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What is a Liberal Arts Education?

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When you’re considering your education and what that will mean for you, whether you’re a high school student or you’re adult who wants to explore a new degree to advance your career, you likely hear the term liberal arts education quite a bit.

A liberal arts education is something with both pros and cons, and it’s not right for every student.

The following are important things to know about a liberal arts education and what it could mean for you.

What Does Liberal Arts Mean?

Liberal arts is a pretty broad term, and it encourages the exploration of ideas and issues across the arts and humanities as well as social and natural sciences. The general goal of a liberal arts education is to help students think broadly, write well, and read critically.

According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, a liberal arts education approach empowers students to learn how to deal with change, diversity, and complexity.

Students learn about the broader world, according to this definition, and then they may also do in-depth study in a particular area they’re most interested in. Liberal arts educations help students develop social responsibility, says the AACU.

There are some different specific terms that can be confused with one another, including:

  • Liberal education: A liberal education is a learning approach that is also known as a liberal arts education. The hope is that when students have a liberal arts education, it prepares them to bring both practical and intellectual skills to the real world.
  • The Liberal Arts: This is a specific discipline that falls within the larger category of liberal arts, such as sciences and humanities.
  • Liberal arts college: This type of school is often one that’s small and encourages a lot of student and faculty interactions. A liberal arts college might also put focus on student participation, collaboration, and mentorship. Universities, on the other hand, are more research-centric.

Is a Liberal Arts Degree Right For you?

The following are some benefits of a liberal arts degree:

  • Since a liberal arts education is fairly broad, there’s the potential that it could prepare you to work in many different sectors. If you aren’t sure exactly what career path you want to follow, a liberal arts education may be a good starting point. You can also be introduced to different subjects so the education itself may help you hone in on a career choice.
  • Employers may like to see candidates with a liberal arts background because it means that they have skills that are broad and can be adapted to different challenges.
  • If you’re thinking about continuing on to graduate studies, a liberal arts background during undergrad can help you figure out what you’d like to study specifically and get you ready for that higher level of education.

What Career Fields Does a Liberal Arts Education Translate Well To?

Some of the specific careers that might be in line with a liberal arts education include education itself, marketing and political science. Anything in the arts can be a good match, and you might decide that you want to work in higher education, although this would mean you would probably need a master’s or doctorate degree.

Social services, business careers, finance, and research assistance, can all also be careers you go into with a liberal arts background.

Are There Downsides to a Liberal Arts Education?

While there are pros to liberal arts educations, there are cons to weigh too.

One of the biggest criticisms of liberal arts educations is that they don’t focus enough on STEM. STEM is where the jobs are in many parts of the country and world, and it’s just where a need is.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.

With STEM education, the focus is on conveying hands-on technical skills and knowledge to students that don’t broadly apply to many career fields but are instead very specific.

Another criticism of a liberal arts education is that many schools providing these educations are private, meaning students pay a high premium for their education and may need loans. Taking out high amounts in student loans can be a poor long-term financial decision, particularly if you don’t find yourself in a job or career field that covers these loan costs.

A liberal arts education isn’t inherently bad or good. It’s something that needs to be considered on an individual basis, with an idea of what you hope to achieve as a result of your education.

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