Skills like critical thinking and clear communication are among the most versatile abilities you could offer a potential employer. One way to develop these skills quickly is through an associate’s degree in general education or liberal arts – programs that happen to be among the fastest online associate’s degrees. An associate’s degree in general education and liberal arts emphasizes the development of broad skills over acquiring narrow vocational knowledge and is especially effective at preparing students to be the strong critical thinkers and writers that today’s employers in a wealth of industries are seeking.
A Focus on Skills, Not Technical Knowledge
What are employers really looking for in job candidates? Survey data shows that employers across numerous industries are consistently ranking critical thinking and communication skills above technical aptitude, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s good news for liberal arts majors, because these programs that incorporate studies in a breadth of different, diverse academic disciplines focus on cultivating core skills that include research, analysis and writing, the BLS reported.
In college programs that are technical in nature, you’re learning measurable technical information and skills – but as technologies and industry practices evolve, you will need to keep learning to keep pace with the changes. In some ways, that’s just what a liberal arts degree teaches students: how to learn. A liberal arts curriculum teaches students how to think critically about information presented to them, how to ask insightful and pertinent questions, and how to analyze not only data but the agenda of data sources. Through their coursework in different disciplines, students learn how to find further information, how to make connections between disciplines and how to solve problems.
Learning broad skills like critical thinking and technical skills in science, math and technology aren’t mutually exclusive. Taking some coursework in technical subjects, as well as liberal arts studies, can expand your job prospects, the BLS reported.
An Integrated Curriculum That Encourages Critical Thinking
How closely does a degree program based in the liberal arts connect with the skill of thinking critically? The term “liberal” in “liberal arts” means to liberate, or free, the mind, according to the American Association of University Professors. This freeing of the mind, and of preconceived notions and expectations, is crucial for facilitating truly critical thinking.
In liberal arts programs, you may find specific courses devoted to critical thinking that you wouldn’t find in other programs of study. Introductory coursework in critical thinking may cover topics like fallacies and thinking errors, ethical thought processes and the application of critical thinking skills to real-world scenarios you might encounter in different careers. Even if your degree program doesn’t include a class on critical thinking, it will certainly include other courses in philosophy and logical thinking that address how and why people think and reason the way they do.
Yet the focus of a liberal arts degree program on sharpening your critical thinking skills extends beyond one course or one discipline of study. Liberal arts programs are interdisciplinary programs by nature, integrating studies in different areas of the humanities and sciences into one diverse curriculum. Instead of developing tunnel vision by focusing on a single area of study, students have the opportunity to make connections across disciplines. These connections can only be forged by thinking critically with a liberated mind and by analyzing similarities and differences between the methods, perceptions and areas of focus found in different academic disciplines. It isn’t only the individual courses found in a liberal arts program that encourage critical thinking, but the structure of the program as a whole.
Where does critical thinking factor into real-world careers? You use critical when solving problems in business, research or healthcare and when persuading people to buy a product, donate money to a cause or vote for a politician.
An Emphasis on Writing and Communication
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Coursework in basic composition is a general education requirement for just about all undergraduate college students, regardless of their major, so you may think that a liberal arts curriculum isn’t that valuable in improving your writing and communication skills. While it’s important that college graduates in all fields are able to express themselves clearly in writing, these introductory composition courses often focus primarily on writing essays, with some work in reading comprehension and evaluation of research sources mixed in. The coursework in the best liberal arts degree programs goes further in developing your communication skills. For example, programs that emphasize inquiry methods and processes – ways of asking questions and searching for answers – and of communicating the insights learned through these processes can be valuable in preparing students for analytical career roles, according to Forbes.
Part of how students of the liberal arts become skilled communicators is through that emphasis on critical thinking and analysis. Communication requires more than being able to write well. It means being able to read – literally, in terms of responding to written arguments and prompts, and figuratively, in terms of understanding who your audience is and what drives its behavior – and to tailor your response to the audience and purpose for which you are writing. Students in a liberal arts curriculum practice these reading and writing skills in every assignment that requires them to think critically, from defending their interpretations of literary works to explaining the conclusions that can be drawn from research in economics, politics and the social and natural sciences.
Some liberal arts degrees emphasize communication skills more than others, with a focus on writing or communications. Coursework in these programs may include creative writing, journalism, technical writing, screenwriting and mass communication.