What Does Liberal Arts Mean?

Explore some of the pros and cons of a liberal arts major, and whether it’s the right fit for you!  

Student Contributor, Jasmin Kaur

March 16, 2022

What Does Liberal Arts Mean?
What exactly are the liberal arts, and should you major in them?
I must admit, I am slightly biased towards the liberal arts. After all, I do attend an institution dedicated to a humanities education, and I am an English major… as well as history. Many students often find themselves asking at least one of three questions about the liberal arts: what does it mean, should I major in the it, and how does it still exist in this ever-changing world of technology and science? Below, I’m going to help you navigate through these questions, and let you decide whether the liberal arts is the right fit for you!

What is Liberal Arts?

Before we can delve into some of the pros or cons of majoring in the liberal arts, it’s crucial to understand what the study entails. Strictly defined, the liberal arts is an education involving foremost the humanities, but also the physical and social sciences, and mathematics.
In other words, it is an expansive area of study that seeks to cultivate analytical and ethical skills (hence an emphasis on soft skills), rather than the technical skills (or hard skills) that accompany other areas of studies such as biology or business. Combining the wide range of topics is meant to create an adaptable individual who can apply their knowledge in a variety of roles. And with this adaptability comes the enduring nature of the liberal arts. While exciting advances in medicine and technology attract hundreds of thousands of students each year to major in fields such as biochemistry and engineering or began a pre-med track, the liberal arts persist. Although perhaps not specializing in DNA analysis or organic chemistry, the liberal arts student undergoes an education that fosters a wide spectrum of knowledge. From core classes in philosophy, history, literature, mathematics, and the sciences, the liberal arts student becomes acquainted with analyzing conflicts from a variety of perspectives: taking in the political and the social, considering the rational and the emotional.

Liberal Arts Majors and Salaries

A few majors included in liberal arts are: • History • English • Philosophy • Psychology • Sociology • Foreign languages • Linguistics • Anthropology • Drama • Economics • Fine arts • Music The opportunities are endless! These majors help foster research and critical analysis skills that prepare you to take on the problems of the real world. From the mathematics of the violin to perceiving human dynamics in literature, by cultivating skills that emphasize versatility in thought and the capacity to adapt and shift, the liberal arts prepare you for a diverse workplace.
Nonetheless, despite its emphasis on developing analytical and communication skills, there are some drawbacks to pursuing a this major. On average, liberal arts majors earn less than their STEM counterparts. For instance, a petroleum engineering graduate earns nearly $95,000 within the first five years after graduating, while an English major makes about $61,000. Additionally, the unemployment rate for liberal arts, at about 6.4%, is slightly higher than the average of 4.2%. But it’s not all hopeless. According to a 2020 study by Georgetown University, the 40-year return on investment in attending a liberal arts college was 25% than the ROI of the average university; that's more than $200,000! In addition, over time, the salaries of both STEM and humanities majors eventually meet up, with the latter surpassing the former many times. The key to excelling in a liberal arts major is doing what you have been (or will be) for four years: broadening your mindset. There is no fixed route for the liberal arts student, instead, the key is marketing the right skills to the right organization, emphasizing how your experiences meet their expectations. Tech startups in Silicon Valley are beginning to realize the value of employees who not merely resolve a solution but do so in creative and innovative ways. Top corporate companies are increasingly seeking out liberal art majors to counteract specialized skills that make it difficult to resolve conflicts in a growth mindset. According to Rob Sentz, an innovation officer at a data company called Emsi, “people coming from a liberal arts program…are appealing because they are already good thinkers, and can be trained vertically on say, social media or programming,” indicating that many employers are starting to emphasize critical thinking and social skills that allow employees to connect with consumers. In pursuing the liberal arts, you’re pursuing a path that leads to multiple doors!

Top Liberal Arts Colleges

Ready to study Aristotle’s Metaphysics or discuss Virgil’s guiding capacities in Dante’s Commedia? Below are the top liberal arts colleges in the United States, according to USN: 1. Williams College 2. Amherst College 3. Swarthmore College 4. Pomona College 5. Wellesley College 6. Bowdoin College 7. United States Naval Academy 8. Claremont McKenna College 9. Middlebury College 10. Harvey Mudd College As the student becomes an employee, the desire to continue this innate curiosity translates into an unparalleled work ethic that goes beyond simply fulfilling the tasks at hand. Instead, they develop innovative solutions that resolve future issues before they arise. By learning for the sake of learning, the liberal arts create an individual not merely prepared to work, but one that appreciates the finer details of life.

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