*THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2014 DURING THE FIRST ITERATION OF CHANGTHEWORLD.COM*
I am a liberal arts graduate.
Liberal arts majors have received its fair share of bashing over the years from mainstream society for being completely useless and unemployable since they provide relatively no professional or technical skills. It is without a doubt that we, as a society, have placed a heavy emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields over pretty much everything else in recent years. From certain perspectives, I can understand why. However, not everyone is academically or professionally inclined to pursue the STEM fields, like myself. I am a liberal arts graduate and I feel like it is my place to give my two cents.
I graduated a few years back with my bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts. And to make it even broader, my diploma says I have a Bachelors of Arts in Liberal Arts. I literally majored in liberal arts! It really cannot get any broader than that. I did get to choose concentrations, which was international studies. I mainly dabbled in US-Asia Pacific history, international relations, and a bit of American political science.
My purpose here is not to say how utterly awesome and superior the liberal arts are, which they are not. They are not without faults. Nothing is perfect after all. Rather, I want to offer some reassurance to current and potential liberal arts majors as well shine some positive light on those who think liberal arts are impractical and useless, and quite possibly a complete waste of time and resources in our modern capitalist society.
Now here is my story…
Why did I choose to attend a liberal arts college and major in liberal arts?
To be honest, the high school me had no clue what a liberal arts education is, even with the mighty power of Wikipedia. As a native Californian and Asian American, attending one of the universities in the University of California system was a natural choice. However, the UC system was unattractive to me. When it came to college hunting, I was attracted to small class sizes, a small and close-knit college community, and the ability to have really personal interactions with your professors and classmates. The Socratic Method, used to stimulate critical thinking and encourage dialogue amongst peers to generate ideas, caught my attention. (Looking back, I don't think I ever did any form of Socratic Seminars back in high school.) I went to school because I loved to learn, not because it guaranteed a nice big paycheck. If I wanted that big paycheck, I would just be a doctor, pharmacist, accountant, or a porn star. Not so sure how far I can even get with the last one though, I am a male Asian American after all and I do not even want to get into racial stereotypes right now.
Anyways, convincing my traditional Asian tiger helicopter parents took a lot of effort; I applied to the UCs simply to appease them. When my first choice (my alma mater) offered me admission, I was ecstatic. All the other acceptance and rejection letters that subsequently arrived meant nothing to me. I was set on attending my school of choice, much to the chagrin of my parents. Their only son attending a small liberal arts institution, unknown to the Asians in our community, was a source of embarrassment to them. It meant a loss of bragging rights. Asian parents in my community LOVED to brag about their children. Then again, it is only natural for parents to do such things. My decision left a thorn in my parents’ hearts for years to come, which only healed after I completed my undergraduate career.
Anyways, I digress. I digress a lot…
So what did I learn in liberal arts?
College started and I moved away from home. YAY! Peace and tranquility! My school has a sizable international student population, which enabled me to interact with people from various cultures and countries. These interactions and friendships I made really opened up my eyes and furthered my understanding of the world.
I took full advantage of the academic offerings, overloading my schedule with courses almost every semester. I was really thirsty for knowledge. By the end of my four-year college tenure, I took five years’ worth of classes in terms of course units. To top it off, I only paid tuition for four years! Most of my classes were conducted in the Socratic Method, where we discussed and debated over the class material, rather than merely listening to a lecture. This molded me into a very proactive, critical and logical individual. Instead of waiting for answers, I prefer to search for my own answers. Being complacent and submissive just did not sit well with me. That thirst for knowledge is still with me up until this day. Exams and rout memorization did not really exist at my school. Instead, I wrote countless papers. By the end of my first semester of freshman year, I have possibly written over fifty pages worth of papers. Some peers from high school I know never even wrote more than twenty pages throughout their entire college career. Even with all that writing, I am not even close to being a perfect writer! Look at all the grammatical errors in this post alone! By the fiery gates of Erebus!
Let us continue…
I also took advantage of other things my school offered, such as study abroad (included in my tuition) and student travel grants. I was able to travel abroad several times for study trips and conferences at the school’s expense. I could not have asked for more. That was college tuition well spent there. I felt all these experiences have made me a very global, open and culturally tolerant individual, in addition to all those other traits I have mentioned previously. To sum it all up, it made me a very well-rounded man. The educational training was very soft skill-oriented.
I would love to go into detail on the actual academic subjects I learned, but this post will see no end and lose focus if that happened.
Let me list a few soft skills, in no particular order, that were developed by my liberal arts background in bullet point form out of ease:
Like I mentioned at the beginning, I am not here to say that liberal arts are superior. I am merely stating what I received from my liberal arts education; I am in no position to say that other majors do not offer those things or that majors that do not emphasize on the development of those traits are worse off. As Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” states, “You have to know an awful lot before you can judge other people’s actions with real understanding” (Book XI. 18) As a Generation Y-er, I am not in that position nor will I ever be in that position.
I have to be honest with you though. I did feel my liberal arts curriculum was really broad. I mean I learned a multitude of subjects: history, culture, international relations, nationalism, statistics, political science, Japanese, etc. When senior year came along, I began to ponder about my next step in life. During the college years, I came across countless articles, bashing on the liberal arts and how liberal arts majors are virtually unemployable. There were moments of doubt. I did not study a STEM field like engineering or statistics. What can I possibly offer to employers? Critical thinking? Written and oral communication skills? Some would argue that those are skills everyone should have. Well, but common sense is not so common, is it? In the end, I steadfastly held onto my convictions and proudly finished my bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.
To me, it is really about what you want to make out of your education rather than letting your education make you. Studying history does not mean you should travel back in time. Where the heck do we even find a time machine??? Studying nationalism does not make you a nationalist. Why would a publishing company need a history major? History majors should work at museums or be history teachers. Why would a marketing agency need a psychology major? Psychology majors should be psychologists. This kind of logic does not really make much sense if you think about it. Those perceptions are pretty narrow-minded and really just based off the surface level. You have to think outside of the box while thinking deeper at the same time. Look at the soft skills you acquired while in the process of studying those academic subjects. They are quite useful. Now you just have to sell those skills to people. I will explain more on how this thought process affected me later.
I finished my undergraduate studies. Now what?
Based on what I studied, it seemed like I was preparing myself for a career in education, politics or doing some sort of work for an NGO, saving dolphins. Two internships with the state government pretty much destroyed my thoughts of working for the government. I may reconsider one day, but definitely not now. Higher education was the path I was intending to pursue. But like many Generation Y-ers, things changed. Like the solution for many liberal arts graduates, graduate school seemed to be the best answer to all my worries. Yay for taking on more student loans!
To be continued in Part 2…