what is a liberal arts education

When you’re comparing colleges as a prospective student, consider what kind of school is right for you and what kind of education you want. Liberal arts colleges provide students with a broad education that combines numerous subjects of study in the arts, natural and social sciences, and humanities for the purpose of learning how to think and communicate. Rather than preparing students for a single career path, a liberal arts education equips students with the skills and knowledge they need to be better learners, thinkers, and global citizens.

A Liberal Arts Curriculum

At a liberal arts college, you will study a variety of subjects in the arts, humanities, and natural and social sciences. Students in liberal arts colleges may study several of the creative arts. Courses in fine art, music, theatre, and creative writing are common. The humanities refer to subjects that study the human condition and culture. In liberal arts programs, students often take humanities courses such as history, classical or modern foreign languages, philosophy, English literature, and theology. Social sciences, too, hold an important place in a liberal arts curriculum. Expect to study subjects like sociology, geography, anthropology, political science, and economics during your liberal arts education.

You might not be able to tell by the name, but mathematics and science are crucial subjects of study in a well-rounded liberal arts education. Courses like biology, physics, and chemistry are common in a liberal arts curriculum. Students typically have to take a minimum of one college-level math class during their academic careers, with options ranging from statistics to algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.

The Jobs of Tomorrow

Most people have a moment when they’re young where they think, When I grow up, I’m going to be a ____ and they fill in the blank with whatever career appeals to them at that moment. While it’s nice to dream about the jobs we might hold tomorrow, the truth is most people don’t actually know what the jobs of tomorrow will be. According to Southwestern University, this statement isn’t hyperbole. Around 65% of students today will be in jobs in the future that don’t exist today. Even more unsettling is the fact that 40% of the jobs that currently exist won’t exist in the future. They’ll become obsolete.

It begs the question, then, how are students expected to prepare for this eventuality? Won’t this reality make college degrees useless? No, that isn’t the case. The people who are best suited for these jobs are those who studied the liberal arts.

Here’s why. A liberal arts education teaches students how to think and to solve problems. Think about it this way. One plus one always equals two. Unfortunately, problems fill the world that don’t fit into neat mathematical equations. More than one correct answer to a problem often exists. Some problems also require more than one solution in order for them to be solved effectively. Those who know how to use their creative muscles usually solve those problems.

…It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing. – Steve Jobs

It isn’t that STEM career fields don’t have their place in the world. They definitely do. However, as even many in the STEM fields have begun to discover, the problems that cause problems in the STEM world are human problems. Technology by itself won’t solve those problems. Someone with an understanding of both STEM and the humanities has a better shot at it.

It stands to reason, then, that the jobs of the future will be held by people who know how to solve problems, maybe even problems that the modern workplace hasn’t experienced yet. The liberal arts students of today have put themselves in the position of being the workplace problem-solvers of tomorrow. They become the people working in the jobs of tomorrow.

Education Across the Disciplines

A liberal arts education equals an education that spans the disciplines. Many universities require their students to complete a certain number of classes in subjects that aren’t related to a student’s major. Schools often call these clusters of classes core or foundational classes. These include classes in literature, arts, sciences, mathematics and social sciences. These courses provide students with a foundational knowledge of the world and its history.

These classes introduce students to subjects they may not encounter otherwise. Sometimes, these courses even influence a student’s decision when it comes time to pick a major. A class that introduces students to the study of art, biology, or field archaeology may become the stepping stone to a whole career down the road. Given that many students enter college with no particular major in mind, it really is possible for a seemingly random class to change a student’s whole career outlook. Often that’s how people encounter their dream careers: by accident.

Aside from this, these classes help students understand how one discipline affects another. For example, in a foundational geology course, students may learn that in 1815, a volcano erupted in Indonesia. According to Forbes, the effects of the 1815 volcano were such that it changed the weather around the world, including in Europe in 1816. That year also happened to be the year that Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein.” Shelley’s book was partly influenced by the dark and stormy weather that the volcanic eruption caused. In fact, people called 1816 “the year without summer” because the volcanic ash caused terrible weather.

Growing crops was impossible in 1816. People starved. They moved across the European landscape in search of food, much the way the creature in “Frankenstein” did. His appearance is said to be inspired by those climate refugees. Out of this devastation came one of the most beloved pieces of literature the world has ever known.

A liberal arts education exposes students to facts like this. It allows them to see how seemingly unrelated events affect the world. This exposure gives rise to newer, broader ways of thinking. As “Frankenstein” proves, a situation that occurs halfway around the world from someone can have profound effects on localities half a globe away. The study of liberal arts teaches students about these events. It also forces them to examine how they might deal with such an event, which broadens their creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

What Does a Liberal Arts Education Teach You?

