Liberal arts degrees offer a more holistic approach to education
Last week I finally declared an English major. After two years of being undecided and testing out different degrees, I chose one that today many regard as useless. The first thing people ask me is “what are you going to do with that?”, and my answer is always the same: I have no idea.
It’s no secret that college is a huge investment. To attend a university as prestigious as UW-Madison, we pay thousands of dollars with the hope that what we learn will lead to a prosperous life after college. For many, this means pursuing a degree in something that will lead directly to a well-payed job, but a liberal arts degree — one that does not train for a specific career — can be just as valuable after graduation.
A liberal arts degree is any that gives a deep understanding of a specific area and a broad knowledge of a wide range of fields, like philosophy, history, political science or sociology. Here at UW-Madison, most liberal arts degrees are in the College of Letters and Science.
Unlike vocational degrees like engineering, medicine, education or finance, they do not prepare students for a single career, but give them skills that can be applied to a number of jobs. Liberal arts classes teach students to think critically about a topic, form an argument and explain it clearly. This makes students better at writing and communicating their ideas, which are valuable skills in any career.
A survey done by Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of employers think that a student’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.
While it is true that liberal arts graduates make less money the first few years after college than those that train for a specific job, they are also more flexible and able to switch jobs later in life. Students who use college to prepare for a single career will graduate narrowly suited for that career path and could end up doing the same job for the rest of their life.
If you are certain of what kind of job you want to have, it would be safe to prepare for that job. Workforce predictions show that graduates with computer science and medicine degrees will be in high demand in the next ten years, but it is difficult to predict what the workforce will need in the years beyond that.
Jobs that are in demand right now will not always be needed, and a liberal arts degree makes students adaptable to a changing economy and world.
For many of us, college is the last opportunity to be educated before we work for the rest of our lives, so we should use it to learn as much about our world as we can. Liberal arts classes teach things that we wouldn’t learn outside the classroom, they challenge our perspective by showing us the ways of other cultures and they create informed citizens with the ability to solve the problems that we will face in the future.
I am not sure what type of career I will someday have, but it probably will not be related to my English major. Studying English does not force me be a teacher or librarian or literary critic, but instead it gives the skills and knowledge to do anything.
Peter is a junior majoring in journalism and English. What are your thoughts on liberal arts degrees? Are they underappreciated? Do they prepare you for a more holistic life experience? Please send any questions or concerns to
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