Benefits and Limitations of a Liberal Arts Degree
Are they worth it?
Humanities and liberal arts degrees are widely disparaged as useless for future jobs, it's said they're costly, and not worth your money in the long run.
In this post, I want to share a few reasons why liberal arts degrees might still be worth your while, what's in store for you if you're considering switching majors to a liberal arts major, and pitfalls that might befall you if you choose to go down this route!
The post covers:
- What is a Liberal Arts Degree?
- Benefits of a Liberal Arts Degree
- Limitations of a Liberal Arts Degree
- Liberal Arts Degrees worth Considering
- Careers Liberal Arts Majors End up With
What is a Liberal Arts Degree?
The terms 'humanities' and 'liberal arts'are usually used interchangeably to describe degree programs that use interpretive methodologies in the study of the 'human condition'.
In other words, these degrees study what it means to be a human, the history of humankind, what it means to live a good life, and how humans can learn to get along together for the good of us all.
You won't be learning specific technical skills that will point you towards one job at the end. Rather, you'll learn a wide range of important skills and information that will set you up for a range of possible career paths beyond university.
The Benefits of a Liberal Arts Degree
1. You can usually choose your own degree structure. Most (but not all) liberal arts degrees are not cohort-based. This means that you're not tied into following a set route of classes in order to graduate. Instead, you might be forced into taking a minimum number of mathematics, and literacy-based modules, but overall you can pick and choose which courses you elect to take. It's a choose-your-own-adventure!
2. You will learn critical thinking skills.Humanities courses are designed to teach you how to think, as much as what to think. They should give you the tools to think logically, laterally, critically, and insightfully.
While you might be examining themes in a classic novel in your class, the lenses with which you're asked to critique the novel have broad applicability in real life.
You will learn to apply a theoretical lens like Feminism to examine a situation, view things from the perspectives of various different stakeholders, and game-play the various possible eventualities of a decision you make.
Understandably, these are amazing skills that will be invaluable for the rest of your life. For example, you'll be able to apply them to prevent your firm from making dramatic mistakes that might have negative legal, or ethical implications in the long run!
3. Your degree is statistically likely to pay for itself. While humanities degree graduates do earn lower wages than STEM degree graduates, they still nonetheless earn more than non-degree holders.
And just to challenge the cliche claims, Philosophy graduates are the highest earning liberal arts graduates!
4. You won't lock yourself into a career just yet. Most of my friends who took liberal arts degrees used their undergraduate time to explore a range of different options. They dabbled in different courses to get a better sense of what they enjoy. Then, after their undergraduate degree they did 18-month or two-year Masters degrees that were specialized for a specific career.
The Limitations of a Liberal Arts Degree
- You'd earn more from a STEM Degree. CNBC's 2018 report of the top 10 highest earning college majors is awash with engineering, mathematics and science programs. In fact, there are no liberal arts majors in the entire list of top 10 degrees with high earning potential!
- You won't be trained for a specific trade. While you will get an excellent grounding in philosophical, critical and lateral thinking (you'll be really smart!), your other friends might graduate with skills directly valuable for specific jobs. This is why many people will go on to do a specialist Masters degree once they've completed their liberal arts undergraduate program.
- They can be hard for People who are Goal-Oriented Learners. Liberal arts degrees are great for people who are wanting to dip their toes in a range of different ideas and subject areas. They're also incredibly valuable for people who love learning for the sake of learning. However, if you want a degree that are obviously valuable for completing tangible tasks, you might want to try a more practical degree instead.
- They are still very Expensive. Like all university-level programs, you'll be paying through the nose. You would be looking at somewhere between US$5000 and $50,000 per year for an average degree in the United States. If your degree is 4 years long, that's going to add up! It's not much cheaper elsewhere, where you'd expect to pay £9,000 per year in the UK.
Liberal Arts Degrees worth Considering
Here are some examples of subjects or majors you might choose in a liberal arts degree:
- Philosophy and Religion
- The Classics and Antiquity
- Languages and Linguistics
- Art and Music History
- Communication and Media Studies
- Cultural, Race and Gender Studies
Careers Liberal Arts Majors End up With
According to this BBC article, you'll likely end up in one of the following careers:
- Management (15 percent): 15 percent of humanities or liberal arts graduates find their way into management positions. In these positions, you'll be overseeing a team to ensure the smooth operation of your workplace.
- Office and Administration (14 percent): This is a very broad subset of people who could be in any number of firms across any major city around the world. But hey, it's good to know you'll have options!
- Sales (13 percent): This is a surprisingly high number, particularly because I don't tend to think sales roles require sophisticated degrees.
- Education (12 percent): Many people who study a liberal arts degree end up as teachers, passing on the wisdom learned through their degrees to the future generations.