The humanities cover a wide variety of subjects, including communications, history, languages, and literature. In short, this broad field focuses on the study of the human experience and the expression of that experience.  

Students pursuing a humanities degree, whether studying art or anthropology, learn new ways to engage with the world around them, gaining critical thinking, research, and writing skills in the process. These versatile degrees can lead anywhere—but don’t take our word for it.  

What can you do with a humanities degree? Here are eight influential people who majored in the humanities. As you’ll see, the greatest journeys can have the humblest beginnings.  

1. Oprah Winfrey 

We start with the one and only. Oprah earned a degree in communication and performing arts from Tennessee State University in 1986. After graduation, she came onboard the failing talk show “AM Chicago.” The show was soon renamed, and it wasn’t long before “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was the highest-rated television talk show in the U.S. The talk show spawned a media and business empire, including the successful Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).  

On education, Oprah has said, “Education is the way to move mountains, to build bridges, to change the world. Education is the path to the future. I believe that education is indeed freedom.”  

2. Michael Eisner 

Michael Eisner graduated from Denison University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Theatre in 1964. Eisner dreamed of writing a Broadway play but struggled to find work out of college. Such is the life of a writer.  

After landing a gig as an NBC clerk, Eisner began to scale the corporate ladder at ABC and Paramount. He later served as the chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Productions from 1984 to 2005, during which time he oversaw the Disney Renaissance.  

On the humanities, Eisner said, “Literature is unbelievably helpful, because no matter what business you are in, you are dealing with interpersonal relationships. It gives you an appreciation of what makes people tick.”  

3. Steve Jobs 

Steve Jobs famously dropped out of college to found Apple, but for the brief time he was enrolled, he majored in creative humanities, so he earns a spot on this list on a technicality.  

From humble beginnings (Jobs and Stephen Wozniak built the Apple I out of a garage), Jobs wound up running a trillion-dollar tech giant. Jobs was one of the first to recognize the potential of personal computing, and under his leadership, Apple would revolutionize how we engage with technology with such releases as the iPod and iPhone.  

Jobs credited the humanities for Apple’s success: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” 

4. Conan O’Brien  

Conan O’Brien majored in American history and literature at Harvard University. His humanities education served him well throughout his storied career, as evidenced by his boundless Civil War knowledge.  

After graduating, O’Brien moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in television, and after writing for “Not Necessarily the News,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “The Simpsons,” he got a chance to be in front of the camera with “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” O’Brien was the name in late night until “Conan” went off the air in 2021. He gave these parting words during his final episode: “My advice to anyone watching right now — and it’s not easy to do, it’s not easy to do, but try; try and do what you love with people you love. If you can manage that, it’s the definition of heaven on Earth.”  

5. Toni Morrison 

Author Toni Morrison was an avid reader at a young age. Morrison graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in English before earning a Master of Arts in English from Cornell University. She went on to become one of the most celebrated novelists in history, writing such classics as “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye.” In 1993, she became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.  

Morrison told her students: “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else.” 

6. Jack Ma 

Jack Ma is known for co-founding, one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world. Less known are the many challenges he faced on his journey.   

In 1988, Ma graduated from China’s Hangzhou Normal University with a BA in English. He failed the entrance exam not once, but twice and received over 30 job rejections after graduating. He taught English, managed a small translation company, and sold flowers, books, and clothes on the side. The man can hustle. Ma’s break came in 1999 when, along with 17 friends, he co-founded  

The former English teacher shared this with his employees: “I told my son, ‘You don’t need to be in the top three in your class. Being in the middle is fine, so long as your grades aren’t too bad.’ Only this kind of person has enough free time to learn other skills.” 

7. Arundhati Bhattacharya 

Arundhati Bhattacharya, the first woman chairperson of the State Bank of India, retired from her position in 2017, wrapping up a 40-year career in India’s financial sector. Under her leadership, the 212-year-old bank successfully transitioned to the digital age. Many thought her corporate journey was at an end, but she’s now Salesforce’s India CEO.  

Bhattacharya studied English literature at Lady Brabourne College in Kolkata, India, but she attributes her success to being a lifelong learner. To a packed audience at her 2018 TEDx Talk, she said, “Approach every situation with a questioning mind and a learner’s humility and you can’t go wrong.” 

8. Howard Schultz 

Howard Schultz graduated from Northern Michigan University with a BS in communications in 1975. Schultz then moved from New York to Seattle and in 1981, joined Starbucks as director of operations and marketing. At the time, the fledging company had only four stores. Four! A year later, Schultz was in Italy, drinking the finest coffee and wondering how to bring the Italian coffeehouse experience to America. 

Schultz retired as Starbucks’ CEO in 2018 to become chairman emeritus. By then, Starbucks had grown to nearly 30,000 stores in the U.S. and abroad. “It took years before I found my passion in life,” the coffee magnate said, “but getting out of Brooklyn and earning a college degree gave me the courage to keep on dreaming.”  

Oh, the Humanities 

A humanities education provides insight into human culture, history, literature, philosophy, and art. As illustrated by the famous, influential people on this list, you can go far by understanding and appreciating what makes us all human.  

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers several online humanities degrees. Undergraduate students can pursue a bachelor’s degree in:  

  • Communication 
  • English 
  • Humanities 
  • Political Science 

Graduate students can pursue a:  

  • Master of Arts in English 
  • Master of Arts in History 
  • Master of Arts in Spanish 
  • Graduate Certificate in Spanish 

Humanities degrees can lead to a variety of career paths, including roles in education, writing, research, cultural institutions, media, public relations, and more. Critical thinking, communication, and cultural awareness are skills highly valued in any career field, and these are only some of the skills gained while earning a humanities degree.  

Visit our Program and Courses page to learn more about the humanities degrees offered online at UT Permian. When you’re ready, click apply