What Are Liberal Arts?

Liberal arts is a term rooted in antiquity, and sometimes misunderstood today. “Arts” refers to skills and “liberal” refers to a free person. Liberal arts are the skills people need to lead their lives and contribute to the world in meaningful ways. A liberal arts education aims to develop well-rounded students through coursework in the humanities, natural sciences, mathematics, and social sciences.

Liberal arts students eventually focus on one or two topics of study, but they are able to see how their chosen topic connects with many other disciplines. Instead of learning only about management strategies at a business school, for instance, they will see how other areas, such as politics, influence the business world.

By learning in a variety of subject areas, students develop the ability to solve problems from multiple angles. They are able to think about issues from more than one perspective, and they learn how to communicate clearly with a variety of audiences.

Where can you get a liberal arts education?

It’s possible to get a liberal arts degree at a large university, but it’s more common to study in the liberal arts at a four-year college. There are hundreds of liberal arts colleges in the United States designed specifically to allow study in a variety of areas simultaneously. Liberal arts college are generally much smaller than universities and classes are taught by professors instead of graduate students. Class sizes are small and professors get to know their students. Most degrees awarded are bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degrees. Graduates continue on to a graduate or professional school or go directly into the workforce or volunteer service.

What if you don’t know what you want to study?

Many students enter college undecided about their major. A liberal arts school—as opposed to a professional, vocational, or technical school—won’t limit you to one area study as soon as you enroll. You will have the freedom to explore and see what sparks your passion. This process also helps students who enter college already decided on an area of study. Often, they discover a new interest that they want to pursue instead.

How can a liberal arts education help you in your career?

A liberal arts education prepares students for change. Few people now remain in the same job for their entire career. But liberal arts students gain skills needed in almost every job—communication, the ability to analyze complex problems, and the ability to keep learning to keep up with technology and society. These skills make it easier and faster to adapt to a new job or industry. For that reason, 74 percent of employers indicated they would recommend a liberal arts education to college-bound students.

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