What can I do with a humanities degree?

5 skills in marketing and communications I gained from studying the humanities at UCI

By Colette Nguyen

Two questions I’m often asked as a literary journalism and film & media studies double major are: What are your plans after graduation? What can you do with a humanities degree?

The truth is — you can do a lot with a humanities degree! Because a humanities education includes historical and cultural analysis as well as training in critical thinking and writing, it prepares you for any job where writing, thinking, and cultural and historical awareness are valued (hint: that’s most jobs!). In this listicle, I will speak specifically about how you can transfer the skills of a humanities degree to careers in marketing and communications.

These past four years at UCI, I’ve taken many humanities courses that helped me gain transferable real-life skills in marketing and communications. In courses like “Writing the Immigrant Experience,” “Film Analysis,” and “Asian Americans and the Media,” I’ve learned how to write engaging nonfiction, how to dissect what makes a good story across multimedia platforms, and how to include and amplify diverse stories and storytellers. I’ve also gained insight into marketing and communications through my internships with the UCI School of Humanities’ communications team and Orange Coast Magazine. I’m happy to say that these classes and internships, along with extracurriculars in publicity and media, have led me to my current job at the UCI Division of Career Pathways as a marketing assistant.

Below, I share the top 5 skills I gained from these invaluable experiences as a student in UCI’s School of Humanities and how they’ll help me as I continue to grow my career in marketing and communications.

Storytelling

Learning how to be an effective storyteller has been a crucial part of my college career. In my journalism classes, we read masterpieces of narrative nonfiction like Blind Eye by James Stewart, The Lost City of Z by David Grann, and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. The authors of these books go into impressive detail, reconstructing real events and analyzing everyday people. Reading these books and dissecting what did and didn’t work in them taught me how to craft my own creative nonfiction narratives.

With this arsenal of storytelling knowledge, I’ve felt confident to pursue my own writing. Because I have an interest in small and independent businesses, I’ve written several profiles of business owners, which helped me land an internship with Orange Coast Magazine where I continued to write profiles. One such interview was with Apra Bhandari, a Bollywood dance instructor. My article, titled “A New Rhythm,” ended up being published as the Person of Interest section for the December issue.

People connect with stories, and they’re what marketing and communications professionals use to connect with and engage their audiences. Whether you’re writing a script for a 30-second video advertisement or a social media campaign, knowing how to craft stories will be a skill you use every day.

Editing

Good writing is good editing. As a college student, I found that when I would sit down and type up a draft essay, I often wasn’t satisfied with it the first, second, or even third time. It wasn’t until I started rereading and finding ways to improve it that I would find my thesis and the direction of where my papers were going. Many of my professors have told me that the most critical part of the writing process is editing and proofreading. In addition to written pieces, I’ve edited film scripts and videos.

Editing is not only applicable to college papers and essays — it’s an integral part of all projects in marketing and communications jobs, from editing advertising copy for a billboard to editing video scripts. In some marketing and communications teams, there are positions dedicated solely to editing — a video editor and a copy editor, for example. Above is a video I created for my internship with the School of Humanities’ communications team.

Reporting

All of my classes required some kind of project that involved reporting and interviewing different subjects — from Humanities Core and journalism workshops to film electives. As a literary journalism major, I’ve had many assignments that required me to go outside of the classroom, find an interesting subject (or find what makes them interesting through reporting), and write a compelling story. Even during the pandemic, when interviewing subjects in person wasn’t safe, I was able to find story interviewees through the accessibility of social media and interview them through video chat.

Because my internship with Orange Coast Magazine was completely online, it opened up the world of virtual reporting. Fact-checking was also an important part of reporting because accuracy protects the subjects, the readers and the publication. There are many projects, as well as entire positions, that are dedicated to reporting in the marketing and communications profession. For example, brand journalists are reporters and writers for brands. Additionally, sometimes you may need to do reporting and fact-checking for customer testimonials.

Cultural understanding

Through taking courses like Humanities Core, a year-long seminar exploring one subject that fulfills multiple GEs, and film history, I learned so much about different cultures and pivotal moments beyond U.S. history. I had the chance to analyze world-changing, historical topics such as the Iranian Revolution, the movement of the Vietnamese diaspora, the Cambodian genocide, and the Philippine War of Independence.

In addition to learning about other cultures, many courses gave me the opportunity to learn about my own by conducting oral histories with my family. I am so grateful that all of these classes have given me a safe space to collect and share stories about my family’s history as well as to learn about other cultures and their histories. My Humanities Core project (above) helped me expand my cultural understanding in a way that brought my father and me closer together.

In the humanities, ethnic and gender studies courses can provide valuable historical and cultural context. For example, these courses can help students better understand social-justice movements that led to the contemporary Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements. Cultural understanding is critical to being a good marketer because you need to understand the nuances of your audiences — from their histories to their dialects. In the marketing and communications profession, there are jobs dedicated to understanding these nuances, from roles in cultural marketing to brand ambassadors. A deep understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion is vital to being a marketing and communications professional because you want to ensure that your brand’s messaging and actions are in alignment.

Making connections

The classes I’ve taken at UCI have given me the opportunity to interview different people from various areas and sectors of life such as local business owners (such as the owners of Rollin’ Creamery pictured above), city councilmembers, and my family. This allowed me to form meaningful connections with people in my community, as I got to interview and hear unique stories from people I never would have had the opportunity to talk to outside of class. Some of them were people I had rarely encountered in my daily life, so being able to hear their stories was a one-of-a-kind experience. Each person has their own story, and I was honored to hear and write about them. By working with these people, I have made meaningful connections that will last me a lifetime. At their root, marketing and communications are about connections. And being able to build relationships with different people will serve you well in any career you choose.

Marketing & communications internships at UCI

If you are a current student majoring in the UCI School of Humanities, there are many opportunities to pursue an internship in marketing and communications. Here are just a couple:

English Internship Program

Open to English majors, the English Internship Program provides majors with the opportunity to explore skills and careers in marketing and communications. Interns are placed on marketing and communications teams for departments and programs across the UCI campus and in the local community.

Humanities Out There Internship

Through Humanities Out There, humanities undergraduates are placed in internships both across the UCI campus and with local community organizations. Many of the host institutions offer marketing and communications training, including the School of Humanities’ marketing and communications team, who offers a marketing and communications bootcamp.

The official account of the UCI School of Humanities: Ideas that Matter.