“And what do you plan to do with that after graduation?” It’s a statement just about every liberal arts major has heard at least once, if not a thousand times. But before you despair and make the switch to a “more useful” major, check out these reasons why your liberal arts degree can take you much further than a drive-through window post-collegiette!
1. It Teaches You Skills You Can Use for ANY Job
When people wonder what you are going to do with that English, philosophy, or history degree and how it can become a successful career, they’re overlooking the fact that a liberal arts major doesn’t have the same goal as, say, an engineering major. The ultimate aim of a liberal arts education isn’t to train you for a specific job, but to develop life skills that will be useful in any job.
“The liberal arts teaches you to question your own viewpoints and to think critically about things we take for granted,” says Roxanna Coldiron, a graduate from Hiram College with a B.A. in communication. She adds that the liberal arts “challenge you in ways that skills-only courses can’t. You’re creating, not just duplicating an action.”
Sonia Okalie, a junior majoring in English at Georgetown University, agrees. “Majoring in one field of study usually only prepares and teaches you about that field. But majoring in English prepares you for life: you learn how to speak, read, and write better than you knew you could,” she says. “That’ll take you a lot further in life than people think.”
Professionals—including the ones hiring you—feel the same way, too! Tom Dezell, career advisor and author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker, explains that The National Association of Colleges and Employers listed 10 attributes companies look for in their applicants, based on a recent survey of employers—and only one of the 10 desired attributes named an ability that depends on a major.
“Computer skills can be acquired in any major, while personal qualities of initiative, leadership, a strong work ethic and ability to work on a team depend very little on one’s major, or education for that matter,” says Dezell.
2. You’ll Keep Up With the Rapidly Changing Career World
Dezell points out that the career world is changing faster than ever. Many of today’s biggest markets didn’t even exist 10 years ago! If you want to keep up in such a fast-paced environment, he says that a solid education is crucial.
“To stay ahead of the game [you] need to constantly keep updating [your] skills… The best way to attain this is committing to life long learning, and a liberal arts education provides a strong foundation for continued learning,” Dezell says.
Dezell says that because students are exposed to so many different subjects through a liberal arts education, it is easier for them to develop additional skills down the road.
Alyssa Howard, a senior at the University of Texas majoring in English, was surprised by how well her major prepared her for her internship at a fashion start-up. “Some duties, like writing a lot of the copy for the website, were completely unexpected,” she says. “But because I am skilled in so many areas, I’ve proven to be an asset as an intern.”
Not only has Alyssa been able to take advantage of her adaptability in her internship, but she was also able to secure a role as a freelance writer for an interior design and architecture blog, and will be starting a social media and content internship for an online boutique!
3. It Gives You a Worldly Perspective
Liberal arts studies aim to introduce you to as many different subjects as possible. Not only does this broader perspective help you to creatively solve problems, but it also can be a fascinating way to learn about the world around you!
Roxanna says that her liberal arts major has encouraged her to study a range of topics she had never even considered beforehand. “Liberal arts studies opens your eyes to other cultures and other ways of thinking,” she says. “Seriously, who is going to study Greek history on their own and what it means in today’s world? Or who is going to search out what literature tells us about ourselves and what we need to be working on as a society?”
At the very least, what you learn from your major could lead to some interesting conversation tidbits; at the best, it leads to a passion for learning that will last your whole life!
4. Google Wants YOU!
A liberal arts education will challenge you to think creatively, which is a skill many big-name employers want in potential employees. Rick Gillis, author of Job!: Learn How to Find Your Next Job In 1 Day and a job search expert, cites Google as an example of why creative thinking is so desirable in the workplace.
“Google has famously said that they prefer the liberal arts candidate—the person who can free-associate and creatively think things through,” he says. Gillis adds that it is these creative thinking abilities that can’t be taught on the job, while, “with the exception of some specializations such as medicine—you learn the job… on-the-job.”
5. These All-Stars Studied Liberal Arts
“Jokes from classmates tell me that my major in English will leave me with three job options: writing, teaching, or being unemployed,” says Sonia. Luckily, liberal arts majors have history on their side! Check out some of these highly successful people, all of who graduated with degrees in—you guessed it!—liberal arts.
- The co-founder and CEO of PayPal, Peter Thiel, was a 20th–century philosophy major during his undergraduate career at Stanford. He was also the very first outside investor in Facebook, which turned out to be a big move! He later added a law degree to top off his undergraduate studies.
- Ted Turner founded CNN and TBS, and is also a billionaire with a long list of accolades. He started out with an undergraduate degree in Classics, a decision which his father famously spurned, saying, “I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted Classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on the way home today.” Looks like the major turned out well for Turner, though!
- Harold E. Varmus, a Nobel Prize winner for his work in cell biology, got a B.A. in English literature and a graduate degree in English before going on to medical school.
- Michael Eisner, who was the CEO of Walt Disney Company from 1984 until 2005, never took a single business class. He double majored in English and theater, and defends his decision, saying, “Literature is unbelievably helpful, because no matter what business you are in, you are dealing with interpersonal relationships.”
So, to all the liberal arts majors out there, don’t feel down next time someone tells you to start memorizing, “Would you like fries with that?” Hold your head proud, because the depth and range of your liberal arts-earned skills makes you limitless!