“What are you supposed to do with an English degree?” “How will you ever find a job after you graduate with a philosophy degree?” “You’re a history major? How is that even relevant to anything?”
If you’re a Liberal Arts major, you’ve definitely heard questions like these before, and you’ve probably learned to mumble out some excuse or justification, all the while feeling bad that you don’t have a better answer. I’m an English major myself, and the accusatory questions hurled at holiday family dinners from my relatives are relentless and brutal. After I told him my major, a man once said, with a loud guffaw, “Whaddaya need an English degree for, you already speak English perfectly good!” There was nothing I could do but let out a deep sigh and walk away.
The cost of four years of college continues to increase, which is leaving people with the need to see an immediate return on their investment. More and more students are opting for the practical route of business or marketing degrees, while there seems to be a general consensus, at least among parents and relatives who think they know better than you, that degrees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields virtually guarantee you a job after graduation. Without a doubt, these disciplines are vital to push our economy forward, but they are certainly not the only worthwhile degrees a person can obtain from a college or university.
The vast majority of American citizens are struggling to afford to go to college at all. We often put ourselves into great debt just to gain that piece of paper. Under these circumstances, the ambiguity and uncertainty of a Liberal Arts degree can appear less than ideal. Nobody wants to shell out thousands and thousands of dollars for something that doesn’t come with a guarantee. But the thing is, a Liberal Arts degree is a lot more valuable and necessary than most people give it credit for.
Liberal Arts disciplines can teach you how to think deeply and creatively, and they can teach you how to convey your thoughts and ideas in writing and in speech. They can teach people to question information and draw conclusions, and they can instill ethical and cultural awareness and understanding. Liberal Arts disciplines also have the ability to qualify people for a broad range of jobs after graduation because they don’t tie you down to any specific career path. Finance and marketing degrees are so specific that it might be difficult to ever move out of those fields, but a Liberal Arts degree prepares people for a wide array of possible careers, and a lifetime of learning and critical thinking, all of which are essential to creating an educated and employed citizenry.
In an April 2013 survey of employers, the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that “nearly all those surveyed agree, ‘a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.’” That same study also found that 90 percent of employers say “it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills and the capacity for continued new learning.” Wouldn’t you know it, the things employers are looking for are precisely what a Liberal Arts education provides.
Now, I’m not saying that Liberal Arts majors are necessarily better than any other majors, I’m just saying that they’re equally as important, and we should not let ourselves forget that. It is true that our society needs people to advance science, innovate technology and start businesses, but those people will always be around. We also need people who want to read, write and think critically about the world around us. We need people to push the boundaries of our culture, to write books, make art and appreciate music. How boring, colorless and utilitarian would our society be without the Liberal Arts disciplines?
So to you, dear English major, embrace your love of reading and your passion for writing. And to you, lovely Philosophy major, keep on reasoning why we think and do the things we do, and apply what you learn to modern society. To all of you Liberal Arts majors out there, don’t take any crap from your relatives over the inevitable holiday family dinners, because your degree is important, adaptable, employable and just as relevant and necessary to a modern economy as it ever was.