What’s a Liberal Arts Degree Worth? – Your Guide to Both the Brass Tacks and Intangible Value of a Degree in Liberal Studies

Optimistic graduates with diplomas on graduation day

It’s about time to disabuse yourself of the notion that a liberal arts degree is reserved only for the dreamers, the idealists with pie-in-the-sky, head-in-the-clouds romantic philosophies.

Sure, a liberal arts degree is still the preferred degree for the poets, artists, and philosophers of the world, but today’s liberal arts degrees are also the springboard for some of the most in-demand, top-paying professions around.

“Is a liberal arts degree worth it?” This question gets a resounding “yes!” At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, it serves as a solid foundation on which to build careers in the humanities, the arts, and the sciences. It’s also a popular springboard for future study at the graduate level and for aspiring lawyers, economists, politicians, scientists, educators, and much, much more. A liberal arts degree will not only turn you in to a capable, worldly, creative critical thinker and global citizen, it will also give you access to amazing career opportunities and a good income.

The study of the liberal arts, of course, is nothing new. Since the Greco-Roman era, somewhere around 8 B.C., the liberal arts were used as a foundation for higher education and viewed as necessary for all free citizens. Over time, the liberal arts grew from grammar, logic, and rhetoric to arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy, and by medieval times, the liberal arts were used to prepare students to study more advanced areas like theology and philosophy.

Today’s liberal arts degrees still uphold the tradition of producing well-rounded, broad-minded thinkers, complex problem-solvers, and deft communicators who are able to dictate the direction of their careers. Liberal arts graduates easily adapt and excel in the dynamic, challenging, constantly changing real world and are armed with the skillset that’s sought by employers, valued in society, and vital for long-term success.

A liberal arts degree makes you both career-ready and life-ready. Here’s why:

Are Liberal Arts Colleges Worth It?

The value of a liberal arts degree lies both in its design and reach.

The Liberal Arts Reach: The Value of a Comprehensive Worldview

Liberal arts degrees allow students to conduct a broad examination of multiple disciplines and the points at which they intersect and overlap. Unlike many degree programs that are narrowly focused on a singular subject, liberal arts degrees enjoy a much broader reach, thereby producing graduates with a comprehensive worldview and an interdisciplinary skillset.

For example, if you want to study journalism, you may choose a degree in journalism; if you want to study economics, you may choose an economics degree, and so on. While this course of study will provide you with the skills needed to enter the profession, its highly focused nature may limit your career opportunities and pigeonhole your future endeavors.

A liberal arts degree, on the other hand, will prepare the aspiring journalist or economist for all future scholarly or professional endeavors through a well-rounded foundation of knowledge in the natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities and focused courses in their chosen area of study.

The broad reach of a liberal arts degree produces graduates who serve as valuable contributors to society and to a wide range of professions. Can’t get much more valuable than that.

The Liberal Arts Design: The Value of Soft Skills

“The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

Liberal arts degrees are also valuable in how they’re designed. While many degrees place an emphasis on the vocational nature of a job – the hard skills, the nuts and bolts of how to perform a job, liberal arts degrees, on the other hand, find more value in arming students with skills that make them worldly, persuasive, flexible, and creative.

Critical thinking, collaboration, oral and written communication, problem-solving, conflict-resolution, teamwork, and more – they’re part of a broad set of essential “soft” skills that produce professionals who make outstanding communicators, team players, and collaborators. There’s great value in soft skills today, whether you’re a psychologist, anthropologist, educator, or lawyer.

Soft skills are harder to measure but critical to success. Imagine an engineer who is highly talented and adept at the technical aspects of her job but is lacking in those skills that make her a valuable member of the engineering team. Poor communication, rigid and dogmatic thinking, and an inability to be flexible and incorporate feedback may lead to problems that no amount of engineering can fix.

Similarly, a human resources specialist may come with the technical skills and understanding of employment law, but if he lacks the interpersonal skills to connect with employees and collaborate with other members of the HR team, his value plummets.

Same goes for today’s lawyers. It may be necessary to graduate from law school and pass the bar, but success in the field extends well beyond just a rote understanding of law. An undergraduate liberal arts degree, with a concentration in political science, economics, pre-law, or government studies will not only prepare you for law school but will also help turn you into an attorney who is unwaveringly dependable, flexible enough to bob and weave with whatever comes your way, not to mention making you an outstanding orator – arguably, all skills that are at least as important as mastering law.

The kind of experience you get in a liberal arts program make you adaptable to new and different environments, resilient and inventive. Consider this: A 2019 LinkedIn Global Talents Trends report revealed that 89 percent of all recruiters pointed to a lack of soft skills when a new hire doesn’t work out.

Further, a survey by Monster entitled, The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook revealed that the most-in demand skills sought out by employers include:

There’s no how-to guide to navigate today’s increasingly diverse and complicated world. We are global learners, active collaborators and communicators with colleagues across town and across the world. Technology is advancing in leaps and bounds, and what is relevant today is obsolete tomorrow. Technical skills and know-how are always important, but those immeasurable, hard-to-quantify soft skills are simply invaluable tools for today’s world.

What is the Value of a Liberal Arts Degree in Terms of Return on Investment (ROI)?

Today’s college students can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to how they spend their tuition dollars. Crushing levels of student debt and degrees that don’t translate into strong careers with equally strong paychecks are real and sobering issues faced by post-secondary students. How real? Well, as of 2021, there were 43.2 million student borrowers with an average student loan debt of $39,351.

Investing in your education is never a bad idea, provided it gives you a solid return. Learning for the sake of learning just isn’t realistic or feasible for most students, so ROI must always be considered.

Liberal arts degrees work hard to deliver in terms of both opportunity and compensation:

In terms of tangible economic value – those real dollars and cents, liberal arts degrees pay off. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, over the course of a 40-year career, the median ROI from a liberal arts degree is $918,000. At the 75th percentile, the median ROI for liberal arts colleges jumps to $1.05 million. That sums it up pretty clearly. In brass tacks dollars and cents, a liberal arts degree is most definitely worth it.