In Defense of the Liberal Arts

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Most of the time as I read through blogs (My Money Wizard and others), people are discussing whether you should go to college or what is the most lucrative degrees.  You hear the debate of only go to college if you plan to major in something that will make you money.  Business, Engineering, Computer Sciences are a sure thing, but don’t go if you are planning on majoring in Sociology, Psychology or History.  The return on the degree isn’t worth it.  I feel those that write those things don’t understand what is really being taught in the Liberal Arts buildings on college campuses.

So for a guy who started out in Business Marketing, changed to Business Management, then changed again to Applied Sociology, and then went back and got a Master’s in Liberal Studies with a concentration in History and Humanities, I think I am qualified to defend the Liberal Arts as a lucrative college endeavor, if you know how to sell your skills.  So lets look at those marketable skills.

*Disclaimer:  I did attend college for free on a basketball scholarship, worked and saved for four years, and paid for a Master’s in cash from working.  So right out of college I was making money because I put in the work and thought before hand.  My return on my degree was immediate, due to my life planning and 6’10” stature.  I didn’t struggle like most liberal arts grads with mountains of debt.

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Liberal Arts can Teach you to think and analyze data

One of the first things I noticed in my introduction courses in philosophy, psychology, sociology, history, anthropology, was that they used a lot of data to show you a point they were trying to make.  In my business class they showed only the data that showed you that you were making money and how you made it.  With the liberal studies you had to look at a problem from all sides and see the entire picture.  You had to use history, economics, psychology, sociology, and government to explain how Donald Trump was elected.  The Liberal Arts taught me to think and see the entire picture based on qualitative and quantitative data.  I loved seeing more than money and accounting.

Liberal Arts can Teach you to research

Holy cow!! did I have to research for these course.  It turns out it is difficult to explain why people join a cult, run marathons, or go into debt when they know it’s wrong.  I had to research this and explain my original theories in both qualitative and quantitative terms to a professor who was an expert on the subject.  I had to find sources from books, online journals, interviews (then I had to type them up), observations, controlled experiments, and I had use interdisciplinary sources in our research.  This worked great when I interned at the district attorney’s office as a researcher.  These skills also helped in applications to law school. (I never went because I didn’t have the cash to pay for it in full.)

Liberal Arts can Teach you to predict and see trends

As I was taking a marketing course we had to predict trends and find out how to appeal to certain demographics.  This was not taught well in the business department because they were trying to look at people’s spending habits by age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status.  As an Applied Sociology major in the class I was able to apply my sociology knowledge to the course and we broke down religious trends, family structures, used history to help us understand the psychology of the baby boomers, and we searched out the product itself and instead of selling the same product can we make in demographic proof by changing it some.  I was able to see the big picture and the students in my small group where learning from me how to predict trends and market better.

Liberal Arts can Teach you to understand the past to predict the future

If history repeats itself, then why do so many people have such a short memory.  I told a friend of mine who is really excited by the idea of building a border wall, that people already tried that, and it didn’t work then and won’t work now.  We built a Great Wall in China, we built Hadrian’s Wall in England, we build walled cities that the Mongols crushed, we built the Berlin Wall and it fell too.  You know what worked each time…talking to each other.  If we want the problem to be fixed I always look at what has been done first, then I can learn from other’s mistakes and move forward.  If I want to predict the future I need to see the past first.  When a resource ran out in the past what happened?  This knowledge can help you understand where the world is going.

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Hadrian’s Wall

Liberal Arts can Teach you to create new things

When studying in the liberal arts you are forced to create theories and ideas that are new and original to pass your courses.  You can take an old idea and try to prove it wrong with better research and proof.  You can create an idea of alternative history and explain that if the Mongols didn’t take over so much of the world then globalization would have taken hundreds of years longer to coordinate.  You get to create in a daily basis, and with that creation comes a new and exciting world.  Every company is looking for someone with new creative ideas.

Liberal Arts can Teach you to understand groups of people

Sociology: the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society.  Basically, study peoples problems, so we can solve them for a better society.  Sounds like an idea for a start up doesn’t it.  You see a problem, you find a solution for the problem.  Now that you understand why the group of people had the problem you can now invent Airbnb or Uber or Facebook.  Learning to understand people is great for the business world.

Liberal Arts can Teach you to look at different paths

Since you are in liberal arts major you can use the different path you are taking in life to help you find better jobs.  Lets say you are in a job interview and everyone in the room had their fancy business degree and you have an anthropology degree with a minor in business.  Who sticks out the most now.  You took a different path and because you did, you are open to just about any job out there.  You are able to see different out of the box paths for the people you work for.  This is a mover and a shaker for a company that may be looking for just that.

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Liberal Arts can Teach you to see the world globally and truthfully

Today so many educated people have no idea about how the world works and they are constantly misinformed.  People think the world is getting worse, but in fact it is actually getting better everyday as a whole.  (We are the 1%) People think everyone is dying from disease and famine, but in fact it is very low compared to a hundred years ago.  In liberal studies you actually study the world globally and see it for what it really is.  Billions have internet access and everyday thousands more people gain access to it.  More and more people are getting treatment and vaccines that are extending life expectancy numbers world wide.  Farmers are finding greener ways to grow more food than ever in every region of the world.  Liberal Studies helps us know truths about the world and makes us a more informed global citizen.  (Here is a video to help you be less ignorant about the world)

Liberal Arts can Teach you to read and write well

Also, in a liberal arts degree you have the opportunity to read tons of non-fiction books, studies, journals, and anything else you need to prove your original thought.  This makes for some dense academic reading, and over your four years of reading this mess, you develop great reading skills.  You will find this useful in reading the small print in contracts and other documents you find for most jobs.  You also get an opportunity to write a ton.  You get to write 20-50 page research papers with 70 footnotes and 30 sources.  You also get to learn how to express your thoughts in your writing.  Your ideas must be complete and thorough, so others can understand and follow your new finding.

