In Defense of the Liberal Arts

The perfect storm of rising college costs and the continuing crisis in the economy has once again called into question the worth of a liberal arts degree. At first glance, this seems to be a valid response. Unlike degrees that prepare students for a specific career path after college, the liberal arts, which include the study of literature, mathematics, and the sciences, focus more on developing critical thinking skills. This lack of specific job training often causes critics to raise the question, “What are you going to do with a philosophy (or history or geology) degree anyway?”

Despite these detractors’ assertions, the liberal arts actually offer students skills that will help them in life as well as their careers. Liberal arts programs emphasize writing, problem solving, and exploration, thus teaching students how to learn and not just what to learn. Rather than restricting them to a specific career path, a degree in the liberal arts gives students the knowledge and experience necessary to deal with a variety of issues and situations.

Given these factors, it isn’t surprising that the employers and graduate programs welcome students who majored in the liberal arts. In a 2007 Newsweek article, Gail Morrison, the admissions counselor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, noted that approximately 40 percent of the students accepted into the medical school came from non-science backgrounds. The reason? According to Morrison, “It doesn’t make you a better doctor to know how fast a mass falls from a tree… [Medical students have] got to be happy and have a life outside of medicine… We need whole people.”

In Avenue Q, a musical look at life after college, a character asks “What do you do with a B.A. in English?” If you have similar questions regarding what you can do with a liberal arts degree, don’t let the skeptics scare you from pursuing your interests in college. The liberal arts can lead to many different job opportunities, from journalism to teaching to banking to campaign work. I have gotten a lot of mileage from my B.A. in English literature, and my background has been very valuable during my work as a master’s student, a high school English teacher, a doctoral student, a college planning advisor, and a teaching fellow for undergraduate and graduate students. In short, do a little research at some of the following sites and see just where the liberal arts can take you.

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