a doctorate in a Humanities field, and some a terminal degree with the aim of a professional career. Given the extraordinary competition level to enter quality graduate programs of either type, it is essential that our students possess the kinds of skills and knowledge that will translate into successful scores on the standardized tests (GRE, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT) that function as gatekeepers into those graduate programs. Although we do not have divisional data on the scores of our students, national data shows that Humanities majors, when compared with majors in other fields, perform astoundingly well on these exams, a testament to the strength of a Humanities education.

Data on each exam by discipline follows:


GRE (graduate record exam): Of 44 total majors studied, our six majors command the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 25th places for verbal/reading comprehension, and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 20th places for writing.





LSAT (law school scholastic admissions test): Of 29 majors examined, our majors command the 2nd and 2nd places (two of our majors are tied for 2nd place), 8th, 11th, 14th, and 20th places. It is worth noting that three of our six majors (Philosophy, History, English) score better on the LSAT than the majors typically associated with pre-law at the university!




gmatGMAT: (graduate management admissions test): Of 30 majors, Philosophy commands 5th place, higher than all majors within business, and History commands 11th place, higher than finance, international business, and business education majors. So it makes good business sense to double up in a Humanities field.


mcatMCAT: (medical college admissions test): data by major is not available, though the AMA notes that students who double-major in the sciences and in the humanities have the best admittance rates into medical school, perhaps in part due to this being evidence for the kind of well-rounded experience that prepares students for success as future doctors. The Princeton Review puts it in terms of raw abilities:“Humanities majors out-perform biological sciences major on every part of the MCAT, not just the verbal section! Medical school admissions officers actually weight the verbal reasoning section the heaviest of the entire MCAT, because they view it as a measure of a student’s ability to learn and communicate.”


The Humanities Delivers Transferable Skill Sets that Employers Desperately Want

If we focus on knowledge and facts only, it is clear that a Humanities education is best suited to jobs and fields closely related to the Humanities. For example, working at a museum clearly requires specific knowledge of history and/or culture, and careers in publishing rely on a strong working knowledge of writing and literature. As a student’s career track moves further into non- Humanities related fields, however, the importance of the “soft” or “transferable” skills we teach.

According to a recent (Apr 2013) AAC&U study, employers complain that students are not prepared for the workplace because they lack the soft skills crucially necessary for success. In study after study, employers complain that employees lack deep critical thinking, sophisticated ethical reasoning, developed writing capacity, and refined communicative capacity. Employees, they argue, are unable to think of out the box, and have limited capacity for thinking through problems in ways that generate creative and novel solutions.

The liberal arts – Humanities in particular – provide these transferable skill sets, focusing on all of the capacities and abilities noted above; we build the foundation for such skills in the CORE curriculum, and we help students to achieve mastery of those skills within our majors. CEO’s have noticed the value of the Humanities as an experience that provides these skills. As two famous CEOs have put it:

I think maybe the best education, or the best foundation for business is probably reading Shakespeare, rather than some MBA program out of some great business school. I think I’d rather have an English major than an economics major.

– Michael Eisner, CEO Walt Disney Productions

The most valuable class I took at Stanford wasn’t Econ…it was “Christian, Islamic and Jewish Political Philosophies of the Middle Ages.” The course content left an impression on me, but the rigor of the distillation process, the exercise of refinement, that’s where the real learning happened. It was an incredible, heady skill to master that I’ve used again and again – the mental exercise of synthesis and distillation and getting to the very heart of things.

– Carly Fiorina, Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard

Clearly, our majors provide the kinds of experiences and practice that lead to the cultivation of these skill sets. In fact, some of our majors are specifically trained to focus directly on one or more of these skills; in philosophy we focus strongly on ethics and critical thinking, in Communication we focus on sophistication in oral presentation, and in English we focus on excellence in writing.

Additionally, we would argue that an education in the Humanities actually provides more than the obvious transferable skill sets mentioned above, given the fact that the essentially critical nature of Humanities methodology leads invariably to a cultivation of numerous intellectual virtues such as perspectival openness, curiosity, and courage. These invaluable dispositions and/or intellectual virtues are often forgotten and left off traditional lists of required skills, but no truly ambitious career goal can be achieved without them.

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