What’s the Value of a Liberal Arts Education Today: Is It Worth It?
Everyone’s heard the common trope that a liberal arts education is a waste of time. There’s no shortage of jokes about philosophy or art history graduates struggling to find a job. While these harmless jabs make for a good punchline, the misconception about the value of a liberal arts education becomes solidified.
More and more students who are confident about their academic interests and potential majors start calling their future into question. Is my major worthwhile? Will I be able to find a job after graduation? Am I wasting time and money pursuing this subject?
All of these questions and more begin to arise and bring more uncertainty to an already complicated process of figuring out what to study in college. As with many things, the word on the street isn’t indicative of what the reality is.
Here, we’re going to shed some light on the value of a liberal arts education in today’s world to help students further determine their intended major while solidifying confidence in the merit of these subjects.
Is a liberal arts education valuable in today’s society?
Yes, a liberal arts education is definitely valuable even in the context of today’s economy and job market. So, where is all the fear surrounding liberal arts subjects originating? One of the primary sources of fear is the ever-growing cost of college tuition.
With rates outpacing inflation, it’s understandable that students and parents are becoming more scrutinous about which field of study to choose. College students want the reassurance that their investment will pay off in the form of an abundance of job opportunities and high rates of pay.
With the demand for career-ready majors such as engineering, medicine, and computer science on the rise, people are increasingly skeptical about the value of a liberal arts education in terms of future opportunities.
What are liberal arts?
Before diving into the value of a liberal arts education, it’s crucial to understand what is meant by liberal arts. Although it’s a commonly used word, not everyone has a clear idea of what it really entails and how it differs from other subjects.
In a historical sense, a liberal arts education originated from the classical Greek notion of having a comprehensive and holistic education spanning a wide range of fields. The idea was to create a well-rounded mind. For the Greeks, this diversified education usually included music, grammar, rhetoric, geometry, and arithmetic.
Today, the term liberal arts has maintained much of its original significance. The disciplines under the larger umbrella of liberal arts education tend to provide students with a diverse range of skills and understandings. Natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences are the main programs considered within the context of liberal arts – each of which includes a variety of disciplines.
Generally speaking, liberal arts education tends to focus more on theory than their career-ready counterparts which emphasize specific skills that are applicable to certain jobs. This important distinction explains why many people view graduates with liberal arts education as less competitive in the job market than those who hold a career-focused degree.
However, this is ignoring all of the advantages that come with a liberal arts education. In reality, these subjects provide students with a diverse understanding of multiple topics and a set of well-trained abilities for critical thinking, problem-solving, and multidisciplinary thinking.
What kind of subjects are part of a liberal arts education?
As discussed earlier, a liberal arts education is a catch-all term for a wide range of subjects. This encompassing field can further be broken down into three primary disciplines: the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Let’s peel back the layers further by examining each of these disciplines in greater depth. Here are the specific subjects you can find under each:
- Classical languages
- Foreign languages
- Business informatics
- Gender studies
- Earth sciences
What are the best liberal arts schools?
Nearly all schools across the country offer liberal arts degrees for students. But that doesn’t mean the value of all those programs is equal. To help you find a school that matches your academic and career goals, here are the top 25 liberal arts schools in the US.
1.Williams College Williamstown, MA
2.Amherst College Amherst, MA
3.Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA
4. Pomona College Claremont, CA
5. Wellesley College Wellesley, MA
6. Bowdoin College Brunswick, ME
7. United States Naval Academy Annapolis, MD
8. Claremont McKenna College Claremont, CA
9. Carleton College Northfield, MN
10. Middlebury College Middlebury, VT
11. United States Military Academy West Point, NY
12. Washington and Lee University Lexington, VA
13. Davidson College Davidson, NC
14. Grinnell College Grinnell, IA
15. Hamilton College Clinton, NY
16. Haverford College Haverford, PA
17. Barnard College New York, NY
18. Colby College Waterville, ME
19. Colgate University Hamilton, NY
20. Smith College Northampton, MA
21. Wesleyan University Middletown, CT
22. United States Air Force Academy USAF Academy, CO
23. University of Richmond Univ. of Richmond, VA
24. Vassar College Poughkeepsie, NY
25. Bates College Lewiston, ME
What is the value of a liberal arts education?
The economy, the job market, and society overall are always changing. These new developments bring new scrutiny and questions to traditional forms of education. The liberal arts are currently facing a lot of uncertainty among high schoolers who are trying to choose a subject that’s worth pursuing both in terms of interest and professional offerings.
The latter is the main source of concern as everyone can find something interesting about the wide range of subjects that fall under the banner of liberal arts. To set the record straight, let’s take a look at some of the best reasons for earning a liberal arts degree. Hint: it’s more exciting than you might think!
It includes highly intriguing subjects.
Even critics of a liberal arts education can’t deny that the subjects covered under this larger umbrella are incredibly interesting and intriguing. When attending a liberal arts undergraduate program, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of engaging topics including legal theory, psychology, logic, religion, ethics, philosophy, and so much more!
Although receiving a college education is about becoming more well-rounded, better educated, and solidifying opportunities for the future, nobody said it can’t be fun too. A liberal arts degree proves that you can combine incredibly interesting content with a college education.
It gives you the freedom to choose.
Flexibility is another critical reason why a liberal arts education is valuable. The liberal arts give students greater freedom to pursue their unique interests in subject areas in which they are comfortable and naturally engaged.
Many colleges allow students to pursue two or more majors along with minors to expand their knowledge and pursue various avenues of interest. Additionally, many liberal arts subjects allow for interdisciplinary material, allowing students to further expand their academic exploration.
