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What Exactly Do Liberal Arts Mean? Photo KnowInsiders

Ask 10 people to define the term "liberal arts," and you'll likely get 10 different answers. Is math a liberal art? What about biology or chemistry? Although the liberal arts definition has evolved over time, nowadays the field comprises four major areas of study: the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.

A liberal arts education offers an expansive intellectual grounding in all kinds of humanistic inquiry. Pursuing a degree in the liberal arts helps you succeed in a fast-paced world that requires individuals to develop creative solutions today to solve the complex challenges of the future.

What Exactly Do Liberal Arts Mean?

A yellow infographic piece with the text Some popular liberal arts majors include: English, Communication, History, Psychology, MathematicsLiberal arts is a broad term that can be encompass everything from theater arts to economics.

As a discipline, these subjects are intended to give you general knowledge and the ability to think critically and learn any subject – instead of specific skills needed for a technical profession. Instead, liberal arts sharpen your research, writing and critical thinking skills.

As to what you can do with a degree in liberal arts, the benefits go far beyond the specific subject knowledge from a particular degree. When it's time to enter the job market, liberal arts majors have a huge array of possibilities available to them, including many in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and business.

A brief history of liberal arts education

During the era of classical antiquity, liberal arts was considered essential education for a free individual active in civic life. At the time, this would have entailed being able to participate in public debate, defend oneself and serve in court and on juries, and perform military service. At this time, liberal arts covered only three subjects: grammar, rhetoric and logic, collectively known as the trivium.

This was extended in medieval times to include four further subjects: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy, named the quadrivium – so there were seven liberal arts subjects in the medieval liberal arts curriculum.

What is liberal arts education today?

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Photo Medium

So, in a modern context, what is a liberal arts education? There are now many subjects that fall within the broad scope of the category; a typical liberal arts degree program is interdisciplinary, covering topics within the humanities, as well as social, natural and formal sciences. There are differences in the particular subjects included in liberal arts degree programs at different institutions.

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What Is Liberal Arts College?

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Photo shiksha

There are some notable differences between dedicated liberal arts colleges and other universities in the US. Liberal arts colleges typically rely heavily on student participation and encourage a high level of student-teacher interaction, mentorship and collaboration.

Whereas universities tend to prioritize research, liberal arts colleges have more staff members dedicated to teaching full-time, rather than a combination of graduate student teaching assistants and research professors. Most liberal arts colleges are small and residential, with smaller enrollment and class sizes and a lower student-teacher ratio, with teachers becoming mentors and even research partners with their students.

While many colleges and universities grant liberal arts degrees, a liberal arts college offers a focused liberal arts education. These colleges generally emphasize small class sizes and a curriculum centered on the humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Like students earning a liberal arts degree at a research institution, students at liberal arts colleges must fulfill general education requirements that emphasize critical thinking, problem-solving, and reasoning skills.

[Liberal arts] colleges generally emphasize small class sizes and a curriculum centered on the humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Maine's Bowdoin College explains that "a modern liberal arts education takes whatever you're passionate about — history, medicine, music, law, neuroscience, engineering, poetry, teaching, biology — and helps you understand how it will impact the world around you."

What is a Liberal Arts Degree Good For?

With further training, nearly all liberal arts degrees can lead to careers in education, allowing graduates – with the right qualifications – to share their passion with others. These degrees also lend themselves well to further studies and research. Many liberal arts majors are also interested in giving back and connecting with people, which leads them to careers in politics, public service and other helping professions.

These are some of the more traditional paths for liberal arts majors, but graduates can be found in nearly all industries and professions. Their ability to think critically, adapt quickly and solve problems is in demand in STEM and business fields where liberal arts graduates may find their niche in areas such as marketing, sales, strategy or relationship-driven work such as customer relations and account management.

Torian Parker with the text Torian ParkerTheir skills in reading, research and making complex information digestible can help them get up to speed quickly on technical subjects, even when they may not have a formal technical background.

Liberal arts majors often know how to connect with others and can excel at adding the "human touch" to whichever field they enter. “Liberal arts (majors) approach problems in the workplace and the world from a unique vantage point by tapping into the humanistic qualities and dynamics at times overlooked due to a narrowed and single approach to problem-solving," Parker said.

