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Make the Most of Your Liberal Arts Degree

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is reprinted with permission from Indiana University Career Services. This is a condensed version.

Selling Your Liberal Arts Degree to An Employer

The hallmark of a liberal arts education is the preparation it gives you for lifelong learning. While technical skills may become obsolete over time, skills gained through liberal arts coursework will not. Almost every profession requires you to communicate, write, solve problems, adapt to new situations, analyze information, and interact with a wide variety of people. These are skills gleaned through your liberal arts education and are of great value to any employer.

What Employers Think of Liberal Arts Graduates

Employers seek workers who adapt well to change, communicate effectively, use critical and analytical thinking techniques to solve complex problems, and interact constructively with others in the workplace.

The skills most valued by employers are best summed up in a 1996 survey funded by the AT&T Foundation. These employers believe that a broad-based education produces students of strong character with generalized intellectual and social skills and a capacity for lifelong learning.

Business leaders pointed out that students with a broad liberal arts background are often better able to see things in a new light and make sense of ideas in different contexts. Such students excel at problem solving, critical thinking, and “learning to learn.” They are also better able to communicate in a clear, coherent manner and work cooperatively with diverse individuals in a variety of settings (Hersh, 1997).

Marketable Skills of the Liberal Arts Student

chart of valuable skills most liberal arts graduates haveIt is impossible to make a list of all the knowledge you have acquired, skills you have learned, and abilities you have mastered as a liberal arts student. Clearly your ability to research, write, and discuss important topics and issues in your field has been greatly enhanced throughout your college experience.

You have read about, thought about, and discussed at length important issues concerning today’s world. This is what a liberal arts education is all about: being well-versed in multiple subject matters and having the ability to gain competency in a wide variety of jobs.

The five transferable skills, that follow, although chosen because of their broad appeal and relevance to a large number of liberal arts graduates, are only a beginning. Transferable skills are abilities that can be applied to many different job situations and transferred from your collegiate experience to your work experience.

Ability to Communicate

No single skill is cited more often by employers as being important than the ability to communicate effectively in oral and written form. Effective communication involves the ability to write and speak clearly, persuasively, and coherently about yourself, your ideas, and your research.

As a liberal arts student, you have been asked to read extensively, draw conclusions from the material, and share your perspectives with others. You may not have always been successful, but the practice has allowed you to enhance your skills. Employers are searching for individuals who can read lengthy reports, listen to many opinions, draw conclusions, and effectively communicate the results.

As a liberal arts student, you are particularly well-suited for listening, synthesizing, and communicating. Why? Because you are constantly challenged to express, in both oral and written form, your reasoning behind solving a problem or making sense of an issue. Liberal arts  students have been found to be above average in communication skills in relation to other degrees, so you are already well on your way.

Interpersonal Skills

You will continue to realize the value of your liberal arts degree as you advance in your career. Most professionals work closely with people, regardless of their field, and clearly, the liberal arts have taught you a great deal about people. You are at an advantage because your education has helped broaden your range of interests and, as a result, has made you a more interesting person.

Not only is good interpersonal communication advantageous, it is imperative. It involves the ability to work cooperatively with other individuals in a variety of settings. Intercultural understanding – the ability to interact with people from different backgrounds – is also crucial for you to be effective in the workplace.

Adaptability to Change

The world of work is changing at a dynamic pace. Changing demographics, increased use of technology, and a global economy all have influenced the employee of the 21st century. In addition to the changes occurring within the workplace, there is one other change to which you will have to adapt: your job. You will most likely have several careers, and many more jobs, over the course of your lifetime. The ability to adapt and be flexible will be, perhaps, your greatest asset throughout your lifetime.

As a liberal arts major, you have been a student of change. Perhaps you have not thought of it in such terms. However, you have immersed yourself in a study of the changes taking place in your discipline, regardless of your field of study.

You have a unique perspective on how change takes place, the tensions and conflicts it causes, and how individuals and groups overcome this phenomenon and learn from it. As a liberal arts student, you are knowledgeable about a topic with which most organizations have significant difficulty: dealing with change.

Although knowledge about change is important, perhaps of greater significance is experience in managing change. Employers seek out potential employees who will be flexible within their positions and willing to adjust as necessary. You have gained these skills simply from being at school and while coping with life situations.

Change is inevitable and employers are looking for individuals who understand and demonstrate the flexibility and adaptability necessary to be successful in a dynamic environment.

Critical and Analytical Thinking

As a liberal arts student, you have learned to absorb and analyze complex material as well as identify important pieces of information while discarding irrelevant details. Through exposure to an interdisciplinary perspective, you can also evaluate a situation from a wide variety of viewpoints. Thus, your liberal arts education has prepared you to work in an environment requiring complex thinking skills. It should be noted that one criticism of the liberal arts is the “impractical” nature of the discipline.

In other words, it is sometimes argued that a liberal arts student is more capable of working with ideas than practical matters, and concepts rather than day-today concerns.

A liberal arts student may indeed be better trained to think than to act. For example, rather than just completing a project based on how it has been done before, a liberal arts student can process the information and examine how it can be done more effectively. Complex issues require complex thinking prior to acting. Simpleminded solutions to complex issues have never been successful in any field.

Problem-solving Skills

As a result of the ability to critically analyze the complexities of an issue, the diligent liberal arts student has developed an ability to solve problems. A well-formulated problem will send you on your way toward a solution. As a liberal arts student, you have learned to extensively research the causes of a problem, evaluate potential solutions, choose a course of action, and evaluate the outcome.

Not only are you able to critically analyze problems, but you have also developed the ability to communicate your thoughts and recommendations. The interconnectedness of all the skills you have developed as a liberal arts major is one of the strengths you have. You are a problem solver and a change agent not because you have some technical expertise, but because of your ability to think critically, analyze the complexities of an issue, and communicate with others about your findings. Ultimately, you are able to offer solutions and make changes because you are flexible and understand the nature of organizational change.

OU CLS
The College of Liberal Studies is a fully accredited academic unit of the University of Oklahoma, offering 100% online, hybrid and onsite bachelor's and master's degrees for working adults and non-traditional students.

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