Liberal Arts Majors Pack a Punch: Fighting off Major Stigma

MWCC Student Shares Opinion on why Liberal Arts Majors Deserve More Credit

For many years, our society has been under the impression that Liberal Arts majors are for those who don’t comprehend the weight of education and are ignorantly going to school for a degree they will never use; therefore, between the backhanded comments and ‘hushed’ criticism, Liberal Arts majors are used to people doubting and questioning the validity of their choice.

What many overlook when considering a Liberal Arts degree is that the major provides a wide array of skills that can be translated into the workplace and also foster an environment of passion and fulfillment. Because of this, I believe that the underestimation and stigmatization of these majors is nothing more than a lack of open-mindedness and knowledge.

In a May 7, 2015 article from The Washington Post, author and journalist on higher education Jeffrey J. Selingo explained that since college can be expensive, many major choices are largely based on “the expected return on investment after graduation.”

In this same article, Selingo said, “many students believe that picking a major is tantamount to choosing a career. It’s not.” Therefore, from my perspective, it seems that this idea has created a universal perception that in order to have a stable, productive, and worthwhile future (or career), you need to be extremely careful when choosing a major. With this mindset, the controversy surrounding these degrees seems inevitable.

Vice President for Advancement and Dean of the Robert Day Scholars Program at Claremont Mckenna College, Michelle Chamberlain, elaborated on this concept in a Jan. 14, 2020 article in The Washington Post, written by reporter Susan Svrluga. Chamberlain explained that when talking with parents, they always question whether a Liberal Arts major will “pay off.”

However, I believe that by focusing so much on what majors will “pay off” down the line, we are limiting ourselves to a narrow scope of career possibilities and overlooking that Liberal Arts degrees can give students just as many (if not more) skills as other majors to carry into many different fields.

For example, in a Sept. 2, 2016 article from The Washington Post, author and professor Steven Pearlstein wrote, “A study for the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of employers agreed that a ‘demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a job candidate’s] undergraduate major.’”

If we believe for a second that skills cannot be gained from pursuing a Liberal Arts degree, then we are believing a lie. While pursuing a Liberal Arts, I have had the opportunity to participate in various classes with different students and professors teaches you how to think, communicate, and navigate things in new and challenging ways; these skills are ones that can undoubtedly be translated into the professional world.

In an interview with author and journalist, George Anders, in the Sept. 29, 2017 article from The Washington Post, Selingo wrote, “[t]he one advantage of a liberal arts degree, Anders said, is that it doesn’t train students for a clear-cut job, so searching for employment can be as broad as graduates want it to be.”

Selingo also wrote that Anders relayed how “[c]lassics majors are popular among Wall Street banks…because of their ability to closely read texts [and]…Anthropology majors are hot hires for technology companies expanding their user-research efforts.”

As you can see, there are many fields that can see the valuable skillset Liberal Arts degrees bring to the table. So, instead of doubting whether specific majors will be profitable, we should consider how these majors will equip us with tangible skills that employers will ultimately value.

In addition to equipping students with a unique skillset, Liberal Arts Majors give students the freedom to choose majors they love and want to pursue, which only sets them on the road to being satisfied with their future careers.

In an Apr. 1, 2019 article from BBC, journalist Amanda Ruggeri said, “our assumptions about the market value of certain degrees – and the ‘worthlessness’ of others – might be off. At best, that could be making some students unnecessarily stressed. At worst? Pushing people onto paths that set them up for less fulfilling lives.”

I am of the perspective that life is too short to choose a major in something you dislike just because you think there is a more straightforward path on the other side. I understand that the guarantee of stability is vital to many, especially those trying to support their families, but there will always be a ‘safer’ job out there if all else fails. If nothing else, along the way, you will gain profitable skills that will set you up for even more jobs than you had considered before.

In addition, those of us who choose to pursue paths in Liberal Arts need to be our best advocates: do your own research, see what skills you can bring to the table, and pursue your passion boldly and with pride.

Together, let’s begin to reframe our perspective on how we measure a degree’s value. Regardless of what path we start on, we will all eventually find our place in the career world, and pursuing a Liberal Arts degree does not set you up any less than the majors we have been told for years are guaranteed success.