Benefits of a liberal arts degree

If you’re still unsure whether a liberal arts degree is for you, here are some of the key benefits of a liberal arts degree:

Preparation for work in a variety of sectors: you will gain a strong foundation knowledge in a wider range of subjects than if you were to take a degree specializing in a single subject or vocation.

Introduction to career choices: the range of subjects taught in a liberal arts degree program means students can be introduced to subjects they may not have otherwise encountered, enabling them to make a more informed decision when choosing their preferred career path.

Stepping-stone to other careers: the knowledge achieved during a liberal arts education can help you to better maneuver yourself out of your current career into another.

Liberal arts degrees are appealing to employers: employers recognize that liberal arts graduates have the necessary transferable skills to adapt to a changing workplace.

Provides a foundation for graduate study: a potential graduate student with a liberal arts background will have the ability to learn across a diverse field of studies, with the foundation knowledge to go straight into graduate study in any subject they choose.

Provides skills to become a valuable community member: a liberal arts education extends beyond academia and the workplace to give graduates the necessary qualities that can enable them to adapt and thrive in the world, communicate with and understand other members of the community and have a broadened perspective.

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What Jobs Can You Get with a Liberal Arts Degree?

You can look forward to entering a number of careers in business, government, education and healthcare thanks to the transferable skills a liberal arts education provides. Below are some popular majors and career paths you can consider.

Here are a few popular liberal arts majors

Biology — uncover the inner workings of living creatures through studying science, math, and history.

Creative writing — craft stories and learn to communicate through the written word. Classes in psychology, philosophy, history, and English can help improve your stories.

Fine art — apply your vision and creativity while learning to create art. History, psychology, geometry, and communications classes also help art students improve their creative work.

History — explore the events and situations that impact our world, from wars to political movements. Political science, sociology, psychology, and religious studies round out this major.

Political science — study the systems of government and understand its institutions, practices, and relationships. You will explore aspects of psychology, economics, history, and sociology with a political science major.

Psychology — learn how humans think and understand which factors influence our brains and behavior. Psychology students also learn about sociology, history, art, biology, and statistics.

Sociology — understand how societies are structured and how groups of people interact. History, political science, art, and math all play a role in this major.

These are just a few liberal arts degrees you can choose. While each degree program focuses on a particular academic interest, they all require students to complete a wide-ranging curriculum before graduation.

What Types of Liberal Arts Degree Jobs Are Available?

What Exactly Do Liberal Arts Mean: History, Types, College Degree and Job
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What can you do with a liberal arts degree? Almost anything!

A liberal arts degree prepares you for a wide range of jobs across many industries. Jobs for liberal arts majors could include becoming a journalist or a professor, getting involved in politics or curating a museum, helping businesses succeed or marketing products. Some students earn a general liberal arts or humanities degree, while others choose a more focused — but still well-rounded — liberal arts major.

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Here are a few possible jobs and the majors that can help prepare you for them:

Business manager — economics, philosophy sociology

Curator or librarian — art history, classics, history, languages

Human resources professional — communications, psychology, sociology

Lawyer — American studies, history, political science

Marketing and public relations associate — communications, journalism, sociology

Politician — American studies, classics, communications

Skills gained from a liberal arts degree

Across the world, advocates of liberal arts education criticize the educational formats and curriculums of other degree programs for their over-emphasis of technical capabilities while neglecting other vital skills. A liberal arts degree will offer you a wide range of highly sought-after skills, a few of which we have outlined below: Analytical, evaluative, critical and creative thinking skills.

Effective oral and written communication skills

Problem-solving and pattern intelligence skills

Ability to learn and synthesize new ideas

Experience in quantitative and qualitative data analysis

Critical and reflective reading skills

Numerical skills

Effective research skills

Organization and time-management skills

Information literacy skills

Ability to adapt easily to situations

Ethical decision-making skills

Ability to pose meaningful questions

Ability to work in a team

Self-confidence and self-understanding

Ability to be sensitive to others and be tolerant of cultural differences

Foreign language skills and cross-cultural knowledge

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