Liberal Arts at a Comprehensive College
Most students do not make a distinction between a liberal arts degree and a technical degee. College is college, isn't it? It is important to understand the benefits of your liberal arts degree and what it can do for you.
Examples of a liberal arts program would be a B.A. degree in psychology, sociology, English, or the social sciences, to name a few. There are definite benefits of a liberal arts education. It provides a well-rounded education and makes us more knowledgeable about the world around us. Yes, all those general education requirements are important! Many of us come to college seeking to expand our awareness of all that makes us human. Getting a job is important, but it is only part of what we hope to gain from our education.
Benefits of a Liberal Arts College
A liberal arts education can offer the following benefits:
A personalized education: We all have individual educational needs. Some of us want to learn more about how we relate to other people; others hope to learn to enjoy the arts and the aesthetic side of life through cultural enrichment; some see college as a way to get away from parents and learn to live independently. All such needs are perfectly legitimate reasons for going to college. The flexibility of the liberal arts curriculum allows both room and time for such needs to be met.
Broadened global view: Students frequently want to broaden their view of the world. Course work in philosophy and the humanities may help us to explore our values. Courses in the social sciences may broaden our understanding of people. The arts, humanities, and social sciences may broaden our view of cultural heritage. Such cultural explorations may even promote our career choice.
Liberal arts skills: Along with some of the above outcomes, liberal arts courses do develop important skills that can be transferred into the world of work. Liberal arts students have the opportunity to develop broad skills in communication, problem-solving, working with people, and cross-cultural understanding. Many of these skills are the same ones that prospective employers have identified as skills they value and see as potentially relevant to almost any career. These include skills in oral and written communication, social scientific research methods, visual design and media production, computer knowledge, and critical thinking. You might plan to take certain courses to strengthen a set of skills that you would like to market to an employer.
Going Beyond Your Major
Liberal arts majors, in particular, need to offer employers more than their personalized education and their broadly based transferable skills. They need to develop entry-level marketability and to demonstrate career field interest. Before they can become bank presidents, they must first get some job experience within the bank. In many cases a college major alone is not sufficient for getting a job. The increased number of college graduates has produced more competition in the job market.
Usually, the easiest way to land that first job is to have a skill that is immediately useful to the employer. There are many ways to develop such skills while you are becoming educated: Summer or part-time work, internships, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, elective courses, etc. Once in the field of your choice, you, as a well educated person, can build your own career and become a specialist, but careful planning to get your foot in the door is required. To become competitive in today's market, you need the experience and competencies related to your chosen field.
Internships, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities provide numerous opportunities for you to gain experience and develop the competencies required by your career choices. As a liberal arts student, you are faced with the challenging task of discovering better ways to compete in the employment market, increasing your awareness of employment options and creating more links between your undergraduate experience and the world of work. Creating these links requires flexibility, imagination, and divergent thinking. This can further be accomplished by looking for a combination of courses and activities that will be rewarding - beginning the exploratory process early enough to test perceptions of yourself against realities, avoiding premature commitments or single-minded concentration on one area of knowledge to the exclusion of other areas.
Making Your Liberal Arts Degree Marketable
There are several factors that will determine to what extent your liberal arts degree is an advantage or disadvantage to you when you enter the job market:
- Your Career Plan - A degree in the liberal arts provides an excellent background for many professional options. Those who plan to enter a professional field where a graduate degree is required often find an undergraduate program in liberal arts allows them to develop perspective and to mature as a person before they specialize. Professional careers where this is possible and desirable include psychology, law, business, and medicine. However, pre-planning should occur if you are considering these options because certain undergraduate courses may be prerequisites for graduate school or, if not required, may make graduate school less difficult.
- Supplemental Work - The extent to which you supplement your degree with work experience and elective coursework to support your career goals. There are numerous examples of students who marketed their degrees because they could offer relevant work experiences and demonstrated interest in their fields. An internship in personnel or marketing, part-time work in banking and retailing, and volunteer experience in the helping professions are examples. WSC's Career Services Office has listings of internships, volunteer opportunities, and summer jobs. Take advantage of this free service!
- Technical Skills - The broad perspective of a liberal arts education is powerful and highly marketable when used in combination with some solid technical skills. Whether or not you acquire technical skills to supplement your liberal arts education is another factor. However, a liberal arts student is one thing; a liberal arts student with a minor or a concentration in computer science or other technical expertise is quite another. There is no reason for liberal arts students to be technically illiterate unless they choose to be so, and being technically literate can make a difference in being hired or being unemployed.