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A liberal arts degree prepares you for transfer, for career, for life

Too often parents and students hear the message that a liberal arts degree has no value in the workplace, but that just isn’t true. It can provide a strong foundation of knowledge and critical thinking skills upon which many a student has built a solid career.

Studying English literature, history, humanities or philosophy may not seem like the ideal training for a job, but these subjects have prepared more than a few students for a wide variety of careers. After all, President John F. Kennedy, astronaut Sally Ride and former CEO of Disney Michael Eisner all graduated with liberal arts degrees.

“The professional world is so fluid, so rapidly changing, that overspecialization can sometimes put up walls rather than open doors,” wrote Jim Pollock in his online article “Are Liberal Arts Degrees Worth Anything?”


Burning Glass, a Boston-based labor market analytics company that works with colleges, employers and recruiters, conducted a recent study that shows that employers first and foremost hire people who can communicate clearly, think critically and solve problems – all hallmarks of a traditional liberal arts education.

“With just a little bit greater awareness of what employers need, (students can) unlock a huge array of jobs that might not otherwise have been open to them,” said Matthew Sigelman, chief executive officer of Burning Glass.

Employers have come to realize that general skills such as writing, speaking, creative thinking, analytical thinking, synthesizing ideas and cross cultural knowledge are invaluable.

“Quite often employers are looking for someone who is sharp, articulate, good at developing productive interpersonal relationships, and good communication skills. The other aspects of the job can be learned. A liberal arts background can really be an asset to a company,” says Susan Carlson of Manpower Inc.


Liberal arts majors are often preferred for high-level jobs over non-liberal arts graduates, said Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., at the website Quintessential Careers. “While the specialized skills that come with other majors may seem to be an advantage, the universality of liberal arts skills truly is your ace in the hole because you are not limited by a specialization.”

Three researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Matthew T. Hora, Ross J. Benbow and Amanda K. Oleson, wrote recently in Inside Higher Education that the liberal arts deserve more respect for cultivating varied skill sets. “This is not necessarily an argument for more art history majors,” they wrote. “But the modern workplace demands adaptability, broad-mindedness and creativity – competencies that are well developed in programs based on a liberal or general education model.”

That’s not to say that liberal arts graduates shouldn’t find a focus. Internships and summer jobs allow students to connect the dots between skills sets, classroom learning and outside experience.

So if you would rather study classical civilizations than engineering, go ahead – it may turn out to be the best path to a successful career and happiness.

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