Is the Liberal Arts Degree Passe?

The cost of college coupled with the bleak employment outlook for college graduates has caused many a high school student to feel the pressure of declaring a major that will be “useful” at graduation. As a career coach for college students and graduates, I am often asked the question: is the liberal arts degree passé? Bill Gates recently argued that our country needs to reduce the money spent on liberal arts education as it doesn’t create jobs. Steve Jobs was quoted 2 days later saying that “at Apple, it’s technology married with liberal arts married with the humanities that makes our hearts sing”. In an attempt to settle the issue, a research team from Duke and Harvard surveyed over 650 senior executives. The findings made my heart sing: gaining a college degree made a big difference in terms of employment, but the major and the school selected were not major factors. Our society needs artists, musicians and psychologists as much as we need bio-medical engineers and computer programmers.

My advice to high school and college students remains unchanged: study what interests you the most. Excel in fields in which you have the most passion and ability. Your GPA will most likely be higher and you will enjoy your college experience.

Any field of study today requires that students engage at their school of choice to build a portfolio of marketable skills. Employers want proof that a job candidate can communicate, think analytically, solve problems and work well with others. A strong work ethic and the ability to self manage remain at the top of the list of attractive qualities especially in a lean job environment.

Consider the student who majors in accounting: their mastery of accountancy is a given upon graduation. The ability to communicate, work well with others and a strong work ethic will make them stand out.

College students can build these marketable skills by obtaining paid part time work, internships (sophomore and junior year are ideal), leadership and participation in student organizations as well as volunteer work. Just as students built their resumes in high school for college applications they now have to build their resumes for the job market throughout college. College is a time for exploration; many a college student changes major and career interests as they explore the options open to them.

Still undecided? Keep in mind that many jobs that are now seen as commonplace did not exist 5 years ago—social media, forensic accounting and video gaming to name a few. In fact, 40% of the jobs being done in the country did not exist 10 years ago. It’s virtually impossible to predict where the jobs will be in 5 years. It’s all the ability to learn and be flexible in this fast changing world.

Written by: Susan Kennedy, Founder of Career Treking