Core features of a liberal arts education

The liberal arts field of study in college offers many choices that can lead to a successful future.

The liberal arts field of study in college offers many choices that can lead to a successful future.

Often called the most important major in struggling economic times, the liberal arts education combines various academic disciplines that prepare students to thrive in an atmosphere of complexity, diversity and change. It helps students be able to transfer intellectual and practical skills to the real world, as well as develop a sense of social responsibility. Consider choosing from a list of majors that includes communications, arts, natural science and mathematics. Here’s a spotlight on the liberal arts education.

What does liberal arts cover?

According to University of Minnesota (UMN) at Duluth, “The term ‘liberal arts’ refers to a grouping of disciplines that, in Western culture, are considered essential for adequate education and civic participation.” These include the humanities (English, history, philosophy, languages), social science (political science, psychology, anthropology, women’s studies), science (biology, chemistry, physics) and mathematics.

UMN explains that a solid liberal arts foundation will teach students to:

• analyze and interpret information.
• form and express informed opinions.
• communicate effectively.
• appreciate the richness of a diverse human culture.
• better understand human nature and society.

What is the value of a liberal arts education?

“Liberal arts colleges and universities exist to preserve significant old knowledge, convey it effectively to succeeding generations of students, and discover or produce new knowledge that, it is hoped, will be significant,” according to Howard Garner, the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education in his article, “Messages on My Wall: The Core Features of a Liberal Arts Education,” published in the book, “How College Shapes Lives: Understanding the Issues,” 2013.

Money is not always the biggest motivator for liberal arts students, say graduates and academics. They prefer to achieve fulfillment in their jobs, possess a sense of service, and participate in public debate. Graduates are prepared for an ever-changing and diverse workforce and are more easily able to assume positions of leadership.

Liberal arts prepares students

Liberal arts are a model for life-long learning that aids in an individual’s ability to make significant decisions during his or her career. “Being able to draw on one’s education over a lifetime is much more practical (and precious). Post secondary education should help students to discover what they love to do, to get better at it, and to develop the ability to continue learning so that they become agents of change – not victims of it,” said Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, in the article, “What’s a Liberal Arts Education Good For?” posted December 1, 2008 in

Roth added that the liberal arts offer the promise of freedom that allows graduates to adapt and adjust to today’s high pace of technological and social change. They are well prepared for jobs that might not even exist right now. Rather than spend four years studying one specific skill, liberal arts students learn the combination of focus and flexibility that “make for intelligent, and sometimes courageous risk taking for critical assessment of those risks,” said Roth. Liberal arts graduates are found disproportionately in leadership positions in politics, culture and the economy.

Liberal arts and salary

While not being known as having the highest paying jobs right out of college, liberal arts graduates receive an education that gives them communication, critical thinking, relational, and creative problem-solving skills. In fact, they hold president and CEO positions in higher numbers later in their careers than other disciplines. They occupy higher-paying positions in the private sector and often choose employment in the nonprofit and public sector.

“You want the inside of your head to be an interesting place to spend the rest of your life,” remarked former Barnard College president Judith Shapiro in the article, “Post-College Success Not All about the Money: A Broader Look at Liberal Arts Graduates’ Futures,” by Nancy Oliver Gray, in University Business, March 2013, found on

The article went on to say that liberal arts graduates want to find a vocation to match their passions and priorities. They perform valuable work at jobs whose importance is not measured by a pay scale. Moreover, prominent alumni from liberal arts colleges first went to grad school or paid their dues in entry-level jobs before discovering the opportunities that brought them higher levels of success and pay.

Have you considered majoring in the liberal arts? What are your goals with a liberal arts education? has a range of research libraries featuring academic material on liberal arts subjects such as Communications, Music and Performing Arts, Sociology and Anthropology, Psychology, History and more.

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