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What Is a Liberal Arts Degree?

As you dig into your college search, you’re probably realizing that there isn’t just one kind of school. A giant state university is different from a small private college. Which school you choose depends on your needs as a student, and the school you end up attending will determine your options once you graduate. One major type of school is a liberal arts college. But what exactly is a liberal arts degree, and what can you do with one? In the following article, we explore these questions.

The definition of liberal arts

The concept of liberal arts dates back to Ancient Greece. It was then, and still is, thought of as the education of the whole person. Whereas some degrees, say a nursing degree, focus on one avenue of study and one specific career, liberal arts builds on all fields of learning. At a liberal arts school, you take classes in many disciplines, from science to art to the humanities. It is likely that you still major in one area of knowledge, say biology, or philosophy, but you will study many areas along the way. Professors at liberal arts schools are aware of this, and often teach classes that weave in many fields at once. Ultimately, students of the liberal arts gain a broader spectrum of knowledge and skills.

Also see: Top liberal arts colleges

Is a liberal arts degree worth the cost?

At first glance, liberal arts degrees are more expensive than specialized ones. Liberal arts colleges are usually private, and have a higher ticket price than public universities and pre-professional programs. However, a liberal arts degree might be cheaper in the long run based on two realities. First off, while the face value cost of a liberal arts school may be lots more expensive than your local university, it could wind up costing less. Oftentimes, private liberal arts colleges offer more money in financial aid, both need-based and merit-based. 

Remember that you receive need-based scholarships from a school when you and your family demonstrate that you need financial assistance paying for college. The specific amount is calculated from your FAFSA, and it’s super important that you fill it out. You receive merit-based aid when you do well in school, on your tests, and in your college applications. Overall, private liberal arts schools are more likely to provide financial aid of both these types because they have less students, and adopt a more personal approach to education.

See also: How to choose a college

The other reason a liberal arts degree is often more cost-effective is revealed through the statistics of how liberal arts majors fare once they graduate. It turns out that the return on investment is greater for liberal arts majors than graduates from other types of institutions. This means that over time, graduates from liberal arts programs make more money than their counterparts.

A Georgetown study offers a more in depth look at this phenomenon. It states that the “median ROI of liberal arts colleges is nearly $200,000 higher than the median for all colleges. Further, the 40-year median ROI of liberal arts institutions ($918,000) is close to those of four-year engineering and technology-related schools ($917,000).” While liberal arts majors may not make a ton of money fresh out of college, they often end up in more lucrative careers. See the next section for an exploration of the types of careers that liberal arts majors may pursue.

Also see: What are the NESCAC schools?

What can you do with a liberal arts degree?

If you haven’t realized yet, the answer is a lot. Because a liberal arts degree involves the study of a broad range of disciplines, the avenues a liberal arts graduate can pursue are equally broad. Studying within the liberal arts gives you a general knack for creativity, problem solving, and communication that might not be gained from a more specialized education. In fact, even for specialized careers, such as accounting or engineering, employers may seek candidates who have a more diverse background because they bring an outside-the-box approach. Below is a list of careers a liberal arts major could pursue. Note how wide ranging these fields are.

  • Advertising representative
  • Archivist
  • Artist
  • Events director
  • Financial analyst
  • Graphic designer
  • Human resources specialist
  • Journalist
  • Marketing specialist
  • Public relations specialist
  • Project manager
  • Research analyst
  • Social worker
  • Statistician
  • Teacher
  • Technical writer
  • Web developer

The list could go on and on. Of course, one of the coolest parts of a liberal arts education is that you could major in biology, take some music classes along the way, and still end up working as a professional biologist in the end. With a liberal arts degree, the opportunities are truly endless.

Related: What is the average starting salary out of college?

How can you find liberal arts schools?

So you’ve determined that a liberal arts degree might be right for you. Now, how do you find your dream liberal arts school? Because a liberal arts education is so personalized towards the education of the whole person, make sure the schools you consider really seem right for you. When in doubt, reach out. Keep learning, and eventually you could end up at your dream school, and in your dream career.

Learn more: What’s the difference between BS and BA degrees?

Frequently asked questions about liberal arts degrees

Do liberal arts majors make more money?

If liberal arts majors compare their salaries to those with professional degrees at peak earning potential, liberal arts majors come out on top by $2,000. Peak earning age is considered to be between ages 56 to 60. Once must consider earnings over a lifetime to truly answer that question.

Do employers value liberal arts degrees?

Yes, and in fact, a study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) reveals that four out of five employers prefer recent college graduates with liberal arts degrees.