Now for the stuff I was never taught

The day I changed my major from business to sociology, I was in the dean’s office just shooting the bull like a couple of old friends, when the dean said, “Be prepared to be poor with this major change.”  I replied, “I don’t intend to be poor.”  The dean laughed it off and the conversation went a different way.  But, as I reflected over that statement over the years, I came to understand that the dean believed the statement to be the truth.  She thought that the stereotype was true for the students in her department.  I never thought it was true from day one until now.  I never believed I would be poor teaching either.  I always knew how to make money, what to do with it, and I never liked to buy stuff.  I knew I would one day be a millionaire from a very young age, and the problem I had was I could do it in too many ways.  I had trouble narrowing it down to a few ideas on how to make my million dollars.

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In the liberal arts they don’t teach you how to use your degree to get paid for all you can do.  A liberal arts degree can be used for anything on earth.  Farmer…check, investor…check, museum curator…check, entrepreneur…check, surf instructor in Costa Rica…check.  Literally, any job you want is yours.  I got into law school while working basketball camps, working in the lumber department at a hardware store, and substitute teaching.  I could do any job I wanted, because I knew the skills I had gain through my education and I sold it to those hiring.  I was the odd guy in the teacher interview with no degree in education, but I was over qualified with my liberal arts degree.  I had to teach myself what to say to get in the door to get these jobs.

Every time I have ever had an interview I got a job offer.  This goes for sales jobs, retail, restaurants, the service sector, and education.  I go to the boss without an appointment and personally hand them my resume and give them my quick elevator pitch, which most of the time leads to an interview right then and there.  I sell them about my knowledge in a lot of areas, and my ability to help them.  It’s a skill that most colleges forget to teach graduates.  This is why so many people with these weird degrees make so little money.  (Also, they don’t know how to max out their salaries either)

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Also, basic finances should be taught in every major in college, because even if you get the high paying jobs, most blow all their money on Jet Skis!!  Ok, well maybe they just lease cars.  Anyways, liberal arts teaches nothing but how to think, and research, so why not apply those skills to finances also.  Teach the kids how to be rich through mutual funds; put money in an account now and earn compound interest.  The history and psychology of investing 101.

So the bottom line is that poor is a choice.  You can make tons of money with a liberal arts degree if you can sell yourself and your awesome skills.  You can make over $70,000 right out of college if you go find that job or create that job for yourself.  You have to forget the haters out there, and change how you are viewed by your actions after college.  Use your valuable skills and lets all get rich together. (Check out Brian Chesky ‘s story from Art school to founder of Airbnb)

 

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4 Comments

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  1. While you argue that you were taught to research using data your entire argument is based on your own experience without much supporting data. Also your comparisons are mostly to business degree holders. While they might be slightly more useful in the work world than sociology, business degrees are also pretty weak in terms of landing high paying work. Engineering, computer and IT related are much more profitable than business. I agree that smart graduates in any field can do well but as far as proving that you might as well have said tall guys can get great jobs. FIRE engineer here.

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  2. I could not agree more! Mr. Adventure Rich and I graduated from a Great Books college with a Liberal Arts degree. I graduated with a $60k/yr job offer from a Fortune 40 company as a Sourcing professional. No business experience, but I could think, problem solve, work well with teams and communicate well. It took more time at the beginning to get up to speed, but I have now worked at the same place for 5.5 years, growing my salary and advancing throughout.
    Mr. Adventure Rich jumped into a career as a maintenance supervisor, managing teams of workers right out of college. After 10 years with his first employer, he accepted a new job in the same field last year in northern MI, allowing us to move to our “forever home”.
    We had to sell our skills at the beginning and market ourselves as valuable assets, but it’s possible! We owe so much to our “useless” degree 😉

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  3. Dreamer In Chief June 19, 2017 — 4:01 pm

    As a journalism major now working in higher ed, I agree with you that the skills you learn outside the STEM disciplines are very much transferrable to a variety of career tracks. You’re right that often people aren’t given this perspective – or at least not given the tools to market themselves outside their narrow degree field – and miss out on more lucrative opportunities. Of course there are always plenty of people who narrow themselves to some line of study that makes them an expert in something the world just doesn’t need and then they finally realize they’ve spent 10 years and $200,000 amassing knowledge they can’t pay the bills with.

    The greater problem is what you talk about in the second to last paragraph: there isn’t any emphasis on financial literacy at any level of education. Students should be expected to pass financial literacy tests throughout K-12. Real financial literacy. People also should be required to demonstrate that they understand the economics behind student loans before they’re able to accept them, and they should get a crash course in the economic realities of their majors (using actual data, of course).

    I’ve found the ability to learn skills quickly, research unfamiliar topics to a basic level of understanding, and communicate things in a way non-experts can understand are very valuable attributes no matter your career path. Those are all things I got very good at through journalism.

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