Views on Liberal Arts Degrees

Okay, so firstly, sorry for the long absence. Well, actually, it wasn’t that long but it feels pretty long. I’ve missed blogging but due to a lack of time, lack of inspiration, and general over-abundance of writer’s block, I haven’t been able to write anything worth sharing. I’m attempting to remedy this by just diving in and forcing myself to post. So without further ado, let’s get into this.

Today, I’m gonna talk about college degrees and my views on them; specifically liberal arts degrees. Liberal arts degrees, for those of you who don’t know, are degrees that fall under the humanities (philosophy, literature), social sciences (political science, geography), and formal sciences (math, statistics) categories. In other words, it encompasses a broad variety of subjects. Yet, despite this large variety, liberal arts degrees are constantly being shafted when it comes to reputation. In other words, compared to the many other degrees you can earn, liberal arts degrees are looked down upon. I remember while growing up, many parents would often talk about how liberal arts degrees were useless. The common complaints were always that a) they didn’t equip you with a job b) you didn’t really learn any specialized skills c) they were easy so by virtue of that, they were useless. Yet, despite these criticisms, I actually never really listened to them. My interests were always geared toward subjects that fell into the liberal arts arena. So when I went off to college, predictably, I went into the liberal arts stream.

My time in college was pretty fun. I really enjoyed what I learned and I ended up making some good friends. But even during my time there, the talk about how liberal arts degrees are useless remained behind me like a shadow. School faculties, at least the one at my college, are incredibly competitive. Each faculty likes to think that they’re better than the others. And often, this led to faculties trying to rip the other down (in jest usually LOL). In the case of liberal arts then, the other faculties always repeated what I’d heard as a young girl (no job, no skills, too easy). So no matter how much I tried to ignore the sayings, they were always there. As I’ve now graduated and actually experienced just what a liberal arts degree entails, I feel like I’m pretty well equipped to write on them. And as this is my blog, I also feel pretty confident in posting my views on them. On that note, I always have trouble talking about things that are personal and as this is a subject I feel quite personal about, this post, at least from this point onward, will probably be structured quite haphazardly. So I apologize in advance.

Firstly, it is kinda difficult to find a job with a liberal arts degree. Especially when you compare a liberal arts degree to a more practical discipline. For example, a person who trained as an accountant or plumber would perhaps more readily find employment than a person who studied geography. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find jobs with a liberal arts degree. I’ve noticed, regardless of study, a lot of jobs are dependant upon networking, or knowing the right people. This is especially consequential when it comes to liberal arts degrees. The fact of the matter is that tons of people take liberal arts degrees. Literally, in my college alone, liberal arts made up the largest faculty. Because it was so diverse in its course list, liberal arts majors tended to be in the thousands. And when you have so many people who compete for the same jobs, there’s bound to be difficulty. But, I don’t think this means that liberal arts degrees don’t equip you with jobs. Sure, the jobs might not be waiting for you as soon as you graduate, but there are jobs. Also, on the other hand, liberal arts co-ops literally equip you with jobs. So many of my friends have been able to land great positions that work well with their liberal arts degree through their co-op work and experience. And sometimes, you don’t even need the co-op. As mentioned before, networking is incredibly important when it comes to employment. Many of my friends, just be virtue of having volunteered and making themselves known to their supervisors, have been able to score great positions in various companies. So I think the criticism that liberal arts degrees don’t equip you with jobs isn’t necessarily accurate. I think it’s a gross over-inflation of the issue. I think a more relevant criticism would be that liberal arts degrees don’t always stress the importance of networking when it comes to employment. I remember in my undergrad, we were always told that there were an abundance of jobs we could pursue. And it’s true, there are many career paths you can take with a liberal arts degree. But we weren’t told exactly how to get to those chose (i.e. network). And so when students graduated without exactly learning how to network, they probably struggled to understand why they didn’t land jobs right away (which is probably where the first criticism came from).

