What do Martin Luther King, Jr.; President Bill Clinton; '60s activist Angela Davis; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Martha Stewart have in common? They were all liberal arts majors. Students thinking about pursuing a liberal arts education are in good company--politicos, CEOs, policy makers and prominent leaders all fall into that field.
What is a liberal arts education?
Some careers require specific training; for those fields, students generally enroll in a career-oriented major in which most of their coursework is geared toward their eventual employment. Liberal arts majors, however, take a variety of different subjects in school and gain overarching skills, like communication and writing, that can be applicable in any number of ways. Online humanity degrees are available at all levels; you can even complete training at one level and then work your way up to the next. You'll find associate degrees, bachelor's degrees and master's degrees available in the liberal arts. Georgetown University even offers a doctoral degree in liberal studies.
Although different programs include different courses, a liberal arts education can include coursework in:
- The humanities: English, foreign languages, history, philosophy and the arts
- The social sciences: anthropology, communications, geography, linguistics, political science, sociology and women's studies
Steeped as they are in the history, literature and thought of various cultures and societies, the liberal arts offer students a global perspective on human society and human nature. Online degrees in liberal arts can benefit students by allowing them to tackle some of the discipline's biggest questions in collaboration with students worldwide.
Additionally, web resources allow students pursuing online degrees in liberal arts to access primary documents online to study history or literature, use virtual labs to participate in science experiments, and engage in online simulations to better understand economics or sociology, among other things.
While much in the world has changed in the last 40 years, the number of students pursuing liberal arts degrees has remained essentially the same, according to Edwin Koc in an article "The Liberal Arts Graduate and the College Hiring Market," written for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In 1970-71, 41 percent of bachelor's degrees were given to students majoring in the liberal arts, he said. In 2009, 40.7 percent of bachelor's degrees were distributed to students of liberal arts programs.
Who pursues a liberal arts education?
A different view of the world could account for why some choose to seek liberal arts degrees and others go after career-oriented skills, according to Koc. This could also explain why many liberal arts majors seek employment in state or federal government or in the non-profit sector rather than the for-profit, private sector favored by a high percentage of career-oriented students, he said.
Wesleyan University President Michael Roth, in his blog on Huffington Post, noted that a successful liberal arts education develops skills for innovation and judgment. Most hiring managers care more about a job candidate's skills than they do about a specific college major, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some of the essential skills that employers could look for when it comes to hiring employees are analysis and critical thinking as well as effective communication and problem solving--all cornerstones of a liberal arts education.
According to Roth, a liberal arts education can be a resource throughout life because it encourages the experiences of thinking and expressing freely. These experiences can also make online education a good vehicle for liberal arts majors. An online education provides access to a wider audience of instructors and students and this can help provide a better understanding of human nature and society, another skill in the liberal arts major's arsenal.
Liberal arts at a glance
- Key skills: critical thinking, communicating, problem solving
- Number of students: 40.7 percent of all bachelor's degrees in 2009 were in the liberal arts
- Common coursework: English, philosophy, history, political science