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What is a liberal arts degree?

A liberal arts degree gives students the opportunity to study many different areas of interest and to consider various career options

    Seeta Bhardwa's avatar

    Seeta Bhardwa

    Editor, THE Student
    May 22 2020


    What is a liberal arts degree?

    Once considered only an option in the United States, liberal arts degrees and programmes are now offered by universities around the world, including in the UK, Japan and South Korea.

    But what actually is a liberal arts degree? What do you learn and what kind of jobs could you do with one?

    A liberal arts degree is a broad term covering an education programme that encompasses the arts, humanities and social sciences. As students progress through university they can then start to specialise in areas that are of particular interest. 

    One of the key benefits of studying a liberal arts degree is that it includes a whole host of different subjects and gives students the opportunity to explore many areas of interest. 

    Many liberal arts programmes also offer the opportunity to study abroad so that students can immerse themselves in the culture, literature and history of other countries. 

    The origins of a liberal arts degree

    Liberal arts education has been around for thousands of years, since the time of the Ancient Greeks. It was used to define the skills that a person might need to partake in public life, including public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries and, most importantly, military service. They used skills such as grammar and logic, which can all be attributed to a modern liberals arts degree. 

    These days, a liberal arts degree is more about analysis, communication skills, the ability to study across a number of different subjects and critical thinking skills.  

    Subjects included in a liberal arts degree could be (but are not limited to) English literature, history, Classics, politics and philosophy, and some degrees may even include mathematics, sociology and economics. There is no set formula that a liberal arts degree has to follow and that is perhaps one of its most appealing factors. 

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    What can you do with a liberal arts degree?

    There are so many career paths that you can follow on completing a liberal arts degree. Because of the many skills attained during a liberal arts degree and the variety of subjects covered, liberal arts graduates will find that they are in a strong position to consider many different career paths. 

    Many students go on to work in media and communications or journalism and PR, having developed excellent communication skills during their degree.  

    Some who study a liberal arts degree pursue careers in politics, whether it is working in administration, with a political party or running for office themselves. 

    Students can also follow careers working in museums or art galleries. Or if you discovered a passion for languages, a career in translation could be a good step. 

    There is, of course, the option to continue in further education or to pursue a career in academia, conducting research and teaching in an area of particular interest. 

    Liberal arts colleges

    Across the US, there are a number of liberal arts colleges dedicated to providing students with a liberal arts education. 

    At liberal arts colleges there is an emphasis on undergraduate study that includes a wide range of subjects, from science to humanities. They also usually have smaller class sizes and academic staff are more likely to teach than to carry out research. 

    Many of the most prestigious universities in the US are liberal arts colleges such as Amherst College. A few liberal arts colleges in the US are women-only and others may have a religious affiliation. There are many liberal arts colleges across the country and there is sure to be one that fits what you are looking for. 

    Outside the US, liberal arts colleges are more rare, but there are a few in the Netherlands, France, Japan, the Philippines and Africa. Some universities in the UK and Europe also offer liberal arts degrees. 

    Read more: Best liberal arts colleges in the United States


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