If you’re worried about getting pigeonholed in college, pursuing a liberal arts education is an excellent way to ensure you have the flexibility and freedom to learn what you want.
You’ll develop in-demand job skills.
It’s a common misconception that liberal arts graduates have a hard time finding work. In reality, liberal arts graduates enter the workforce with a variety of in-demand skills employers in a wide range of industries actively look for new employees.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) states that employers tend to emphasize abilities such as communication and critical thinking, which are extensively developed in liberal arts, instead of technical skills when determining a candidate’s career readiness.
The value of a liberal arts education is that it provides students with a strong foundation of skills with which they can confidently bring to any position and build upon throughout their professional career. These tools ultimately make it possible for them to succeed.
It makes you more socially aware and responsible.
Cultural, political, and social awareness are fundamental aspects of a liberal arts education. While specialized subjects tend to hone in on hyper-specific elements, liberal arts programs maintain a multidisciplinary and holistic approach.
This dynamic provides students of liberal arts with a better understanding of how the world works overall. It places a strong emphasis on social and civic responsibility while at the same time giving students the knowledge and tools they need to engage in the world effectively, responsibly, and ethically.
You’ll find yourself becoming a more well-rounded person the further you get into your liberal arts education. In a sense, you are not just working on gaining knowledge specifically. You are also becoming a better person overall.
It prepares you for jobs of the future.
The value of a liberal arts education extends far beyond the employment realities of today. In other words, the strong foundation of skills mentioned before isn’t only relevant for jobs that are around today.
The abundance of abilities you develop as a liberal arts student can’t even prepare you for jobs that have yet to be created. If you’re scratching your head in confusion, don’t worry! Let’s shed some light on the future outlook of job opportunities.
The World Economic Forum predicts that nearly 65% of the kids in primary school will work in jobs that aren’t in existence today. How does that impact you today? Well, new jobs are being created nearly every day.
With a highly specialized education, you’re limiting yourself to the number of jobs you can take. On the other hand, the value of a liberal arts education provides you with a certain level of versatility and know-how allowing you to navigate between various job opportunities – even for ones that don’t exist yet!
You’ll follow in the footsteps of successful people.
It’s ironic when people detract from the value of a liberal arts education when many of the successful businessmen, politicians, world leaders, actors, and other prominent figures that people look up to hold degrees within this field.
Some of the most prominent people in history and today across the globe have received a liberal arts education. The most renowned CEOs of companies such as YouTube, Starbucks, and Disney all hold a liberal arts degree. Here are some influential people you might recognize who can help highlight the value of a liberal arts education in your professional career:
- Conan O’Brien, Bachelor of Arts in History
- Barack Obama, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
- Jack Ma, Bachelor of Arts in English
- Peter Thiel, Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy
- Bruce Lee, Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Drama
- Ricky Gervais, Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy
- Madeleine Albright, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
- Ken Chenault, Bachelor of Arts in History
- Clarence Thomas, Bachelor of Arts in English Literature
- George Soros, Bachelor of Science in Philosophy
- Oprah Winfrey, Bachelor of Arts in Communications
- Natalie Portman, Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
Of course, holding a liberal arts education does not guarantee success. However, it’s well understood that these subjects provide students with a solid foundation when entering professional careers.
You don’t have to be famous or a world leader to achieve what you want after you graduate from college. No matter what your long-term goals are, you can remain confident that a liberal arts education will give you what you need to succeed
How to make the most of your liberal arts degree.
Now that you understand the value of a liberal arts education, it’s time to focus on ways you can maximize this academic opportunity if you choose to pursue it. Here are some tips for making the most of your college education:
1. Supplement with an applied minor.
The multidisciplinary nature of liberal arts degrees comes with a lot of advantages for students as we discussed earlier. But some college students will want to supplement this dynamic education with a more applied discipline, especially if they don’t plan on pursuing higher education within their liberal arts field.
For example, if you’re studying the Philosophy of Ancient Rome but aren’t planning to earn a related master’s degree or Ph.D., choosing a dual major or a minor in a more specific subject like marketing, management, or communications can help bolster your resume for future employment.
2. Develop career-oriented goals.
One of the ultimate goals of attending college is to land a rewarding career. A great way to ensure a smooth transition from college into the workforce is to consider your professional trajectory early on.
Your college most likely has an on-campus career center which is an excellent resource to use in your research. If you’re not sure where to begin, you can ask your school for the contact information of recent graduates who hold the major you’re pursuing.
Asking these graduates about their career paths can shed some light on your professional options after graduation. When you find a position that piques your interest, learn more about the skills people in that role need to succeed. You can focus on developing these attributes while in college so you graduate already prepared to work.
3. Gain valuable experience through relevant internships or jobs.
One of the paradoxes college graduates face when entering the job market is that many seemingly entry-level jobs require applicants to have some professional experience. Luckily, you don’t have to wait until you graduate from college to gain some experience in your desired professional field.
If you have the free time and are looking to make some extra income, you could work part-time during the school year or full-time during the summers, depending on what kind of positions are available within the industry you’re looking to pursue.
If you’re struggling to find a paying gig, you might have a better chance of finding an internship. Sure, it might not pay as much or at all, but you’ll also have fewer responsibilities and less of a time commitment while still gaining valuable experience. This isn’t just a great way to enhance your liberal arts education, but it’s also an effective way to improve your chances of getting hired after graduation.
Simplify the college admissions process.
Applying to college is a complicated process that causes a lot of confusion and stress among high schoolers. But it doesn’t have to be that way! A great way to simplify the process is to work with an experienced college entrance expert like AdmissionSight. For over a decade, we’ve been helping students and parents better understand the complex college admissions process.
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