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Importance of the Liberal Arts 

Why should you get a degree in the Humanities and Social Sciences?

To gain marketable skills

  • 74% of employers surveyed would recommend a liberal arts education to prepare for success in today’s global economy. In addition, 3/4 of employers want new hires with the skills that the humanities teach: critical thinking, complex problem solving, and written and oral communications. 1
  • A report by the Campaign for Social Science shows that “84% of social science graduates were in employment [3.5 years after they finished their degree], compared with 78% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)” graduates. 2
  • Unemployment rates are low for liberal arts graduates and decline over time: “The unemployment rate for recent liberal arts graduates is 5.2 percent. The unemployment rate for mature workers with liberal arts degrees (41-50) is 3.5 percent—just .04 percent higher than the rates for those with a professional or preprofessional degree.” 3
  • A 2010 IBM survey of CEOs names creativity, one of the central competencies taught in the humanities and social sciences, as “the most crucial factor for future success.” 4

“It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing."
— Steve Jobs (1995-2011), former CEO of Apple, Inc.

“I’ve seen many an actuary and many an engineer who are brilliant, but they fail in their ability to communicate or commercialize an idea because they can’t relate to the people they’re dealing with. The major I’m less concerned about; it’s the set of skills that people come into work with.” 
— Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, Inc. (Wall Street Journal, 10 June 2013)

To develop a capacity for job flexibility

“Humanities graduates are more widely distributed throughout different economic sectors than degree holders in most other fields.” 5

Rawn Shah, CSO of Alynd, argues that a variety of tech fields need to hire social science graduates in order “to understand the interconnectivity of our relationship with customers and the groups they interact with, whom, how and why.” 6

To cultivate a sense of personal satisfaction

84% of humanities majors are satisfied with their choice of major one year after college graduation. 7

To contribute meaningfully to your community

Greater number of humanities and social science courses taken in college is correlated with greater probability of civic engagement. 8

To make a life, not just a living

A degree in the liberal arts prepares students not only to make a living, but also to make a life. It can, for example, prepare students to reckon with a broad variety of lived experiences—work, love, death, joy, creativity, sorrow, faith, passion, pain, injustice, disagreement, conflict, intolerance, pleasure, forgiveness, ethics, values, and all of the myriad choices that make up the human experience. Critical thinking, communication, creative problem solving, self-expression, innovative research, and lifelong learning—all skills a liberal arts degree emphasizes—are central to a great career and a well-lived life.

A liberal arts degree prepares students for a life of learning. It is a resource students can draw upon across a lifespan to address human problems and enhance human potential. It is never obsolete. It creates habits of mind that facilitate a life of learning and growth, professional and personal. It exercises the muscle of the mind, preparing it not just for specialized tasks and abilities, but also for learning itself, making learning faster, more thorough, and more permanent. It facilitates thinking for oneself, evaluating argument and evidence based not on the external authority of peers, parents, professors, or professionals, but on one’s own apprehension and creative use of information and ideas. It is an education that builds on itself throughout a life, not just the four years students spend in college. Indeed, the skills a liberal arts degree develops help students confront their own and others’ humanity, not just earn a paycheck.

More broadly, a liberal arts education is that it makes people happier and life more enjoyable. It helps students become well-rounded, interesting people who are more capable of enjoying their relationships with others and with the world around them. Educational breadth frees the mind to consider and engage a broad variety of things, cultivating intellectual and conceptual openness. It increases students’ ability to situate people, things, and events in a broader context, enabling students to map relationships between fields of study, things, and ideas. The liberal arts prepare students to understand and appreciate human ingenuity, imagination, and achievement; it cultivates a mind that enjoys itself.

Life is interdisciplinary. The skills students need to balance their checkbooks are not the same as the skills needed to decide how, when, on what, and with whom they spend their money. Broadly, education in the liberal arts prepares students to think critically and actively about the sorts of problems and possibilities they will encounter in their lives as employees and employers, as participants in friendships, partnerships, families, and communities, and as citizens of a nation and the world. The broader knowledge and understanding of the world a liberal arts degree cultivates helps students engage in some of the most important issues of today: the environment, foreign policy, social justice, national and international security, ethics, indeed, all of the issues we face as humans in relationship to others. The best education asks students to reach beyond their own experiences to see and imagine worlds different from them in time, space, and thought. Education and experience in multiple disciplines creates depth and versatility for success in a highly competitive and changing job market as well as in the essence of the human experience—relationships. Through a liberal arts education, students develop multiple lenses for looking at the human experience. The kind of interdisciplinary thinking a liberal arts education provides makes students better observers not only of phenomena, but also of the very lenses through which they observe. All knowledge and the way we know it becomes subject to analysis, criticism, and evaluation. Students become critical readers not only of human experience but also of the lenses through which they themselves interpret or “read” the world. Examining not only what other people look at but also at how they look at it, creates the capacity for empathy and for more effective and fulfilling communication between people who might be very different from each other. This, of itself, enables students to become better friends, partners, parents, citizens, and human beings. Isn’t that what education, at its best, is for?

1 "It Takes More Than a Major" (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2013)
2 "Social Science Graduates More Likely to Get Employment than Science or Arts Graduates." (ScienceDaily, 28 October 2013).
3 “New Report Documents That Liberal Arts Disciplines Prepare Graduates for Long-Term Professional Success” (Association of American Colleges and Universities, January 22, 2014)
4 “IBM 2010 Global CEO Study: Creativity Selected as Most Crucial Factor for Future Success” (IBM Press Release, 18 May 2010)
5 “American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Report Card 2013”
6 Rawn Shah, “Future Tech Jobs: We Need Social Science Graduates” (Forbes.com, 22 June 2011)
7 “American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Report Card 2013”
8 “The Missing Link: Exploring the Relationship between Higher Education and Political Engagement” (Political Behavior, 2005)

Report compiled and written by Christine Talbot and Molly Desjardins, members of the Defense of the Liberal Arts Subcommittee of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Undergraduate Success Committee. Published online May 2014; updated May 2016.