In recent years, many experts have questioned the value of a liberal arts degree, arguing that the programs do not lead to lucrative job opportunities or prepare students for career success. Liberal arts majors have an unfair reputation as starving artists or low-level workers in unskilled trades who regret investing time and money in their college studies.
Despite the critics, the fact is that a liberal arts degree is actually a practical and worthwhile pursuit. Research indicates that liberal arts graduates are not only career ready, but they thrive after graduation, earning more over the course of their careers than those who graduate from engineering, technology, and business and management schools. Because the liberal arts prepare students for a wide variety of career opportunities in different fields and not a specific occupation, they have greater potential for advancement in a satisfying and fulfilling career.
Defining the Liberal Arts
Before discussing the value of a liberal arts degree, let’s discuss what the field is—and is not.
Essentially, the liberal arts refer to the study of a wide variety of subjects. In many ways, it is a classical education, incorporating literature, fine arts, philosophy, science, and math (and subspecialties within those fields) to produce well-rounded scholars. The emphasis in a liberal arts program isn’t the development of a subject-specific skill set; it’s on fostering the ability to analyze and synthesize information and become articulate and creative leaders and problem-solvers.
For example, while nursing students learn skills that prepare them to work in healthcare settings, someone who majors in philosophy is not likely to become a philosopher. The critical thinking, analysis, and communication skills they develop through their philosophy studies can prepare them for careers in education, communications, journalism, and more. A liberal arts degree is flexible and gives graduates skills that apply to almost any environment.
The Advantages of Soft Skills
In a recent study, a majority of employers said that most workers lack the skills they need for career success. Although this includes the technical knowledge necessary to do their jobs, employers are more concerned about the gap in soft skills.
Soft skills refer to your ability to work with others. They are innate personality traits that develop over time. Unlike hard skills, such as using a particular piece of equipment or performing a task, soft skills aren’t job-specific and apply across all fields.
Although soft skills are critical to your career success, they are not quantifiable and not always teachable; they develop over time with experience. Liberal arts majors have the advantage of classroom experience that emphasizes soft skill development through research, analysis, debate, and discussion, so they start their careers with the skills employers seek.
Some of the skills that a liberal arts degree emphasizes include:
- Oral and written communication
- Critical thinking
- Analytical reasoning
These competencies are always in demand. And unlike some of the hard skills required in technical fields like computing and healthcare, soft skills never become obsolete or outdated. Employers will always look for individuals with the ability to communicate effectively and articulately and make well-thought-out decisions.
Soft skills will only advance and improve over time. You cannot lose them, and as you encounter different environments and situations, you learn new approaches to working with varied perspectives. Your liberal arts education is the first step on this path.
For many college students, the value of a liberal arts degree lies in its flexibility. Liberal arts majors can pursue careers in a wide range of industries, and it’s common for individuals to shift gears and work within multiple fields throughout their careers.
Liberal arts studies prepare graduates for careers in many fields, including:
- Human Resources
- Public Relations
- Graphic Design
- Healthcare Administration
- Social Services
- Project Management
- Arts Management
- Nonprofit Management
- Data Analysis
Ultimately, most employers look at a job candidate’s overall skill set rather than their specific major. Demonstrated critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills often take precedence over the focus and content of your college coursework.
Earning Potential and Career Security for Liberal Arts Graduates
Some college students shy away from pursuing a liberal arts degree out of concern for their future earning potential, questioning whether they’ll ever earn enough to make their investment in a degree pay off. As mentioned, liberal arts majors can eventually earn more than their counterparts in vocationally-focused majors. They might earn less in the early stages of their careers, but as they move up the ladder and into leadership roles, liberal arts majors usually see significant salary increases.
The soft skills associated with a liberal arts degree also support better career security and increase the value of a liberal arts degree. The flexibility of these degrees allows for more agility in response to changes in the job market; in other words, you have more prospects and opportunities thanks to your range of skills. You also face fewer risks from shifts toward automation since technology cannot replicate your interpersonal skills.
Success Tips for Liberal Arts Students
To set yourself up for success with a liberal arts degree, think about your career path from the start of your college experience, and seek opportunities where you can build your soft skills. These might include:
- Identifying and working with mentors who can help uncover your interests and aptitudes and provide helpful insights.
- Getting involved with undergraduate research opportunities to gain research and analysis experience.
- Seeking relevant internships throughout college for real-world work experience.
- Working with career services counselors to clarify your goals and craft a resume that reflects your strengths.
A liberal arts degree can be the key to career advancement and success. Beyond increasing your subject-specific knowledge, your coursework and experiences in and outside the classroom will equip you with the critical skills that employers want. Check out LiberalArtsEDU.org to learn more about the value of a liberal arts degree and the career options it can provide you.