Why would someone major in Liberal Arts?

Every year thousands of students graduate with Liberal Arts degrees. And every year it’s the same thing - there never seems to be any companies hiring, they can’t find jobs, the jobs they do find pay significantly less.

So other than a handfull of exceptions like Architecture, why do people major in subjects like History, Goverment, Theater (unless you’re attending Julliard) which are garanteed to get a :confused: from employers once they enter the real world?

Because, you know, perhaps they went to college to learn and not merely to treat it as a trade school?

Because there are a ton of miscellaneous jobs that want to put “college degree required” on the description in order to justify the salary or seniority or something like that, but that do not correspond closely to any particular college degree. These are the jobs that liberal arts majors get.

I work with liberal arts students as an academic advisor, and used to work at a career services office specifically for liberal arts. Liberal arts majors get hired for just about the same jobs as all other majors, including consulting, banking, management, PR, journalism. A lot of students got degrees in liberal arts because they specifically wanted to go into teaching or government or because they wanted to go on to grad school.

Not all liberal arts majors are going to get great jobs right out of college, but when I worked with computer sciences majors there were plenty of them scrambling for jobs when their peers were being hired for Microsoft and Google. There’s always going to be someone who just barely made it through, did nothing worthwhile and has to scramble later on.

I have two liberal arts degrees, and I chose them because they interested me and were fields in which I wanted to work. And amazingly, I did work in one of those fields for years.

I admit, I didn’t have a huge salary, but that wasn’t as important to me as doing what I loved. I earned enough to support myself, in a reasonably comfortable style (apartment, new car, bills paid, etc.) And I loved my work.

You know, even before I graduated from high school I figured that what I wanted to do was impractical and should not be of any real consideration(this was the advice I was given, basically). I started college and took classes towards a major that I thought would guarantee me a job, but unfortunately, they bored the shit out of me…so, I dropped out.

I quickly realized that many jobs out there simply require a degree…any degree (which is absolute bullshit…but, I will save that rant for later). I, as hard as it may be for people to believe, am not interested in making huge amounts of money. I decided that in order for me to get back into school at this point in my life, I would have to take classes that I am interested in, rather than classes that are “practical”.

Thus, I am a History major, and I am as happy as a wee clam.

I realize that I will probably have to get an advanced degree to get a job in the field, but again-as history is something that I tend to study on my own, and truly love- I look forward to it.

So, I may go into teaching…I may write…I would love to be a researcher for, say, the BBC or the History Channel…or…

So, I WILL NOT be cynical and resign myself to taking business classes, because that will get me a high paying job (sorry folks who went this route, but I can’t think of anything I would be less interested in). I would rather be on the brink of poverty while doing what I love, than make six figures at a job that means absolutely nothing.

Does anyone else want this soapbox now?

This won’t end well, I expect.

Seriously, what do you think most professional school students majored in? Think law school and business school, for instance.

And also, what Fionn said.

The idea that college is nothing more than a minuimum requirement on a resume to get a job is rather recent–esspecially among corporations–and people entering college have not all yet discovered that they were not supposed to look for an education while they were learning their trade. (I suspect that those corporate hiring practices are fairly recent, as well, perhaps egged on by too many managers getting “trade school” MBAs that did not provide them an education.)

Back in the olden days, even the “industrial” colleges such as General Motors Institute, Case Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, etc. required a certain level of liberal arts studies in their curriculum and many corporations, (GM and TRW, for example), used to make a point of hiring some number of Liberal Arts grads whom they trained in management so that they would have a better rounded management team. (The better schools and smarter corporations may still have those requirements, but I am not in a position to review them.)

Liberal Arts is not supposed to be in competition with the Technical Arts and I suspect that any serious rivalry (as opposed to good-natured ribbing) is probably recent, as well. I have known both idiotically snobbish LA students and foolishly dismissive TA students, of course, but while there have always been stupid people in all disciplines, the people guiding those disciplines used to tend to have a better overall view of the world.

It might be simply a matter that as education became more commonplace (and required), the idea of college as trade school was an inevitable development. That would be sad, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

Because I’m not a boring nerd that loves economics. I took a lot of crap from my JC honors counselor…“Oh, you have so many sneer fine arts classes! What do you plan to do with that?”

“Oh, I don’t know, something not terribly presumptuous. Maybe be a counselor at a JC…”

First job with my AA in Liberal Arts I was in engineering and management was making noise to get me trained for CM. I wasn’t making boatloads of money, but it was the type of work and about the salary range that a kid fresh out with a Bachelor’s of Anything would probably get and it had the potential to grow into something decent.

I’m getting a degree in Classics now. Because I want to. Because it’s interesting, and it makes me more interesting. What I would do at the end of it was always a question hanging in the air in the few years I had between JC and and university, I admit. I used to think about grad school but pretty much lost my interest in it when I realized I’d be sitting in a classroom and writing papers my whole life for peanuts. I just don’t have the stomach for graduate study (hats off to all of you that do though! Your brain > mine.)

