Liberal Arts: Liberate How You Think About It!
There’s an old joke about liberal arts degrees being for the indecisive. In reality, many of today’s students with liberal arts degrees are landing the best jobs in fields they love because they’re considered well-rounded and knowledgeable in a wide variety of subjects.
Some of the biggest companies in the world are hiring these students for everything from management and accounting to marketing and research.
Employers often find that recent liberal arts graduates have learned things like reasoning, written and oral communication and “people skills,” more often than students who specialized in one of the more “marketable” subjects. These companies realize that, while they can teach their employees about their products and services, it’s harder to teach the “soft” skills, such as the ability to persuade and compromise, and to perceive what a customer or client really wants.
What classes do you take to earn a liberal arts degree?
Actually, there generally is not a major in “liberal arts.” Instead, while you will have to pick a major, you’ll be taking a wide variety of core courses in the arts and sciences, like math, English, biology, sociology and psychology. Bill Conley, Dean of Enrollment and Academic Services at Johns Hopkins University puts it this way: “(The) first thing to note is the definition of liberal arts. It is commonly understood to be the areas that are not vocational or pre-vocational. At Johns Hopkins we view those areas to be the humanities, social sciences, arts, and the natural and physical sciences.”
When you major in the liberal arts, you can expect to do a lot of reading, writing and speaking, but you may also have the opportunity to create your own independent study after completing the required courses. This usually entails working with a professor to help design a program that blends your many interests. You’ll most likely create your own reading list, research project and schedule of assignments to turn in, topped off by a final paper at the end of the term.
How do I know if majoring in one of the liberal arts is right for me?
If you’re not drawn to a specific vocation, such as business, engineering, nursing or architecture, but would rather explore your options with a variety of classes, liberal arts might be a good option for you. Don’t worry about what will happen after you graduate. A liberal arts degree can take you right into the workforce or fuel your desire to pursue a more specialized focus at a graduate or professional school.
“[The student] should not be obsessed with ‘Will this major lead to a job?’ or ‘Can I get into law school with this major?’ The key is passion; pursue a major that excites you about learning,” says Conley. “Good grades in the major and across the board often follow when [a student is] excited about something. The same holds true for outcomes. Employers seek employees who have demonstrated the ability to learn and who have sparkle; a student who trudged through college without a passion rarely conveys either of those traits.”
Carol Long, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Willamette University, echoes these thoughts, saying that students with degrees in the liberal arts are well suited to a rapidly changing world. According to Long, such graduates “will have abilities in critical thinking, communication, analysis and collaboration that will help [them] respond to new ideas, events and people with openness and understanding.”
Remember, major in something you think you’ll like and have a passion for and everything else will likely fall into place.