Are Liberal Arts Degrees Worth It?

May 7, 2016

This is one of the most important questions circulating around young students today: are liberal arts degrees worth it?

There’s a decent number of people that say “no.” Their argument against liberal arts degrees is typically, hard skills come first. Students should master science, math, education, and nowadays, engineering before they pursue music, the arts, or theater. In fact, the same people that argue against liberal arts, are usually the same people that argue we still don’t have enough engineers, scientists, and arithmeticians.Are Liberal Arts Degrees Worth It?

There’s a belief that we’re experiencing a STEM gap (STEM being Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), but this works both ways. On the one hand, many companies expect basic coding skills to be mandatory for entry level jobs, while others won’t hire someone without a Bachelor of Science and several years of experience.

However, while hard skills are always good to have and can bulk up your resume, liberal arts degrees aren’t going anywhere any time soon and, if anything, are going to become more sought after. Here’s why:

Entrepreneurship is In

Whereas students from IVY league schools used to be head hunted by companies looking for qualified individuals hungry to get their foot in the door, now students are seeking entrepreneurship instead. They don’t want to work for someone else, they want to work for themselves. What’s more, the mystique of a big company isn’t as appealing as it once was. Instead people are interested in investing in themselves and the brightest people they know.

Of course, in addition to this, we’re living in a digital age, where the possibilities are limitless. Now, you can develop apps, games, devices, accessories and so forth all from the comfort of your home and a few bright minds.

This means that even people who would normally be interested in pursuing a larger company may not simply because what they’re interested in hasn’t been invented yet.

So, to say that the liberal arts degree’s value is diminishing is untrue. If anything, it’s becoming more necessary since…

Soft Skills Require Training

Hard skills require some training as well, but it’s not impossible to teach. Hard skills are called such because you can plug someone into a series of YouTube videos and they’ll know how to get the job done. Similarly, you can hand them a book and they can read how to perform the task. Hard skills are no different than cooking and, like cooking, they’re wholly necessary, but they don’t teach you how to form your own recipes. That’s where a liberal arts degree comes in.

If startups require anything, it’s soft skills and ideas. Although science and engineering are crucial to your ideas becoming a reality, you need to know how to market yourself and how to communicate effectively, and think strategically. It’s more than having a great idea, it’s about selling people on great ideas. That’s how business grows.

Moreover, people can be unpredictable. Take Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, he and a team of talented individuals went through a process of building, measuring and learning. They built a product emulating a successful online messenger and tested it out on people, hoping they’d use their messenger the same way as their competitor.

In the early stages, their product was different enough to warrant people switching over. In fact, it wasn’t until they added some new features that people saw the benefit. Even then, Ries and his team had worked tirelessly for their users to import their contacts from their current messenger over into their new one. It seemed perfect… the problem was their users didn’t want to do that. They wanted to use the new messenger to meet new people, not import their old friends.

This required the team to rethink their product since people were using it but not for the way it was intended. That’s what liberal arts degrees can rectify, not only being able to think – and ideally predict – where a company can go, but also being able to immediately adapt, test, and learn.

The fact is, liberal arts degrees are important because they teach people how to communicate, how to convey information, and how to listen/comprehend material. These things are imperative to not just certain businesses, but all business.

The Landscape is Changing

The education landscape is changing. Currently, engineering and coding classes aren’t mandatory, but they should be. In the meantime, for prospective students considering the pursuit of a liberal arts degree, enroll in a coding class over the summer or take an internship at a tech firm. It will boost your skill set and ultimately make you better prepared and more qualified for a position after you graduate.

Especially when you consider that America’s number one export is services, there is always going to be an offshore company that can perform hard skills for a fraction of the price of an American employee – it’s a fact most people have come to terms with. However, if you want to groom a leader and grow a business, then you need to have someone who’s proven to be more than a do-er, you need thinkers.

The bottom line is you don’t need to know how to program an app to develop a great idea for an app. Ideas are the pieces that are growing in importance and it requires a thoughtful person to channel that idea into a reality. So while liberal arts degrees aren’t diminishing, they may require some supplemental material in the form of science, technology, engineering, and math, but with the emphasis is on supplemental.