What’s the Value of a Liberal Arts Degree?

man-thinkingDegrees in liberal arts subjects like language, communications, political science, and the humanities are among some of the oldest and widely offered topics in higher education. But, unlike technical degrees in engineering and science, or professional ones like law and accounting, many liberal arts disciplines don’t directly lead into one particular profession outside of academia. So what is the real-world value of a liberal arts degree?

Considering the time and money invested in advanced degrees, it’s no wonder that many potential students—and their families—are asking this question. Professional degrees prepare students for work in a specific career, providing them with the skills and expertise they will need to succeed in a clearly defined role. Liberal arts subjects, on the other hand, take a broader approach to the value of education and what it should set out to achieve.

To excel in a liberal arts degree, students must critically analyze and assess new information, explore new ideas, solve problems and express themselves confidently and articulately. The exploratory nature of academic debate is highly prized, as is a willingness to grapple with fundamental ethical questions and dilemmas.

Not only do these skills make students more flexible, naturally curious and intellectually perceptive, but they also provide a solid skill-set with which to embark on almost any career path. The skills and disciplines learned on academic courses are useful in both personal and professional spheres, and prepare students to innovate and to lead. While your degree name might not make it obvious to employers at first that you have these skills, you will be well-prepared to list them on a resume, elaborate on them in a job interview, or demonstrate them through your portfolio.

Admittedly, at first glance a liberal arts degree might not seem as lucrative as a technical or professional degree. A study from Georgetown about student career prospects indicates slightly higher unemployment rates in the first year of graduation along with slightly lower initial salaries for liberal arts graduates compared to their technical peers. In the long term, however, people with liberal arts degrees do see significantly improved mid-career salaries.

value of liberal arts degree

Additionally, earlier this year, the Association of American Colleges and Universities released the results of a survey which found that:

  • The majority of employers agree that having both a broad range of skills in addition to field-specific knowledge is most important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success.
  • Employers want more colleges to emphasize five key areas: critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral communication skills, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
  • More than 9 in 10 employers stressed that employees should demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued new learning.

Ultimately, career prospects may well be the deciding factor in your degree choice, but remember to look beyond the one-year-later surveys. Liberal arts degrees give you a broad range of marketable skills that are highly valued by employers, and can offer you more flexibility in your career path. If you study something you love and find fulfilling, chances are your liberal arts degree will benefit your financial, professional and personal goals. It’s all about making a good decision for you.

Need some more help deciding on going back to school and what type of degree to pursue? Check out this free worksheet to guide you through the decision-making process.