Krysten Godfrey Maddocks
July 30, 2018
Liberal arts is a term used to define a number of majors in higher education. For instance, a liberal arts education encompasses the fields of literature, mathematics, and social and physical sciences. Some popular majors include English, communication, history, psychology, and mathematics, to name a few. As a discipline, these subjects are intended to give you general knowledge rather than specific skills needed for a technical profession. Instead, the liberal arts sharpens your research, writing, and critical thinking skills to prepare you for a broad range of careers.
A liberal arts education does not describe a political affiliation, nor should it be confused with the fine arts, which includes the study of music, visual art or theater, for example. The concept of a liberal arts education and the meaning behind it actually has origins that date back to Ancient Greece.
In the 8th Century BC, the Greeks coined the term "liberal arts" to define those subjects or skills that were considered essential for a free person to participate in civic life, including public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries and most importantly, military service. The "artes liberales" or "liberal arts" included a different type of skill set in contrast to the mechanical arts. Grammar, logic and rhetoric made up the core liberal arts (the trivium), while arithmetic, geometry, the theory of music and astronomy made up the quadrivium. Liberal arts skills (liberal coming from the word, "liberalis," or "free," and "arts" from the word "ars," or "principled practice ") instead enabled individuals to function successfully as free citizens in society, according to an article in the Washington Post.
Pressure to compete for STEM-based careers continues to grow in a world increasingly supported by technology. Liberal studies emphasize enduring skills in an era where technology and automation will increasingly replace workers, according to Ruth Lahti, executive director of liberal arts and social sciences at Southern New Hampshire University.
Students who can demonstrate their creativity in areas like writing, communication, critical thinking and through collaboration will continue to be attractive to employers. There is a growing trend for experts in the "digital humanities," who can bring digital resources into their research, teaching and publishing to make scholarship more accessible to others, Lahti said.
In his new book, "You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a 'Useless' Liberal Arts Education," Forbes contributing editor George Anders writes that companies look for five key qualities in potential employees:
"It just seemed as if there was this tremendous disconnect between public rhetoric that said 'you've got to go the STEM route and there is no route but STEM,' and then all of these interesting new job openings that were coming up for people with liberal arts degrees," Anders said in a recent USA TODAY College story. "It was this hidden strength of the economy that nobody wanted to write about or talk about."
You can look forward to entering a number of careers in business, government, education and healthcare thanks to the transferable skills a liberal education provides. Below are some popular majors and careers paths you might consider exploring.
Communication - With a communication degree, you learn to interview subjects and hone key messages for your audiences. Coursework in public speaking and graphic design helps you come to work prepared to deliver presentations, create publications and reports, and convey messages through digital media.
English - English majors who specialize in English language and literature take courses in history, social science and literary theory and are prepared for jobs as writers, historians or museum curators. With a concentration in creative writing or journalism, you can focus on storytelling in nonfiction, news, fiction, screenwriting or poetry genres. This major also prepares you for jobs in journalism, public relations, film, theater and advertising, to name a few.
History - Understanding the past is key to helping organizations interpret significant historical events and prepare for the future. Drawing upon your strong research and analytical skills, you can work as a curator, historical interpreters or policy advisor with a history degree. Although history majors also often work in politics, they also are qualified to work in other roles in business, journalism, law or education. A major in history can prepare you for law school, as well.
Psychology - The study of the human mind, psychology focuses on human behavior and how to apply concepts to social and organizational issues that affect us globally. You can look forward to roles in human resources, market research and social services.
Sociology - Focused on social behavior and how people behave in groups, sociology coursework includes history, religion, geography and social science research, to name a few. In this field, you gain an understanding of society's historical, economic and political issues and how people can work together to solve problems. Roles open to sociology majors include jobs in social services, criminal justice, or public health.
Pursuing a degree in the liberal arts helps you succeed in a fast-paced world that requires individuals to develop creative solutions today to solve the complex challenges of the future.
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks '11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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