OPINION: The many benefits of liberal arts

Students studying liberal arts gain critical thinking skills, social understanding



Liberal arts majors are no less valid than STEM majors, as they give students many skills that are equally important.


Liberal arts majors get a bad rap. If you’re a student studying subjects like English or philosophy, you’ve likely been asked by friends and family members, “What do you want to do with that?”

These fields are sometimes looked down upon and not nearly as revered as a degree in engineering or chemistry. STEM majors are viewed as the important majors and the ones that are most lucrative. While this may be true in some sense, you can’t look down on or overlook liberal arts majors.

The liberal arts provide students with a unique academic path full of interesting classes. As a foreign language major, I have taken courses where I have learned material that I might not otherwise ever get a chance to study. Plus, the typical small class size for liberal arts classes creates an intimate discussion-based setting that is not always found in STEM classes. Many students who choose liberal arts majors are following their passion and their enthusiasm for the course material present in the classroom. This makes for engaging and fascinating discussions.

Joe Campbell, professor in WSU’s School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, wrote in an email that studying liberal arts presents unique opportunities for students to dive deep into discussion material.

“You’ll pick up a novel, scan a book on investments or accounting, learn how to do computer programming and do a variety of other things long after you graduate,” Campbell wrote. “But when will you get the opportunity to delve into the details of political, social or philosophical theories again?”

In terms of jobs after college, there are plenty of options for liberal arts majors beyond bar-tending or flipping burgers. Being involved in any kind of liberal arts major gives you excellent writing skills, something which employers value highly. Fields like journalism or business can be great avenues for liberal arts majors to showcase their skills.

Matthew Jockers, dean of WSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, said many successful organizations and businesses have roots in the liberal arts.

“Behind a huge percentage of [big companies] are classical liberal arts majors running them,” Jockers said. “It’s actually more likely that a startup was founded by someone with a liberal arts degree than a STEM degree.”

Jockers cited Steve Jobs, who attended a liberal arts college and was interested in liberal arts fields, although he didn’t graduate.

Many different skills can be gained from education in the liberal arts. Campbell wrote that communication is the most important skill students can get from a liberal arts education and can be a valuable asset when looking for a job.

“Communication is important in any job,” Campbell wrote. “Even if you own a company, you’ll need the skills necessary to communicate with your employees in an effective and efficient way.”

Jockers said there are a number of different skills liberal arts majors possess, and some of these set them apart from their more science or engineering-oriented counterparts.

“I would say the liberal arts nurtures a certain nimbleness of mind, nimbleness of thinking that allows someone to be flexible,” he said.

Jockers said those who major in engineering (or other related fields) follow very specialized paths of study while liberal arts majors receive broad, interdisciplinary educations. This wide-ranging education allows students to go into a myriad of fields after graduating.

“You can do anything you want,” Jockers said.

I think I speak for most liberal arts majors when I say that a liberal arts degree isn’t about the money. Liberal arts classes allow students to explore the ideas and subjects they are passionate about. From this passion, students can go many different directions after graduation, from grad school to starting successful companies. While STEM gets much of the attention, we can’t forget about the liberal arts.