A liberal arts education requires students to pursue study across disciplines and instills the values, skills, and knowledge they need to successfully pursue meaningful work. There are many fields of study which make up the liberal arts, including the pure sciences, mathematics, philosophy, literature, and fine arts. If you are interested in pursuing a liberal arts degree, you should think carefully about which university, degree, and major is right for you.
Picking the Right School
Searching for the right college is difficult, but you should be sure to look for institutions whose required curriculum includes history, math, science, literature, and especially foreign languages. A college which strongly values study in these fields is likely to have a solid liberal arts program. These subjects are integral to the liberal arts, and no education is complete without their inclusion. Even students who decide to pursue degrees in engineering and technology should ensure that their universities have strong course offerings in the liberal arts
Institutions such as Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, and Grinnell are among the best liberal arts schools in the United States. These institutions offer excellent training in the liberal arts and have earned their reputations as top schools within the United States. However, there are both pros and cons to choosing a liberal arts school. These institutions tend to be extremely small, with the entire school enrolling as few as 2,000 students, and they generally have no graduate programs, engineering, medical, or law schools. This can be limiting for students who wish to pursue advanced study during their undergraduate careers, or students who would like to branch out into other disciplines.
Those students who want the big school atmosphere in addition to a liberal arts education also have options. Ivy league schools such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, and some private universities such as Georgetown, Duke, and Stanford, all have extremely strong liberal arts programs as well as slightly larger student bodies and graduate student programs. Students should not discount large public research institutions either - state universities such as the Universities of Virginia or Michigan, have excellent liberal arts programs. Choosing a college is a huge decision, but many schools have strong liberal arts offerings; prospective undergraduates should take factors such as location, size, and fit into account when choosing a college, in addition to the school’s class and degree offerings.
Students interested in study beyond the undergraduate level examine schools on a program-by-program basis, since a university with a top-notch English program may not have the best art history program.
Picking the Right Major
Once you’ve chosen your school, your next major hurdle is to pick a major. Liberal arts encompass a wide range of fields including English, communications, history, philosophy, language, and many others. Choosing a major is daunting; it feels as if your whole life is riding on this one decision. However, your college major will not necessarily determine your career. An English major could have a career in teaching, marketing, or business. A philosophy major could run a company or develop an app. Most employers don’t care if you study Japanese, philosophy, or history - they care if you can do the job. Rather than choosing a degree based on possible career paths, you should choose a major you enjoy and pursue internships in your dream field.
A common adage goes that if you have a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. The same thing applies to academics. The smartest thing you can do for your academic career is to pick a major you enjoy. Students who enjoy their studies are more likely to succeed and thus more likely to develop the skills employers want during the course of their studies.
Many students believe that specific skills in science, technology, and engineering are the only degrees which will garner them a stable career and a high income. So-called STEM degrees, which include science, technology and engineering, have grown in popularity among students by 43% since 2009. However, liberal arts programs still offer students an incredible education and strong career prospects. A 2013 survey commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 91 percent of employers believe that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.” More than anything else, a humanities focused education teaches students to think critically, logically, and creatively. These skills, rather than any specific degree, are what is most important to employers.
Though many people think that English majors will spend their careers flipping burgers, liberal arts degrees can actually garner students high-flying careers and impressive incomes. A liberal arts education can often take students much further than those which only teach technical skills; major business leaders including Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz, former Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki all earned degrees in the liberal arts. Furthermore, a liberal arts education is an integral part of the new economy. Even sectors, such as tech, which many people would not think need liberal arts majors, need people who have studied these subjects. Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs believed that the secret to the company’s success was “technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities.” Students at top liberal arts schools can make far over six figures. Ten years after they graduate, Harvey Mudd College students with only a B.A. earn $134,000 per year on average. The liberal arts provide an extremely flexible and lucrative career path for students who pursue their study.
It’s Your Future
Choosing the right college, major, and career is one of the most important things a student can do in his or her education and life. However, you should not discount liberal arts colleges or arts degree for fear of poor career prospects. The number of careers open to those who study the liberal arts are myriad and the possibilities are endless.