A Component of STEAM

Many people who work in technology have begun to understand that not everyone wants a career in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, or math). However, that doesn’t mean that liberal arts majors and STEM majors need to be at cross-purposes with each other. On the contrary, each discipline has something to offer its counterpart.

The addition of the “A” and the “R” to STEM brings both the arts and reading and writing into the STEM curriculum. Truth be told, many students in the liberal arts use technology every day to do their work. On the flip side, those who embrace STEM fields see the shortfall that only concentrating on STEM causes.

Very often, STEM problems aren’t due to technical issues per se. Instead, they arise because humans run technology. They encounter ethical issues. They realize that the digital divide keeps some people from accessing technology in a way that is meaningful. STEM training alone doesn’t solve these issues. Knowledge of the human condition and ethics often does. For example, a student who studied philosophy may go on to have a career in health administration or law, according to the University of Maryland because these career fields require people to have an understanding of ethics and the humanities.

That being said, a person who has studied philosophy, one of the many liberal arts majors available to students, is in a unique position to move into a tech career. This is due in part to the fact that this particular liberal arts degree requires students to study logic. It also taps into how the brain works and how people think. That being said, modern computer scientists often try to replicate how the human brain thinks, something that liberal arts majors must think about a lot. This puts many liberal arts majors (and not just philosophy majors) in the running for some very cool, very lucrative careers.

Career Options for Liberal Arts Majors

Many people mistakenly believe that a liberal arts education is the easy way to a degree. Nothing could be further from the truth. A liberal arts education requires students to adhere to rigorous standards of inquiry, to develop problem-solving skills, and to expend a large dose of commitment in order to achieve their educational goals.

A liberal education also prepares students for a number of careers that may not seem to be related on the surface. However, due to the broad nature of these types of degrees and due to the transferable skills they teach students, a liberal arts degree can actually translate into very lucrative job options.

What Does a Liberal Arts Education Teach You - JournalismSome liberal arts students parlay their ability to write, a skill they honed during their college days, to become writers. Many turn to careers in journalism or public relations. Others combine their love of technical subjects and writing to become technical writers. Depending on the job they do and the number of years of experience they bring to the table, these former liberal arts majors earn between $61,000 and $70,000 a year.

Others turn their love of promotion into a lucrative career in the field of marketing. Possible jobs include marketing director, SEO writer, advertising designer, or art director. These professionals earn between $100,000 and $131,000 per year, according to Maryville University.

The field of education also proves to be a popular option among liberal arts graduates. Typically, these graduates choose a major, like art or biology, and then they tack on classes in education. If these students earn a bachelor’s degree, they become elementary or high school teachers. If they earn advanced degrees, like a master’s or doctorate, they qualify for teaching positions at the university level.

Given how much liberal arts students must read and write during the course of their studies, it’s no wonder that many of them become excellent researchers in the process. This skill qualifies them to become research analysts. Big companies hire researchers when they need to make decisions about rolling out new products services or if they want to move into new markets. Research analysts make almost $80,000 a year on average.

What Does a Liberal Arts Education Teach You - TranslatorTranslators and interpreters usually come to the ranks of former liberal arts majors. People who major in world languages put themselves in a position to translate documents, books, TV shows, and movies or to interpret proceedings at conferences, business meetings, and in court. U.S. News & World Report name translation and interpretation as the #1 jobs on the news site’s Best Creative and Media Jobs list.

People who speak Spanish, Chinese, German, Portuguese, and Russian have especially lucrative futures ahead of them. Demand for those who have these skills is expected to increase by almost 20% through the year 2028. On average, translators and interpreters make about $50,000 per year, though the best paid among them make $67,000 a year and above.

An Education for the Sake of Learning

At a liberal arts college, the main goal is education itself, more so than job training, according to  The Hechinger Report. Instead of focusing mainly on learning specific technical skills that can become outdated very quickly thanks to changes in technology and the economy, a liberal arts education teaches students to think, learn, and communicate. That doesn’t mean a liberal arts education is useless for getting a job. A liberal arts curriculum includes plenty of reading, critical thinking, and work involving written and spoken communication. This makes for great preparation for graduate school in subjects such as business, engineering, law, and even medicine.

The education path also allows students a chance to cultivate versatile skills that employers in all fields prize, like teamwork, communication, and analytical skills, CBS News reported. Liberal arts students become good at thinking critically, seeing the big picture, working with a team, and communicating well. Between these skills and their solid educational background in many subjects, liberal arts students have a strong foundation that allows them to fit into a wide variety of careers.

A liberal arts education is a great choice for students who love to learn and want to develop abilities that make them better students, more insightful employees, and more enlightened citizens.

Related Resources:

20 Affordable Master’s in Journalism Online Programs

Top 30 Most Affordable Master’s in Reading Online Programs

Top 10 Highest Paying Jobs For Liberal Arts Majors