The Misunderstood Value Of Liberal Arts

When I was applying to colleges, I stuck to only those offering a liberal arts education. I knew that I had potential but wasn’t ready to dedicate my college and future career to one path just yet. I have nothing against those who know what they want to do before college. But that wasn’t me.

I would not be the well-rounded person I am today without the latitude this type of school offers. After attending Trinity College in Hartford, CT, I was able to apply to jobs in finance, education, media, and more. In fact, I got job offers from each of those sectors.

So why is the Washington Post essentially mocking liberal arts?

Columnist Michelle Singletary published this article that takes a very shallow look at the value of college majors. She concludes that people should only have a major that can make them the most amount of money.

While getting a job may be the end-result of college, it’s not the reason people attend. If the world of education were actually as Singletary described, we would only have medical, law, and trade schools. We certainly wouldn’t have many well-rounded students capable of playing an instrument, drawing a masterpiece, or being creative.

I don’t normally rant on Edudemic but this article touched a nerve with me as you can probably tell by now. I was raised in a household where the word “can’t” was treated as a swear word. If I said I can’t do XYZ, my parents would say otherwise and help me figure out how to do what I never thought possible. That’s how I got to where I am today.

A college education is not an investment in your future if you are taking out loans just for the college experience. It’s not an investment if you’re not coupling your education with training. It’s not an investment if you aren’t researching which fields are creating good-paying jobs now and 30 years from now.

I wouldn’t want to discourage people from pursuing a career they love, even if the pay isn’t very high. However, that choice should be made with the understanding of which job opportunities might be available and weighing what you can expect to earn annually against the cost of taking on debt to finance your education.

While not all liberal arts majors might have job offers right out of college, neither does every business or engineering student. Currently, many college graduates – regardless of their major- are having that issue now. With a 9% unemployment at the time of this writing, most college grads will be lucky to snag any entry-level position. The same goes for graduates of top-tier law and medical schools. I can say with firsthand knowledge that the job market for graduates of the best law school on the planet struggle to land a job. It’s no longer a guarantee.

If there’s no ‘safe’ major in terms of getting a job, should students pursue their passions and enjoy the learning process? By telling students and their families to take on a major that doesn’t interest a student, you’re dooming them to a life of quiet desperation.

The fact is, we are a multifaceted society composed of multifaceted individuals who are all capable of different and wonderful things. While many families direct their students towards the fields that pay the most and seem the most ‘secure’, in doing so they are propagating the idea that the only thing to work for is money. We can’t have a world full of engineers and lawyers and nothing else. While one might not need a college degree to be an artist (hey, if the art is good, people will want it regardless of the artist’s educational background), they are entitled to explore whatever educational endeavours they choose, just like a pre-med Biology major. Right?

Be sure to check out the Washington Post article here.  Then let me know where you come down on the issue of ‘what makes a good major’ for a student.