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The Benefits of a Liberal Arts Degree

Wed, Oct 22, 2014 @ 12:21 PM

Benefits of Liberal Arts resized 600Liberal Arts Grads Have Skills Employers Are Seeking

Recently, the focus of the college search for many hasn’t been just finding the best-fit school for a student’s goals and interests – it’s also been about the outcomes that a college education in a specific major or at a particular institution can give students once they graduate. ROI has been a huge factor in college decisions lately, and that has been reflected in things like college rankings. This has left many liberal arts and humanities majors the punch line in a string of higher education jokes – but in the time of STEM and specialized majors, is a liberal arts degree really useless?

The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution recently released a report titled “Major Decisions: What Graduates Earn Over Their Lifetimes," in which they determined that “Majors that emphasize quantitative skills tend to have graduates with the highest lifetime earnings.” In this report, The Hamilton Project calculated how much holders of each degree could expect to earn over the course of their lifetime. The top nine degrees with the highest lifetime earnings were all in engineering fields, anywhere from $1.75 million to more than $2 million over a lifetime. These majors were followed closely by majors in technology, science, business, and political fields, all making over $1 million each over a lifetime. On the bottom end of the charts were various humanities and social sciences majors, including majors in English, social work, education, and theatre. A major in liberal arts will earn you just under a $1 million over the same period of time that a degree in engineering, which took the same amount of time to acquire, will earn you twice as much.  

In addition to this, the humanities world was also sent reeling after a report from Harvard revealed that, for the first time in the school’s history, more Harvard undergraduates majored in engineering and applied science fields than in the arts and humanities. This trend at one of the US most prestigious institutions signifies the death of the liberal arts and humanities, right? The short answer: No.  

While there is a demand for STEM right now, the liberal arts are still alive and well – and valued by employers. A recent study by a US staffing company listed the majors that make someone the most employable. Business topped the list, followed by engineering, accounting, nursing, computer science, and – surprise! – liberal arts and sciences.  

While it’s easy to get caught up in the hype, remember that there are always ebbs and flows to these trends. Before you discount a liberal arts major, consider some of the benefits of a liberal arts degree.  

You’ll develop a plethora of skills that employers love.

When you think of skill that will help you in the workforce, don’t overlook the vital skills you can gain from a liberal arts education. These skills include: analytical reasoning, critical thinking communication (both oral and written), critical reading, research, creativity, teamwork, decision-making, data analysis, and so many more.  

The president of DePauw University said it best: “when [employers] are asked to identify the characteristics of the people they want to hire, without fail they almost perfectly describe liberal-arts graduates. They want people who are creative, who can deal with complexity, who can think for themselves, work with other folks, which is exactly what these schools aim to do and do with remarkable success.”  

Liberal arts education makes you innovative.

A report by The Association of American Colleges and Universities found that employers are putting a high value on innovation when looking at perspective hires. It is understandable that in a time when all fields are becoming defined by their ability to create the next unique product or idea for the market, employers are looking for graduates who can provide that creative outlook they need to stay competitive.  

Employers seem to associate this innovation with liberal arts education as 80% of employers surveyed “agree that, regardless of their major, every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.”  

Liberal arts degrees can prepare you for an unsteady job market.

The skills liberal arts students gain while in school are applicable to a wide variety of fields. The liberal arts are, by nature, a general area of studies, which can prove to be beneficial in this job market. It is no longer unusual for people to hold multiple jobs that cover multiple fields over the duration of their lifetime.  

For students who are investing lots of their time and money in specialized fields that don’t have skill crossovers, they might be at a greater disadvantage than liberal arts students.  

It makes you a better teacher.

If you are not entering into an education-based field, you might be questioning why you need to be a good teacher. The ability to convey and exchange information is necessary for the job market as well as life in general. In its most basic form, teaching skills are communication skills. Building those interpersonal skills during college can help you advance in your chosen field and once you find yourself in a higher position, you’ll be happy you have the teaching skills to assist those around you.  

It prepares you for graduate school.

For students looking to pursue a master’s degree, you might want to look into liberal arts for your undergraduate education. Liberal arts skills prepare you for multiple areas of study in the same way that they prepare you for multiple job fields. Having a liberal arts background will give students the ability to learn across a diverse field of studies and give them a good foundation to go into any graduate study they choose.    

Just as it is important to make sure a college is the right fit for you, it is equally as important to make sure your major will take you where you want to go. Still, be sure to thoroughly research your majors and the fields they are most useful in before you reject any particular major. If you find that a liberal arts degree isn’t for you, look into schools with liberal arts-based core curriculums and general education requirements so that you can be exposed to a diverse curriculum even if it is only for a short-term period. Liberal arts students should not be discouraged by reports that negate the usefulness of their degrees but instead rest assured that so long as they are taking full advantage of the opportunities available to them, employers will see the value in their education.

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