This is obviously a question that I, as someone who’s going to shortly hold such a degree, get asked a lot. Fortunately, there are a lot of possible answers! I’m going to start with the obvious ones and then start surprising you.
Obvious answer #1: Get another degree in linguistics!
If you’re really in love with the subject, getting a doctorate and competing for the tiny number of teaching positions in the field is certainly an option. Imma be straight with you, though: it’s very, very hard work; very, very competitive and very, very low paying for the amount of specialized training you need. (A PhD usually takes between four and six years…if you manage to finish at all.) Oh, and did I mention that you’ll be expected to do original, groundbreaking research and consistently get it published in addition to your teaching load? Yeah… unless you’re 100% sure that’s what you want to do, you should probably keep reading.
Obvious answer #2: Teach computers how to language!
Do you like computers? Do you like linguistics? Do you like the thought of eventually having a job and making money? Holy balls of yarn, do I have a career for you. Super-high employment rates, cutting edge research, making all the best and newest toys… yeah. Plus, if you have a good background in both computer science and linguistics (a surprisingly large number of people only have a computer background) you’ll be a very competitive candidate.
Obvious answer #3: Help children and adults overcome speech problems!
If you’ve always wanted a career where you help people, you should look into Speech-Language Pathology. Sometimes, someone doesn’t acquire language correctly, or they develop a problem with language. Speech pathologists work with patients to help them acquire language or to relearn language. You’ll need at least a masters, but most people find it to be a very rewarding career.
Obvious answer #4: Work as a translator!
So I wrote earlier about the difference between a linguist and a translator, but being a linguist can really help you with translation as well, particularly if you’re interested in working on bilingual dictionaries. Of course, demand for translators varies from language to language, and you do have to be fluent in at least two languages.
Obvious answer #5: Teach languages!
If you’re interested in teaching anyone to acquire a second language, whether it’s English or something else, having a linguistics background can be very, very helpful. Think back to any foreign language classes you might have taken. Wouldn’t it have been better if your teacher had been able to tell you exactly what you were supposed to be doing with your mouth, instead of vaguely telling you what letters it was like and then that “You’re doing it wrong”? With a background in linguistics, you can really explain how things work in the second language, and that will really help your students.
So those are the biggies. You’ll need other skills for most of them, but linguistics will help you a lot. And, hey, linguistics classes are fun! But what other careers can linguistics help you with? Well…
Be a lawyer! A background in linguistics is actually a really strong choice for someone heading to law school. Why? Well, law is all about using language really, really carefully and communicating effectively. An academic background in linguistics will help you do that.
Make up languages! Now, this is a bit of a niche, but there is more than one person who has been paid for designing “alien” languages for flims. You’ve heard of Na’vi and Klingon, I presume? They’re actually legit artificial languages with grammars and everything.
Write standardized tests! If you’re American, you’ve probably taken or will take the SAT’s at some point. Fun fact: most of those language-based questions were written by linguists, who know how to ask questions designed to get at very specific pieces of linguistic knowledge.
Do anything you like! Really, linguistics training gives you a great set of skills. You can analyze large sets of data, deduce the rules that would generate them and then write about them in a clear way. That’s a really useful thing to be able to do.