See All You Can Do With A Degree In Liberal Arts
IT’S INEVITABLE. When you tell someone that you’re planning to major in a subject like history or English, you get asked the dreaded question: “What are you going to do with that?”
The answer? You’re going to get a job, just like everyone else. As a matter of fact, liberal arts graduates are particularly well suited for today’s job market.
The state of the economy, technology and a broader global perspective have made liberal arts majors—and the broad range of skills they learn—even more essential.
“A liberal arts education is more important than ever because the average person now changes careers seven to nine times in their lives,” says Dr. John L. Seidel, the Director of the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College (MD). “A liberal arts degree gives students a broad background so that they can better adapt to the changing job market and switch jobs when they want or need to.” And while technical skills are increasingly necessary in virtually every profession, employers are recognizing that they can be taught on the job. But graduates with the “people” and communication skills gained as liberal arts majors are much more difficult to find and valued highly by employers!
WHAT ARE THE LIBERAL ARTS?
As a liberal arts major, you’ll get an overview of the arts, humanities (the study of the human condition), social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences, as well as a variety of skills that will help you excel in the workforce. It’s an educational style that can trace its roots back hundreds of years—and it has only gotten better with age. (For students interested in the added convenience of earning your liberal arts degree online, we have compiled a list of online liberal arts degrees and programs that may match your career goals and interests).
“A liberal arts education is as relevant today as it ever was,” says Dolph Henry, the Vice President for Enrollment at Maryville College (TN). “Employers are looking for employees who can communicate and write well, have critical reasoning skills, and can take new information and synthesize it well—this is what a liberal arts education teaches.” Some of the more common majors include anthropology, communications, English, history, language and linguistics, philosophy, political science, mathematics, psychology and sociology; in all of them, communication, writing and reasoning skills are taught.
For prospective students already working full-time or juggling life and family responsibilities, accredited colleges and universities also offer liberal studies degrees (and related majors) online. Instead of attending classes in the evening after work or on weekends, you can skip the commute and log-in to your classes from the comfort of home at a time that is convenient for you.
So what should you major in? “That’s a highly individual decision,” says Michael Thomas director of admission at LaGrange College (GA). “The beauty of a liberal arts school is that you can spend your first year or two exploring your options and taking different classes to see what you really love to do.” Plus “students work very closely with a faculty advisor who helps them navigate the various curriculum offerings … [and together they] … create a custom-fit education that builds a student’s critical thinking communication and writing skills,” says Jennifer Riegel, Assistant Director for the Arts at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts (NY).
And no matter what you major in you’ll come out of school with an in-depth knowledge of a particular area as well as a range of skills —like communication writing and analytical thinking—that will help you grow professionally. In addition jobs in the real world require a variety of different skills and “liberal arts colleges offer students a broader context of how ideas and notions fit together on a deeper and more meaningful level,” says Thomas.
Furthermore “a liberal arts education is increasingly an interdisciplinary one . . . in the recognition that . . . our most urgent problems will require the engagement of the skills and perspectives of various disciplines,” says Karen R. Foust, Executive Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Vice President for Enrollment at Hendrix College (AR). “Addressing issues such as energy and health care for instance will require us to understand not just the scientific and technological aspects of the problem but also its economic political historical and philosophical dimensions.”
WHAT DO LIBERAL ARTS MAJORS LEARN?
It might be easier to ask what you won’t learn. One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is the chance to explore multiple areas of interest. You’ll also acquire the practical skills you’ll need for lifelong learning and achievement—like research writing and communication.
“I see liberal arts as preparing you not just in a variety of content areas but also with critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills,” says Henry. “This is important because our knowledge in a global sense is evolving and liberal arts graduates have a better sense of how to look at things and how to connect knowledge in new ways to build a robust and enhanced knowledge base. Employers . . . want employees who already have good communication and writing skills.”
So it’s not only what you learn that’s valuable but also the problem-solving and communication skills you develop that will ultimately lead to your success.
“Because a liberal arts education is broad-based learning in one subject area naturally leads to new insights in another,” says Dr. Edward Ragan, the Director of Educational Outreach at Centenary College of Louisiana. “Learning in this manner promotes a lifetime of learning philosophy which is critical in today’s rapidly changing job market. In short one learns how to learn and that lasts a lifetime.”
Furthermore “a liberal arts education will help you understand yourself and others in a deeper more meaningful way,” says Michael Zimmerman, the Academic Vice President and Provost at The Evergreen State College (WA).
WHAT KINDS OF JOBS DO LIBERAL ARTS MAJORS GET?
Because the liberal arts cover such a broad spectrum of subjects there’s no one set career path. Liberal arts majors find themselves in a variety of fields including management marketing and communications public service medicine and law.
If you’re worried about competing against those with more “practical” or narrowly defined degrees such as business or engineering don’t be. “Because of the well-rounded and interdisciplinary nature of a liberal arts education many employers prefer to hire people with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” says Foust. “It is a given that the employers know new employees will need to learn the specifics of their particular business; what distinguishes the liberal arts graduates is that they have learned how to think critically and will know how to apply these skills in providing solutions to their employer.”
HOW CAN A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE HELP YOU COMPETE?
As a liberal arts major you’ll most likely have at least one year of practical experience under your belt—something graduates from other programs are much less likely to be able to claim. That’s because more so than other programs a liberal arts major leads students to pursue opportunities outside the classroom.
“There are ample opportunities for students to become involved in internships leadership positions and clubs and to become engaged in a lot of areas,” says Thomas. “This helps students become more competitive in the job market.”
Liberal arts majors also tend to be more creative. That gives you a real edge when seeking employment and in your job whatever that might be—an edge that will last as long as your career does.
Seidel points out that liberal arts majors can typically “think creatively and critically reason analytically communicate well both in writing and verbally combine information from lots of different sources to create cohesive ideas and know how to ask the right questions and dig deeper.” These are skills that will help liberal arts graduates better compete in the job market. Case in point: A recent survey of employers revealed that 30 percent are targeting those with liberal arts degrees. That’s much higher than the percentage going after finance and accounting majors and almost as high as engineering and computer majors.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF A LIBERAL ARTS MAJOR IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
If you feel passionately about a subject outside of the liberal arts such as business or engineering your choice of major may be clear. But if you’re unsure or undecided a major in one of the liberal arts is a good choice because it doesn’t set limits on what you can explore.
Students who are looking for a learning community focused on both depth and breadth are well suited for the liberal arts experts say. “Students in the liberal arts typically major in a specific discipline but their college experience is distinctive because of the exposure to a broader spectrum of academic subjects,” says Foust.
So 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.