Looking into post-high school education, students might hear “liberal arts education.” What exactly does that mean? It doesn’t mean only one career. It’s a variety.
Focus on the word “arts.” Think on the broad spectrum because liberal arts includes fields of study in history, literature, writing, philosophy, sociology and other creative arts. Liberal arts are usually for those that love letters instead of numbers, according to Lindsey Ranstrom, co-founder and vocation coach with Joyful Mouvement.
“So the liberal arts are those people that love letters, love looking at beautiful things, creating beautiful things, in whatever medium that may be,” Ranstrom said.
“I actually think a liberal arts education is the best education that you can get. And that’s not to knock if you have a very specific track that you’re interested in. But what I think is the strength of a liberal arts degree is that you get exposure to so many different subjects, so many different types of information, and that makes you more involved to apply what you learn to different situations.”
The strengths of a liberal arts major can be broken down into the four Cs, according to Ranstrom: Creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking. Those are skills that can be used in many, if not most, jobs.
The liberal arts degrees can be misunderstood as passion degrees instead of real “money-makers.” Meaning people go into liberal arts education to learn about subjects they’re passionate about, which isn’t the case, according to Ranstrom.
The job market and the business world are starting to better understand and appreciate the value of liberal arts degrees more, she added. Those that pursue liberal arts degrees are often creative people, those who understand others and are storytellers.
“And what business doesn’t need good storytellers?” Ranstrom said. “What business doesn’t need someone who really understands who their customer is, understands how to communicate effectively?”
Graduates with liberal arts degrees can then work for any company as they showcase their transferable skills from that degree and bring it into whatever career sector they find themselves in.
There are plenty of opportunities within the liberal arts. Take philosophy, for example. An easy transition within philosophy is to continue education and become a lawyer, Ranstrom said. Or some philosophy majors move on to political science for second degrees before going on into politics.
Becoming a teacher in a chosen liberal arts subject is also always an option. An English major could become an English teacher or English professor, depending on how much education they’d like to take on.
“I think that the important thing to keep in mind in terms of liberal arts education... is specific jobs change,” said Hans Schmidt, associate professor of communications at Penn State University. “Developing specific career skills is important. It’s a useful goal of education.”
As the world changes, jobs change and different career fields might come and go, a hot career path for the moment might not be around five or 10 years from now. Some things will become less in demand later. But a liberal arts education will help equip people with plenty of skills to use in various fields.
“General skills related to what you learn about in many of those liberal arts subject areas, related to communication,” Schmidt said. “Written, spoken, visual, critical thinking. These are applicable in every field and every job. They don’t come and go, and employers recognize them as being important.”
One other thing to keep in mind with a liberal arts education is that high school students don’t always know what they want to do with the rest of their life. Some may have a true passion and clear track to take, but many others aren’t sure and want to explore the options.
That’s where the liberal arts route comes in, giving people a chance to get exposed to many different topics and subjects to see what might spark an interest in a more specific field or career. A liberal arts education will give students the chance to stumble upon something they’re passionate about and might not even know it, according to Ranstrom.
There are no specific jobs that go along with liberal arts. It can really be anything and depend on what someone wants to do for a career, Ranstrom said. Still, a few examples include becoming a teacher, anything with writing (copywriter, freelance writing etc.), working in museums or national parks, marketing or brand awareness positions.
As far as salaries, the median income of liberal arts graduates was $40,300 annually for 25-29-year-olds, according to a recent study from the United States Department of Education. During the earlier years of their careers, the median salary is $30,200. Many of the careers liberal arts majors go into have median salaries of $76,990.
“The interesting thing about the liberal arts is that if you look at lifetime earning potential, it’s on par with the sciences,” Ranstrom said. “Studies have shown it’s a little bit harder early on. So as a new professional straight out of college, liberal arts majors tend to not make as much. But then they find their groove, they find their niche.”