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What are the Liberal Arts?

Liberal arts cover a range of disciplines, including sociology, psychology, economics, literature, natural and physical sciences, political science, and many more. Middlebury College, in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, offers a choice from more than 45 departments and programs.  Many of the college liberal arts programs have curricula grounded in humanities, arts, natural sciences, and social sciences. Pomona College is another example of a school with numerous majors and minors from which to choose. Their list exceeds 47 departments and programs.

Liberal arts programs allow academic diversity. Its purpose is to expose students to an array of subjects, some of which are mandatory. The Liberal Arts B.A. at Carleton College has requirements in writing, international studies, a second language, and quantitative reasoning. In addition to the latter, you study algorithms, statistical analysis, and logic. The writing requirement encourages students to create concise, coherent, and compelling reports.

Carleton students do not choose a major until their sophomore year from a list of 33. The choices include African/American Studies, cognitive science, computer science, English, mathematics, philosophy, religion, and more. Therefore, there are bachelor’s degrees in general liberal arts, and within a particular subject (major) within the liberal arts program. The degrees are available as either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science.

Founded by Catholic nonprofessionals, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire, only has one program. Since 1978, the school teaches men and women to live according to religious values. Their one program in liberal arts has produced teachers, artists, lawyers, business executives, and computer analysts. Their curriculum offers you to branch into philosophy, humanities, mathematics, theology, or classical languages.

Thomas More College believes the value of preparing students for life through a liberal arts program exceeds the need to create graduates versed in only one discipline.

The merit of the liberal arts program is in the emphasis on written and oral communication, reasoning, analytical skills, and critical thinking. How important are these areas?

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), in 2008, surveyed 301 employers to see which skills college graduates lack.

73% of employers see colleges and universities as deficient in emphasizing communication (written and oral) and critical thinking/analytical reasoning.

A significant perception by employers is that brief digital messages result in poor communication. The inability to converse in a workplace setting with a team or a job interview is evident. The deficiency in communication skills extends to ineffective written reports.

Another study concludes that liberal arts education may prepare graduates for employment than their counterparts in career-specific disciplines, such as engineering and accounting. In a 2013 survey of 815 employers by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) at the University of Michigan found that A&S (Arts & Science) graduates scored high in the category of work attitude and behavior.

A further statistic in this report illustrated that liberal arts (A&S) graduates rated better than non-A&S students in oral and written communication!

Regarding the overall positive impressions of students entering the workplace, non-profit and educational organizations view A&S graduates more favorably. In contrast, for-profit companies and governmental agencies see A&S graduates as more prepared to join the workforce. The latter could be due to the higher percentage of technically skilled personnel in for-profit corporations. The report also concluded that the more technical the position, the higher the employer’s expectations are for new hires.

Some respondents to the CERI survey did undermine the value of the liberal arts degree. There were few criticisms to the curricula. The thrust of the critical comments was that the A&S students did not receive sufficient courses in business, technology, or engineering. In order to appease the minor negativity, it would be prudent to include a business, accounting, science, or finance class in your study plan. Some respondents suggested adding economics and computer programming to liberal arts courses.

Employers observed the A&S students lacked career direction. Graduates in engineering or economics or IT usually have a definitive career in mind. Due to the various classes and, perhaps, dual majors, the liberal arts student has less of a link from college life to work environment. The absence of focus on where you see yourself in five or ten years can be detrimental in a job interview.

Therefore, job seekers from bachelor’s degrees must be able to express why they took certain classes and how these translate to the prospective place of work. How you prepare for interview questions is the key to boosting the value of your degree. Other elements are summer jobs, internships, extra-curricular activities, membership in associations, and any leadership roles. Emphasize why you think the involvement in these examples makes you a better candidate for hire.

Additional Resources: 

Top 15 Liberal Arts Schools in America

What Degree Programs Can I Major in at a Liberal Arts School?

What Jobs Can I Get With a Liberal Arts Degree?

What Can I Do With a Liberal Arts Degree?