What is Liberal Arts? And Why Is It So Relevant Today?

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Rooted in the basic curriculum of a “well-rounded education” modelled after the late Greco-Roman heritage, “liberal arts” refers to a degree that is obtained by the rigorous studying of humanities, arts, social and natural sciences.

History of Liberal Arts

Modern-day Liberal Arts degrees have retained the ethos of the Greek module which championed seven arts that were the prerequisite to being an informed, functional member of the society. They split these subjects into two parts – the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy).

This idea of an interdisciplinary education inspired Prussian philosopher Friedrich Humboldt who championed liberalism in public education. As the middle class began to expand in the 19th century, Humboldt realized the importance of developing general education in a way that would emphasize the individual possibility of a student, instead of drilling traditional ideas that led to stagnation. This model was later adopted by the American education system at large.

Liberal Arts in modern education

Promoting integration of the arts and sciences with research would lead students to achieve transferable skills, general learning, and cultural knowledge that impact contemporary issues. The essence of Liberal Arts lies in its capacity to be flexible, and students are thus able to customize the areas they want to focus on, and the skills they want to develop. Out of the hundreds of dedicated liberal arts colleges in the USA, most allow students to choose their major which lets students specialize in their desired fields.

The Liberal Arts curriculum

Most colleges offer Humanities (art, literature, philosophy, linguistics, etc.), Social Sciences (economics, history, psychology, law, sociology, political science, etc.), Natural Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.), and Formal Sciences (mathematics, logic, statistics, etc.). It is common for liberal arts degrees in the US to be earned over four years of full-time study, which allows students adequate time to dabble with a vast array of subjects before zeroing in on one. The most popular subjects related to Liberal Arts include – History, Psychology, Statistics, Anthropology, Biology, Literature, Theology, Fine Arts, Journalism, and Communication.

What's different about Liberal Arts?

The classes at liberal arts colleges provide a huge benefit. Rather than massive lecture halls, students are more likely to find themselves in small, interactive, low student-faculty ratio environments. A small class size enables deeper connections mentorship from the faculty which might be amiss at larger institutions with a larger volume of students.

This allows for extensive networking and perhaps this is why Liberal arts colleges have some of the very best job placement rates. Graduates are usually armed with the skills that organizations value most – critical thinking, communication, and the ability to view ideas from multiple perspectives.

Career prospects

A few examples of career opportunities are:

  • Marketing – Marketing professionals require practical communication skills, as well as research and presentation expertise which are rigorously developed through a liberal arts education. Liberal Arts students are often a natural fit for the creative, team-work-driven environment of marketing agencies that thrive in imaginative and quick solutions.
  • Content Production – Strong communication and writing skills are essential for this occupation, and Liberal Arts students are often equipped with solid literary skills and attention to detail.
  • Public Relations – Organizations generally want candidates who have strong interpersonal skills and writing skills as PR specialists are responsible for managing the reputation of an organization, implementing new public relations strategies for their clients. They also write media releases and develop social media presence to improve the brand’s image.
  • Human Resources – HR roles focus on recruiting and hiring new employees, ensuring their wellbeing, and resolving any employee conflicts. To fulfill this type of role, many employers are looking for people with strong writing and interpersonal skills.
  • Consultants – Management consultants are responsible for determining the management needs of a business and then implementing employee training to meet those business goals. This required a strong background in leadership and people skills.

Within the STEM field, scientists hope to ‘humanize’ their technology, not only to make them user-friendly but to ensure better communication with customers. Their ability to think critically, adapt quickly, and solve problems lets Liberal Arts students discover a niche in STEM and business fields where strategy or relationship-driven work seems to suit them well. Liberal Arts also provides students an excellent foundation in law, business, and other various fields.

Liberal Arts Colleges Around the World

Even though Liberal Arts education is the most popular in America, there are several institutions all around the world that have adopted this holistic approach to learning.
AmericaSarah Lawrence College, Bryn Mawr College, Claremont McKenna College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Swarthmore College amongst many others are examples of institutes specializing in Liberal Arts.
United KingdomUniversity of Birmingham, Durham University, King’s College London, University of Bristol are few universities that offer a bachelor’s in Liberal Arts.
Canada Centennial College, Douglas College, and University of Fraser Valley amongst others.
AsiaYale-NUS in Singapore, Seoul National University in South Korea, University of Tokyo in Japan, Ashoka University in India are a few examples.
EuropeAmsterdam University College, The American University of Paris, and John Cabot in Rome are there.

Application process

Applying to a liberal arts college is similar to any other university. Liberal arts colleges provide generous financial aid and scholarships which are available based on both merit and need. The requirement criteria vary but are mostly limited to suitable grades in English Proficiency tests of IELTS or TOEFL, a desirable GPA, high school (or undergraduate) diploma, and motivation letter. Some colleges might ask for extended essays and recommendation letters, but usually, these are the key requirements.

The Relevance of Liberal Arts in Current Economy

Liberal Arts is more valid now than ever since adaptability is the crux of our changing global market. Skills such as problem-solving, project management, critical thinking, and teamwork, that students learn can be readily applied to different industries, including communications, legal, hospitality, education, sales, and management.

Due to the broad nature of this degree and the soft skills it teaches students, it leads to some lucrative job options. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs who graduated from a Liberal Arts background, such as Howard Schultz (Starbucks CEO), Richard Plepler (HBO CEO), and Susan Wojcicki (YouTube CEO), are all who utilized their education across disciplines.

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