Need a career with future job prospects?
What exactly does “liberal arts” mean in 2014? Did anyone plan to go to Harvard?
As a co-director of the Washington College Alumni Campaign, I’ve had occasion to talk with plenty of incoming college freshmen. I’ve marveled at their eagerness to dive into the first-year experience, (especially, the college of their choice). I’ve puzzled at what exactly is expected of them once they are on campus.
There is a particular frustration that freshmen are arriving at colleges and universities with less diversity in major subject areas than they had in high school. The new courses and coursework required of the future college students is neither a future option nor any option at all.
The changing nature of our economy and society is having long-lasting impacts on virtually every field. The way we learn today is constantly changing. The skills and knowledge needed today must remain relevant in tomorrow’s workplace.
The value of the liberal arts education in relation to particular jobs, positions, and industries is continuously moving and evolving, yet the schools that most suit this evolving area of growth and change are those that are creating environments where they can develop students to the point where they thrive and so well be taken advantage of in the future.
Any given liberal arts college contributes value, in terms of current and future graduates, to important areas of growth and development that are now and are likely to be vital in the future. They do so by having courses and areas of study that are wide-ranging in nature. That is, the courses and departments will be able to provide the foundation and skills to answer the questions that have to be answered as the American and world economies grow more and more complex. That makes the liberal arts college unique.
What types of subjects are required at these colleges?
I live in an urban area, and many of my friends who are in the same profession graduated from very different schools. While many of them emphasize specialized subjects or very focused areas of study, I know of very few colleagues and friends who come from these types of liberal arts schools.
Instead, many of them have specializations in particular subject areas, whether it is a concentration in social psychology, specializations in music, or specializations in geology. They learn the field so well and often embrace the areas so passionately, that they in turn are given specialties in the careers they develop.
One of the central aims of a liberal arts college is to build a community of learners who share an abiding love of learning and who share the passion for what they do. As a result, students always have options in how they learn, and many of them choose to do much of the learning in their dorms. This is where they connect and where they form social networks that they can bring back to the university.
As interesting as it is to come out of the door of your freshman year with a specialized subject area, it is likely that none of these areas will be among the interests or passions of your career. Instead, you will tend to have the best access to outside-the-box ways of learning. As a result, having the ability to reinvent yourself will serve you well in the future. In fact, it will be that ability to reinvent oneself that is so powerful and sets students apart from students who go to programs that only reflect the specialization that is the emphasis of each program.
What are the right types of majors and areas of study for the students of today and tomorrow?
For many students, it will be a matter of choice. The times of choice are over. This generation feels the need to be in control of their own learning experiences. Instead of being handed a degree to sign, they will have a clearer understanding of what path to choose, once they’ve selected it.
But, once they have made a decision, the important thing is to ensure that their college or university provides them with courses and subject matter that allows them to accomplish their learning goals.
Following this thought process of course, student’s and parents should also think of why they are going to a college or university in the first place. The reasons for which the college or university exists, are just as important as whether the university is best suited to what a student is interested in. If the first priority is to meet the needs of today’s employers, which is likely the first priority for most prospective students, then the schools that align themselves to be doing this best will offer the best outcomes.