Why Study Liberal Arts in the USA

Article by Lily Y. Fong


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It is clear that the worldwide job market is changing at a rapid pace. The typical person will have 10 to 14 different jobs by the age of 38! So what does this mean for students and parents? They plan to potentially invest US$100,000 for a university or college education so that the student can earn an undergraduate degree—a degree that is supposed to prepare him or her for that one perfect career.

Today, liberal arts colleges and universities are educating and preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist and to solve problems we are not even aware of yet. The top in-demand jobs of 2013 did not even exist in 2004! With this in mind, colleges and universities should equip their students with skills such as critical thinking, writing, team work and creative problem solving—all by-products of a classic liberal arts education.

What are the Liberal Arts and Why are They Important?

Liberal arts education is an academic area that offers a broad range of choices in various fields. At a school with a strong liberal arts program, you will be required to take courses in subjects from the sciences to the humanities: philosophy, history, music, arts, and literature. By taking classes about different disciplines you are given the chance to explore other fields and learn new topics. You may discover that you have talents in areas you had never before considered. This may even lead you to pursue a field that you had no interest in prior to attending college or university.

A typical liberal arts education is comprised of two parts: a liberal arts core curriculum and an in-depth study of a major field.

The liberal arts core curriculum generally requires two years of study in subjects that normally include art, literature, and the sciences. Again, the purpose of these initial two years is to set a strong educational foundation so that the student has a broad understanding of a variety of disciplines. Their knowledge and education is not isolated to their chosen field.

For example, every undergraduate student at John Carroll University (JCU) begins in the College of Arts and Sciences, no matter the student’s eventual major. In the College of Arts and Sciences, students receive an important grounding in critical thinking, skilled expression, cultural understanding, and an awareness of how knowledge interrelates across fields. This is especially reflected in the University’s core curriculum, which students build upon as they pursue their academic major.

What follows the core curriculum is two years of in-depth study of a specific academic discipline—the academic major you choose for your degree. The courses related to the major field of study will still incorporate a liberal arts philosophy, meaning that the course work will be interdisciplinary. For example, if you choose to study business your economics class will not only teach you the basic principles of economics, but also how those principles relate to history, social structures, and even science.

Being aware of how one thing affects another will give you the insight to ask important questions, not just as a professional, but as a citizen. You will be adaptable and better able to work in teams, both with people from your own discipline and from other disciplines. These skills and understanding will prove to be invaluable throughout your career.

The business environment is ever changing and unpredictable. Therefore, if you are to be successful in the business world you must learn how to adapt to change, discoveries, or new technologies. This has caused employers to increasingly seek employees who are not only well versed in a specific area of expertise, but have a broad understanding of that specialty and can use that knowledge creatively. If you challenge yourself to do this it will only make you more valuable and increase your job security.

A liberal arts education is not about job training, but rather it is about lifelong continuous learning.

The Jesuit Difference

For over 125 years, John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, has been providing students with a Jesuit liberal arts education. The John Carroll experience is rooted in the Jesuit tradition of learning, leadership, and service to others. Jesuit education pushes students to not only ask questions, but to also find solutions concerning matters of justice and fairness on a worldwide scale. This includes issues in business ethics, unemployment, poverty, and oppression.

The first year at JCU is structured around a common theme, which is centered in the core values of the University. For example, a recent freshman class concentrated on the theme of social justice. Teachers led students in discussions of controversial arguments such as can technology contribute to social, educational, political and economic equity? Or, does it continue to maintain the dominance of historically privileged groups?

John Carroll University and other liberal arts universities are committed to the scholarship and personal growth of students. With a liberal arts education students engage in these issues by learning through research, reflection and experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom.

By Lily Y. Fong
Lily Y. Fong is Assistant Director of International Recruitment at John Carroll University (www.jcu.edu/international).

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