Is a Liberal Arts Education All It's Cracked Up to Be?

Value of Liberal Arts in Question

According to a new poll by Clark University, 56% of emerging adults state that today’s job market does not value a liberal arts education. On the other hand, 44% believe that a liberal arts education can help no matter what your career choice will be.

These seem like conflicted results. The real question is, does it still make sense to spend a small fortune on a liberal arts degree?

Unfortunately, there is no black and white answer to that question as much depends on the individual student. If the type of work a student wants to do involves science or engineering, it makes sense to steer them to a respective major. Jobs in these fields typically require a technical degree.

If a student has no idea what they want to do (which is increasingly common) their default choice is typically a liberal arts degree. Their chances of success with such a degree increase dramatically if they have some sort of idea or plan of what they may do with it after graduation.  

What Are Liberal Arts Degrees Good For?

Is a liberal arts degree worth it anymore?

Is a liberal arts degree worth it anymore?

A liberal arts degree helps students gain and practice important types of soft skills. These are critically important, yet often under-rated skills, that include critical thinking, the ability to communicate effectively, and other social skills.

For example, the favorite assignment of every college student – the term paper and other writing assignments - aren’t just there to punish a student, or even make them learn about the topic they are writing about. Writing assignments are common because written communication is important! If a student can’t communicate well and convey their thoughts in a well laid out manner, they will struggle to succeed and progress in any profession.

Working in the IT field, I’ve hired a fair number of employees with liberal arts degrees. I find that even though technical skills are extremely important to the work we do, these types of skills can be taught on the job. It is much harder to teach soft skills. I need staff members who can work together in a group, and who can effectively communicate problems and proposals both through written and verbal communication.

Most professors advocate for liberal arts degrees by stating that the soft skills a liberal arts education provides are more likely to help a student develop a successful career over the long-term. Engineering grads may be able to find high-paying jobs right away, but if your sights are set on developing a career you love long-term, often liberal arts is the way to go. 

Making the Most of Your Investment

Okay – so your student wants to get a liberal arts degree. You’ve done your research and agree this is best for them. Now what? How do you make sure you make the most of your investment?

Put in the Work

Liberal Arts can be challenging for students and their parents because there is often no clear career path after graduation. This means the student has to put in extra time and effort into researching and preparing for jobs. This research should kick into high gear as they approach their senior year and need to decide if they should be applying to grad school, landing an internship, or producing resumes for a specific job field.

Get an Internship!

Internships are often key to teach those coveted technical skills a liberal-arts grad may otherwise possess. Internships also allow a student to test the waters of careers they are unsure about. Employers frequently state that internships are important when choosing a candidate, usually more so than GPA or brand name of the degree. 

Use Your Network

One of the best ways to get your foot in the door is to know someone who works at the company your student wants to work at. Personal references by far are the best way at getting into an organization. Students can't be shy about tapping into their network to land interviews.

Keep Debt Reasonable

Right out of the gate, students with a liberal arts degree will typically earn less than a graduate with a technical or science degree, so it’s important to try to keep debt as low as possible. Students should be encouraged to apply for scholarships whenever possible and take advantage of any special financing offers the school may present.

Although a liberal arts degree is sometimes looked down upon, graduates will still earn on average about $10,000 more per year than someone with only a high school diploma – according to a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.