Liberal Arts and Your Career

Liberal arts student in the library
Tim Macpherson / Stone / Getty Images

There aren't good jobs out that there—none that come easily to mind at least—that do not require the ability to learn, think and communicate. Can you come up with any? These abilities and other extremely valuable ones can be acquired through liberal arts education.

What are the Liberal Arts?

The liberal arts refer to a wide range of academic subjects that can prepare students for a variety of occupations.

College majors that fall under this category do not typically train students for any one career. It includes broad areas of study such as the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics. The humanities include subjects such as English, drama, music, dance, and language. Sociology, psychology, geography, and economics are all social sciences. Biology and physics are two examples of natural sciences.

You can major or minor in a liberal arts subject or you can supplement your education in another area with classes in this area. If you choose a career-specific major, for example, accounting or physical therapy, your college will very likely require you to take liberal arts courses.

A Great Source for Soft Skills

Regardless of the career you choose, certain qualities called soft skills will make you invaluable to employers and are vital to your success in many occupations including those in technology.

They include critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and innovation, research skills, writing and oral communication, interpersonal skills and the ability to learn.

You may already have some of these abilities, but you must find a way to acquire those you don't. The best way to do that is through liberal arts education.

Regardless of your major, make room in your schedule for classes in literature, history, sociology, and psychology.

Liberal Arts Education Comes Under Fire

It's hard to imagine anyone finding fault with studying the liberal arts—after all, it can provide you with soft skills that are crucial to your career success. There are people, however, who would like to do away with this area of study in favor of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. They cite statistics that show American students are far behind their counterparts in other countries where these subjects are emphasized to the exclusion of the liberal arts. They believe taking classes in the liberal arts is a waste of time ... and don't even get them started on choosing it as a college major. They predict anyone who chooses to do that will have a dismal future.

"Wait just a minute!" others argue. "Without liberal arts education what will happen to creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship?," they ask. The US has always been a country of entrepreneurs and innovators and many believe that liberal arts education is responsible for that. While American students may not be as skilled in science and technology, they are far ahead in creativity.

Journalist Fareed Zakaria, in an article titled "Why America’s Obsession With STEM Education is Dangerous" (The Washington Post, March 26, 2015), says that to innovate we must have an "understanding of how people and societies work, what they need and want." This awareness, according to Zakaria, comes from a broad general education, rather than a narrowly focused one.

People who espouse the importance of STEM education to the exclusion of the liberal arts fail to recognize some very important realities. First among them is that not everyone is cut out for a STEM career. We must recognize that we are all different from one another. Each of us has different values, interests, strengths and personalities that make certain occupations more suitable for us than others. In addition we, as a society, need people to work in other occupations.

Where will we be without museum curators and archaeologists? Secondly, there are careers that require a liberal arts background. Finally, and probably the most compelling argument is that without taking at least some liberal arts classes, many people will fail to acquire the soft skills they need to succeed in almost every job you could possibly think of. 

Should You Major in Liberal Arts?

There is room for both STEM and liberal arts in the education of our future workforce. Students should be exposed to both areas of study, but we must also realize that there is a suitable career for everyone. You may find that a career that emphasizes the liberal arts is a better fit for you while your best friend may find success in a STEM occupation. 

If you want to pursue a career that requires you to get an undergraduate degree in one of the subjects that falls under this category, you should certainly do that. If you will ultimately need a master's degree for your chosen occupation, you may have some flexibility regarding your undergraduate major. Choosing a liberal arts major will allow you to not only amass the soft skills that will follow you through graduate school and your future career, but it will also expose you to a knowledge in a wide range of subjects.

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