Secondly, liberal arts majors do learn specialized skills. Our specialized skills might not exactly be practical things like doing surgery or repairing a heater, but we do learn some skills nonetheless. One of the skills I learned, was the art of writing. I don’t think many people realize just how nuanced the english language and writing in general is. A single word can literally change what a paragraph is saying. Which relates to another thing my fellow liberal arts majors and I were taught: how to analyze passages for nuances. Analyzing things is one of my favourite hobbies (which is another reason why I review things), because it often feels like uncovering a mystery. You can take apart anything a person has written and look for the subliminal clues or messages. This is especially prevalent in mystery stories and Shakespeare’s writings (his sonnets feel like a mind-fuck!). And finally, we’re taught to research. Researching may seem like an ordinary thing anyone can do. And actually, it is an ordinary thing anyone can do. But we’re taught to be thorough and quicker than the average person. Which perhaps may not seem like much, but definitely adds up when it comes to writing under a deadline or in the public eye. And these three skills are just typical liberal arts degree skills. The various majors actually specialize in far more different things. For example, in philosophy, you’re able to critically think about the most abstract ideas, which is an incredibly useful skill when it comes to businesses. And although these specialized skills probably seem like things the general population already possesses, it’s actually not true. You’d be surprised at the number of people who cannot logically follow an argument or express their thoughts in a few succinct words. Communication skills are an incredibly important skills set to possess and liberal arts degrees teach them to the point of mastery. So liberal arts degrees do teach specialized skills. If anything, I think a more relevant criticism would be on the mastery of these skills. Unlike in other disciplines where everyone has to reach a certain level of skill proficiency, liberal arts majors tend to have a lower standards. For example, to be a surgeon, you need to have good surgical skills to even qualify. Yet, when it comes to liberal arts degrees, you just need not to fail in order to graduate. This results in a disparity among graduates, where some possess superior specialized skills whereas others possess a minimal amount. And I mean, I kinda get that the whole example isn’t necessarily relevant as surgery is more important that writing and communication skills. But I still think that there should at least be a higher standard.

Which brings us to my last point, the difficulty level of a liberal arts degree. Because of the sheer variety of a liberal arts degree, it’s incredibly dependant on interpretation. How you interpret something is the backbone of how you understand something, how you write about it, and how you think about it. So when it comes to the difficulty level of a liberal arts degree, it’s dependant on interpretation and how well you can communicate that. As such, it’s also a very relative issue. Some people can find liberal arts degrees to be very easy while other can find them very difficult, depending on what their strengths and weaknesses are. From my experience, it’s easy to pass and get mediocre grades under liberal arts majors, but incredibly difficult to excel. And this goes back to what I said earlier about standards and interpretation. Unlike in other practical courses where there is an explicit right or wrong answer, liberal arts degrees focus more on what could the answer be. In other words, the best right answer is the one that interprets logically and manages to defend its interpretation through excellent communication skills. Whereas a less right answer, but a right one nonetheless, is the one that interprets somewhat logically and manages to somewhat defend its interpretation. And a wrong answer, is one that interprets incorrectly and fails to defend its interpretation. As you can probably surmise, failing in liberal arts degree is a pretty rare phenomenon because even someone with the most rudimentary communication skills can pass through having the right interpretation and vice versa. So I’m at odds with the criticism that claims that liberal arts degrees are easy. Just because failure is a rare option, I don’t think that it means that completing a liberal arts degree is easy. Even if you look at it from the technical side of things, it’s not necessarily that effortless. During exam season, students are expected to write 3000 or 10 page research essays for each class they take, all due within the span of a week. Which can mean that you have to write five essays all due within a week and all with a prep time of a shared two weeks. It requires a lot of hard work, effort, and determination to finish so many essays and achieve good grades on them. In other words, it’s not that easy.

In sum: Criticisms on liberal arts degrees are vastly over-inflated and often miss the real issues like the lack of importance on networking and the lack of a high standard.




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