Liberal Arts – Think About It
Did you know that about one-third of all Fortune 500 CEOs have a degree in the liberal arts?
So, when you tell your parents you want to major in a liberal arts subject like history, philosophy or English, and they ask “What kind of job can you get with that major?” tell them: almost any job you want!
YOU’LL LEARN SKILLS THAT EMPLOYERS WANT
Liberal arts is the foundation of higher education in America, and it’s still relevant today. “In many respects [the liberal arts] is more valuable as the world has become smaller and more interconnected than ever before,” says Chris Gage, dean of admission at Hanover College (IN). “The need for individuals to communicate and appreciate cultural differences is salient to a young person’s career opportunities and advancement.”
Some of the more common liberal arts majors include communications, English, foreign language, history, philosophy, political science, mathematics, psychology, economics and sociology. (For students looking for added flexibility and convenience, we have created a list of the most popular liberal arts degree programs offered online).
As a liberal arts student, you’ll take courses in the arts, humanities (the study of the human condition), social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences. You’ll also learn a variety of skills, such as critical thinking, verbal and written communication and problem solving, which will help you in the workplace.
In fact, a 2014 report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of employers say a candidate’s demonstrated ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than his undergraduate major. In addition, four out of five employers agree that all students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.
“Liberal arts students learn from a global perspective and see the world, including business environments, through a unique lens that allows for sound judgments and ethical and meaningful decision making,” says Gage.
In addition, employers look beyond a graduate’s grades and major, reports a recent job outlook study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “They will look to see if you can work in a team; how well you can solve problems and make decisions; if you are able to plan, organize and prioritize; if you can communicate verbally; and finally, if you are able to gather and process information, as well as analyze quantitative data,” says Mark Braun, provost and dean at Gustavus Adolphus College (MN).
YOU CAN CHOOSE ALMOST ANY CAREER PATH—AND GET A JOB
There’s no one set career path for liberal arts majors—they find themselves in fields such as business, education, media, public service, medicine and law.
“From a practical perspective, the intent of a liberal arts education is not to prepare a student for their first job, but rather their fifth, sixth or seventh,” says Gage. “Liberal arts institutions prepare students for the jobs that may not exist yet … [and] students will be prepared for career advances given their foundation in critical thinking, analysis and communication.”
While technical skills are increasingly necessary in virtually every profession, employers now recognize that those skills can be taught on the job. So if you’re worried about competing against those with more “practical” or narrowly defined degrees, such as business or engineering, don’t be. And if you plan to go on to medical school or law school, a liberal arts education can position you well for success in graduate school.
“Today’s employers want new hires … to adapt to jobs that have multiple roles,” says Rachel West, admissions counselor at Agnes Scott College (GA). “A young professional needs to be able to do their own problem solving and troubleshooting, have important digital literacy skills and be able to write and present their own ideas clearly and effectively.”
Because of this, the broad subject areas you’ll study in the liberal arts will make you particularly well suited for today’s job market and the jobs of the future. While you’re in college, remember to take advantage of the career preparation resources your college offers so you can increase your odds of success. “This could include working closely with a professor on research, finding an internship or working with the campus Career Center,” says Cyndi Sweet, director of admissions at Maryville College (TN).
A LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION IS AFFORDABLE
Contrary to popular belief, liberal arts institutions aren’t necessarily “too expensive.” Why? Although a college’s sticker price may seem high, nearly all institutions offer financial aid that significantly lowers the net cost.
“Most, if not all, private liberal arts institutions offer robust merit- and need-based financial aid programs that in turn greatly reduce the actual cost of attendance for students and families,” Gage says.
Sweet recommends going through the financial aid process and comparing awards from schools. “More often than not, the financial aid award and scholarships from a private institution will be very competitive with public schools, making a private education very affordable,” Sweet says.
Additionally, “Families should consider the fact that students at liberal arts institutions graduate at higher rates and in a shorter amount of time, making the net cost very close to the cost of attending state colleges,” Braun says.
IS A LIBERAL ARTS MAJOR RIGHT FOR YOU?
If you feel passionate about a subject outside of the liberal arts, such as business or engineering, your choice of major may be clear. But if you’re undecided, a major in the liberal arts is a good choice because it doesn’t set limits on what you can explore. For example, while studying biology, you may discover a passion for working in a laboratory. Or while studying English, you may get an internship at an advertising agency and discover you love copywriting.
“Some students arrive knowing exactly what they want to do. Careful advising and close mentoring ensure that students are able to begin making steady progress in their chosen major field of study right away while simultaneously taking full advantage of a diverse liberal arts curriculum,” says Emily Chamlee-Wright, dean and provost of Washington College (MD). “Other students enter [college] fully open to discovering new areas of interest.”
Consider your interests and your learning style when deciding on a major. “A liberal arts education will benefit a student who is intellectually curious about more than one subject area, who is interested in integrating concepts from multiple fields of study into a cohesive whole and who is ready and willing to seek out the different opportunities afforded by a liberal arts education,” West says.
You can begin exploring your interests and possible liberal arts majors in high school. Campus visits can help you determine what type of college is best for you. “Students can take a campus tour, meet with a professor, sit in on a class and even spend the night with current students,” Sweet says.
By your sophomore year of college, you’ll likely know which liberal arts major you want to pursue.
And the next time someone asks you what you plan to do with a liberal arts degree, go ahead and tell them the truth—anything and everything.