I could always go back to engineering - a lot of people I worked with left for JPL and could probably get me a little podunk job there. Turns out I can’t keep my nose out of my husband’s law school texts though, so I’m giving that a shot. Many if not most of the kids in my major end up in law school anyways. I’m actually getting doing undergrad research in Roman law, and may get published if I can get a prof. to sponsor me. Which will stand out from the 80 billion applications from generic PoliSci students.

I went to Georgia Institute of Technology because engineers make a shit load of money. Yea, I can do math and science. If you give me something, a broken motor or machine, I can probably fix it. I can probably design it as well, electrical circuits really aren’t that hard at all to build. But I don’t want to get a degree with a bunch of numbnuts who savor the day when they are mopping the floors of a Fortune 500 company on the slow path to middle management. I want to go to school to learn. I want to feel, if for only a year, that my life has meaning. I can teach myself about points of friction, redundancy, and coeffs of thermal expansion. It’s harder to become diversified in liberal arts, to have pretenious conversations for no real reason at all.

As others have said, students choose liberal arts majors because they are deeply interested in the material. They may also choose such majors because they believe they are excellent preparation for a successful future life and all that it entails in terms of career, civic life, intellectual pursuits, interests, and so on.

Although there does seem to be a relative lack a specific job “fit” for a number of liberal arts majors, that doesn’t mean that liberal arts majors fail to get jobs after graduation. It means the jobs they get may be in a wide variety of fields. Contrary to the OP’s statement, many firms hire liberal arts majors and in fact even seek them out. If you look at surveys of what recruiters want, they tend to list traits like “critical thinking” and “good communication skills” and “flexibility” and “ability to consider other perspectives.” Some recruiters say they prefer to teach their new hires their specific way of doing business, so they are less concerned with new hires having learned a certain field-specific skill set in college, and more interested in someone who is a capable learner with solid general aptitudes.

Research seems to bear out the idea that liberal arts majors can be a good preparation for careers. When they’ve looked longer-term, liberal arts majors have excelled in a variety of fields, even those which typically are pursued by graduates with more vocationally-oriented or professional majors (i.e., business).

I did an Arts degree. I double majored in Economics and Political Science. I did this because they were areas of study that interested me, and because I believe that a university education is about more than solely preparing people for the workplace.

Did I plan for that to be the end of my education? No. Immediately after completing my Arts degree, I began law school.

Someone in my family went to a college where all of the courses are required. The reading material was “The Great Books of the Western World.” He enjoyed being around intelligent people for a change and never came home again. He started his own business, owns two houses and seems enormously happy. He entertains himself better than anyone I know.

I have a liberal arts degree because that’s where my interests are. You think this crummy third rate poet is going to take chemical engineering?

I’ve been in educational technology (mostly software) ever since I graduated from college with a degree in meteorology. It was the mid 80’s and technology was the place to be.

Unless the position is a straight IT or software development position, the companies I’ve been with in the last decade would much rather hire someone with knowledge of the end user’s point of view and teach them the technical aspects of the job than vice-versa. It is much more preferable to have someone who understands the needs of librarians (or auto repairmen, or golf course superintendants, or shopkeepers) dealing with the people who use your software than someone who can debug the software on the fly.

This has been a steady and continuing situation for many years.

I’m not clear what employers you’re talking about. Are you just talking about computer companies? (I’ve noticed that some people on the Dope seem to think that all employment revolves around the high tech industry, I’m curious if this prejudice is at play here.)

I work for the largest employer in the US, and Uncle Sam gave me my job in large part because I studied international relations and history. And I make a very nice living, too.

Did you have anything relevant to say, or were you just threadshitting?

I once knew an Anthropology professor who called the field “a trashcan science,” meaning it contained a little of everything, depending on the type of anthro studied. Anthro majors can continue on into just about any field, depending on the focus. For instance, forensic anthropolgy entails a good amount of biology and hard science, and many of those students go on to medical school. Some anthro students end up in law school. The possibilities are almost endless.

Out of curiosity, was this St. John’s College? I’m currently a student there. I’ll graduate with a degree in Liberal Arts. I’m doing it for two reasons:

  1. It interests me. Starting college I had no idea what I wanted to go into. I was interested in all sorts of things. There was one ‘hard’ field that I had an interest in but not all that much aptitude in it, and I certainly didn’t want to dedicate myself to it at that point.

  2. I’ve stayed in this course of study because I finally have figured out what I want to do, and it pretty much will require some sort of higher degree. So why not get a well-rounded foundation first, then specialize?

NinjaChick: I used to know quite a few student’s at St. John’s in Santa Fe. That was many moons ago, though. An excellent school. I often wish I had gone there.

Well, I started out trying for some kind of double humanities/business major but I loathed the first year business curriculum, and when I bitched about it to my smokin’ hot politics prof, he smiled his big-bad-wolf smile at me and told me not to waste my education studying things I hated, to follow my passions and it’d all work out. So I did, and it did. It’s amazing where the skills I learned while picking up all that knowledge took me. That was the best piece of advice I received the whole time I was at uni, and the eye-candy factor was merely a bonus.

Interestingly, he was a passionate teacher of economics. He felt that the study of economics was central to a well-rounded understanding of politics and society. So I didn’t miss that from skipping out on business school.