Content provided by Scholarship Media: Helpful information as you navigate your college life to graduation.
I am a business major, but I still have to take some liberal arts courses. Why am I forced to take courses I do not want?
This question is asked frequently by students studying many different subjects. Today, many focus on so-called "career-oriented majors," but in order to achieve a better-rounded education, colleges are including liberal arts and humanities courses. Many deem a liberal arts education no longer relevant in today's science and technology driven world, but that assertion is not always the case.
In recent years, educators and policymakers have called for more STEM education at all levels. This has pushed liberal arts aside, where it has attained an image of self-indulgent irrelevance. Many argue that STEM training prepares students for the workplace, while humanities and liberal arts do not. Liberal arts advocates argue that they should be considered as a component of the sciences, not as an inferior sibling.
Liberal arts have long been considered a part of the sciences: In fact, the liberal arts of antiquity were logic, arithmetic, music, grammar, geometry and astronomy. The value of liberal arts is not necessarily in the content, but in the methodology of the education. Learning how to think systematically is an intellectual skill derived from studying liberal arts.
Today, students earn STEM degrees with the conviction that a STEM education will benefit them in the job market. Colleges are encouraging students to focus their education on what they want to do after graduation. Around half of the new graduates surveyed by Wellesley College said they wished they had taken more arts, language and cultural courses as a part of their degree.
The primary philosophy of liberal arts is to learn how to think, not just what to know. We live in a world awash with information, most of us carrying digital encyclopedias in the palms of our hands. Liberal arts education teaches us what to do with all of this data — how to sort through ambiguity and evaluate incomplete information to form a conclusion.
Liberal arts have long been viewed as elitist with no practical uses or prospects of remuneration. While it is true that a degree in engineering may go further than one in philosophy, there are still many career options that do not require a STEM background. Careers in marketing, fashion, consulting, public service and finance can all be attained through majoring in liberal arts. Effective communication, reading and writing are essential to any high-level position, and you will not succeed in the workplace without those skills.
Employers often complain that new graduates lack critical thinking skills. The ability to think outside of the box and transfer skills from one discipline to another can be acquired through liberal arts studies. These abilities go hand-in-hand with subjects like business or the sciences, and their learning methods complement each other. The outcome is a balanced education.
Derek Bok, former Harvard president, once said: "For almost all students, a liberal arts education works in subtle ways to create a web of knowledge that will illumine problems and enlighten judgment on innumerable occasions in later life."
Written by Suzanne Hite, former publications editor serving the technology services sector