College tuition is rising and fewer businesses are hiring, so you might be wondering if entering a liberal arts program is a wise decision. Wouldn’t it be better to get a professional or a vocational degree? Before you make a choice, you should know the differences between your options.
A professional or vocational degree program prepares you to work in a specific field, such as cosmetology, electrical work or nursing. Classes are tailored to your chosen profession and you don’t have to pay for courses that you might think are unnecessary. You’re almost guaranteed a job when you’re done, so if you need this kind of security, then this path is probably a good choice for you.
In contrast, a liberal arts program doesn’t necessarily prepare you for any specific job. So why choose this path? Because it gives you the skill sets that hiring managers desire in job candidates. You can major in anything from bugs (entomology) to people (sociology or psychology) to movies (film studies), so it offers enough variety to satisfy everyone. But for those who are still unsure, read on.
What is a “liberal arts” program?
First, it is important to remember that there is a difference between liberal arts colleges and liberal arts programs. Liberal arts colleges have smaller classes and lower student-to-teacher ratios as well as fewer professors to teach the courses. Larger universities have bigger classes and, in addition to teaching, professors are also expected to research, publish and attend conferences. Therefore, graduate students or lecturers often teach the lower-level classes.
A liberal arts program refers to a course of study. It contains numerous majors, including religious studies, molecular and cellular biology, Latin American studies, statistics, English, geography, finance, biology, foreign language, chemistry, international studies and more. Depending on your chosen major, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in about four years.
With all of these choices, you will also have different ways to navigate through school as you move through the program. A computer science major can go through the College of Engineering or the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Going through the College of Engineering requires fewer humanities and social science-type classes. Going through the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences requires more humanities type classes. While both offer different degrees and some different classes, both tracks are intended to make you a more well-rounded and knowledgeable citizen.
Why choose a liberal arts program?
While science and math majors rarely have to defend their degrees, those in the humanities are often asked, “What are you going to do with THAT degree?” Well, you can do a lot! Whether you major in English, Spanish or psychology, you will learn skills needed to look for careers as wide-ranging as technology, business, non-profit, global marketing, advertising, law enforcement, education and even investment banking.
Law enforcement agencies like the FBI and CIA always need agents who speak one or more foreign languages or know about other cultures, so majoring in Spanish or Chinese with a minor in international relations is sure to get you a foot in the door. Humanities and social science classes always put you on the road to success because they teach you how to think outside the box. Unlike the sciences, questions in the humanities have several answers. Therefore, you learn how to defend your answer using skills in research, logic, argumentation and communication. Moreover, humanities and social science classes teach you skills in problem solving, attention to detail and teamwork.
Liberal arts programs also prepare you for grad school. In fact, many Fortune 500 CEOs, doctors and lawyers have liberal arts degrees. Pre-med or pre-law students don’t necessarily have to major in biology or political science to get into a good graduate program. This is because law schools look for students who have good writing and good communication skills. Our nation’s growing diversity also means that medical programs are changing their curriculum and requiring students to be better prepared to work with a diverse population. In fact, many English departments are now offering a medical humanities track for pre-med students in addition to pre-law for those interested in that line of work.
If you and your parents want to see a more tangible outcome from the large financial investment you’re about to make in higher education, you should explore what the liberal arts have to offer. Then when you decide to major in Russian, you can tell your naysayers, “I can do just about anything I want to do with my degree!” In a world where 9:00 to 5:00 jobs are declining and younger workers are moving around more and more in their careers than their parents did, liberal arts programs offer students a broader set of skills for being successful in this changing world.