Debunking Misconceptions About Liberal Arts Degrees

Few things in higher education have been both more celebrated and more slandered than liberal arts. It has been declared dead as many times as it has been declared more important than ever before. Others say it’s simply evolving.

Given these seemingly conflicting hot takes, what should potential aspiring liberal arts students know before they head off to college? Read on for some of the common misconceptions about liberal arts degrees as well as for a few tips about how to get the most out of your education.

What Is a Liberal Arts Degree?

The term “liberal arts degree” can apply to any college or university undergraduate degree that offers students a complete and inclusive education spanning a broad spectrum of academic disciplines. Many regard a liberal arts educational path as diametrically opposed to those that offer highly specialized professional or vocational training.

Common elements of a liberal arts education include the social and natural sciences as well as the arts and humanities. An incredibly broad area of study in and of itself, the humanities encompass language, literature, history, philosophy, religion, and many other disciplines focusing on human values and culture.

In the words of LiberalArtsEDU contributor Scott Wilson, “the goal of a classical liberal arts education is to create well-rounded, informed, independent thinkers who are capable of continuing their learning in a wide variety of fields.”

Is Liberal Arts a Good Major?

While a liberal arts degree may not allow you to develop expertise in a specific professional field, industry, or sector, it remains a practical option for many college graduates. In fact, liberal arts degrees appeal to a variety of employers for varied reasons. Furthermore, an undergraduate liberal arts education is generally a great way to prepare and meet the entry requirements for pursuing more specialized training in the graduate program of your choice.

Common Misconceptions About Liberal Arts Degrees

Although liberal arts programs remain popular among college students, people may shy away from these programs due to some prevalent misunderstandings about what a liberal arts program entails. Below are seven of the most common misconceptions about liberal arts degrees, as well as the truth behind this oft-maligned educational path.

1. Limited Career Opportunities

The broad base of knowledge possessed by liberal arts graduates is quite valuable to many employers. Liberal arts graduates are welcome in a broad spectrum of career sectors because a quality liberal arts program stresses core skills and aptitudes like effective communication, problem-solving, and creative and critical thinking. For these reasons and more, liberal arts graduates are sought after by organizations in both the private and public sectors.

2. Lack of Practical Skills

Communication, problem-solving, and analytical thinking skills are just the beginning when it comes to the in-demand skillset that liberal arts grads tend to possess. Depending on their areas of academic concentration, the typical liberal arts graduate is likely to be exceptionally adept at conducting research and analyzing the information they find. They also tend to have high levels of emotional intelligence and use strong interpersonal skills to work well as part of a team.

3. Low Earning Potential

While more technical or highly specialized degrees may lead to higher starting salaries, the liberal arts degree’s reputation for low financial return-on-investment (ROI) is undeserved. As reported in College Ranker, the latest figures from the National Association of Colleges and Employers show that entry-level wages for liberal arts graduates currently average approximately $40,000 per year. Of course, recent graduates stand to make more money with ongoing professional development and advanced training.

4. Irrelevance in the Digital Age

Since the birth of the computer, some people have been eager to replace everything from cash currency to daily newspapers. But time and again, digital technology has augmented and changed established traditions, instead of replacing them entirely. The liberal arts education— with its emphasis on in-depth research, information analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving—is just as relevant in the digital age as it ever was.

5. Not Being Prepared for the “Real World”

In the eyes of employers and people in general, “real world” preparedness can have radically different characteristics. While the concentrated expertise of an engineering graduate can prove productive in  highly specialized environments, this expertise can seem myopic to employers looking for well-rounded professionals. The wider scope of a liberal arts education not only gives students a firm understanding of the world but also humanity’s place within it.

6. Lack of Specialization

From history to linguistics, many highly specialized academic and professional disciplines fall firmly under the liberal arts umbrella. Furthermore, a basic undergraduate education in the liberal arts serves as an exceptional springboard to additional training in any number of specialized areas.

7. Artistic Focus Only

While a liberal arts education can certainly lead to success in the fine arts, the purview of liberal arts extends far beyond chiseling sculptures, playing music, and writing poetry. In fact, these paths are taken by an extremely small percentage of all liberal arts graduates. The liberal arts embody many disciplines that fall under the umbrella of social science, meaning fields as diverse as sociology, anthropology, political science, and even economics. Furthermore, many liberal arts institutions offer specializations in natural sciences that range from molecular biology to astrophysics.

So, Is a Liberal Arts Degree Worth It?

Whether you are talking about financial ROI or less tangible benefits like job satisfaction and work-life balance, the overall value of a college education will always be in the eye of the beholder. A liberal arts degree can be especially worthwhile if you’re looking for a high education option that leaves room for flexibility and options in your career.

Tips for Maximizing the Value of a Liberal Arts Degree

Want to make sure that you get the very most out of your liberal arts degree? Here are four brief guidelines to maximize its value:

Build a Diverse Skill Set

The communication, research, analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills of the liberal arts graduate are in high demand among employers in most sectors. Beyond honing a diverse set of abilities in these areas, you may also want to complete specialized training that can serve you as you travel your chosen career path.

Networking and Internships

As you work toward your liberal arts degree, you can gain practical training in your field of choice by taking advantage of the networking and internship opportunities your college or university offers. Reach out to facility, alumni, and other working professionals to get a head start on your future job search and provide valuable career mentorship. A quality internship could also help you establish valuable connections while giving you essential hands-on experience in a “real world” setting.

Continual Learning and Professional Development

We have already examined the power of a liberal arts degree to propel further on-the-job and academic training. With a liberal arts degree, you can pursue ongoing professional development and continual learning in any number of rewarding directions.

Tailor Your Degree to Your Career Goals

Unlike other educational paths that can be restrictive and regimented, a liberal arts education provides students with the latitude to establish their own way forward. From flexible scheduling and learning options to a broad spectrum of academic focuses and specializations, liberal arts programs give students the leeway and guidance they need to tailor their degrees to meet their unique career goals.

Take the Next Step in Your Education with Excelsior University

For more information about liberal arts degrees and how to make the most of them, contact the experts at Excelsior University today. Our online liberal arts degree options include an Associate in Science in Liberal Arts at 60 credit hours and a Bachelor of Science in Liberal arts at 120 credit hours. Call 888-647-2388 to talk to an admissions counselor about your liberal arts education goals.