What Is a Liberal Arts Degree?

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on September 26, 2023

Liberal arts colleges give international students access to a wide range of academic subjects and career options. But what is liberal arts? Read on to find out.

Three liberal arts students have an animated discussion about their liberal arts degree or bachelor degree in liberal arts while standing under the upper tier of books in a wood paneled library.

What is liberal arts? This broad-based area of study includes the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics. For international students who want to study in the USA, the biggest value of this type of education is its wide range of subjects to study en route to a specialized degree. 

What Are the Liberal Arts?

Before we take a closer look, here is a liberal arts definition: simply put, it’s a style of education that enables students to explore wide-ranging concepts and learn transferable skills. 

The discipline began in ancient Greece, when the Greeks combined lessons in communication and thinking skills to help students become good citizens. Since then, curriculum has grown to include a wider range of subjects, from art and music to mathematics and chemistry.

What Are Liberal Arts Colleges?

They are colleges that expose students to many academic subjects by offering a mix of required and elective courses. While students at liberal arts colleges usually earn a degree in a specific subject area, like English or biology, the combination of courses helps them master transferable skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and communication. Most importantly, students learn to make connections between different subject areas and understand how diverse topics fit together. 

Although you can find these colleges around the world, there are many highly ranked options to choose from in the United States.

Instead of focusing their degree programs on skills for a specific job, liberal arts colleges encourage students to explore new options and get involved in their communities. Some, like the College of Arts and Sciences at American University, even allow students to design their own interdisciplinary degrees tailored to their personal interests. For example, if you enjoy both biology and psychology, you might create a bachelor’s degree in human development program, which lets you concentrate on both disciplines.

Instructors and professors are often experienced professionals who help students understand how to apply the skills they are learning to real-world careers.

Through campus events, public spaces, clubs, and cross-disciplinary classes, students from different program tracks are encouraged to interact with and learn from each other. Additionally, many have performing arts programs where students can act, dance, and sing for the campus community or the greater public, and these opportunities can be excellent training for your long-term goals. If you are a dancer, for example, attending a nationally known university like the University of South Carolina (highly ranked for classical ballet) could give you a competitive edge, because the connections and performance opportunities you get from these reputable programs may help launch your career.

What Are Some Liberal Arts Education Benefits?

The goal of this broader education is to help you become a well-rounded person, one with general knowledge on a variety of subjects. Degree programs will cover a wide range of majors. As you study, you will gain versatile skills in communication, problem solving, and critical thinking. 

Students who pursue these types of majors learn how multiple academic disciplines interact and influence each other. This expertise can help them get jobs in a range of industries including science, education, politics, art, and business, just to name a few. 

Benefits of this type of education include:

  • A flexibility to work in many different industries

  • A wide range of adaptable skills that appeal to many types of employers

  • A strong foundation for graduate study in a master’s degree or PhD program

The biggest benefit is versatility: Students go on to become business leaders, teachers, artists, politicians, and contributing members of their diverse communities. With the skills you learn at your US university, you can design the future that is right for you.

What Is a Liberal Arts Degree?

There are three types: bachelor of arts (BA), bachelor of fine arts (BFA), or bachelor of science (BS). BA degrees cover humanities and social sciences, BFA degrees include artistic fields like creative writing or acting, and BS degrees are awarded for technical fields like business, math, and the sciences. 

Here are a few popular majors:

  • Biology — uncover the inner workings of living creatures through studying science, math, and history.

  • Creative writing — craft stories and learn to communicate through the written word. Classes in psychology, philosophy, history, and English can help improve your stories.

  • Fine art — apply your vision and creativity while learning to create art. History, psychology, geometry, and communications classes also help art students improve their creative work.

  • History — explore the events and situations that impact our world, from wars to political movements. Political science, sociology, psychology, and religious studies round out this major.

  • Political science — study the systems of government and understand its institutions, practices, and relationships. You will explore aspects of psychology, economics, history, and sociology with a political science major.

  • Psychology — learn how humans think and understand which factors influence our brains and behavior. Psychology students also learn about sociology, history, art, biology, and statistics.

  • Sociology — understand how societies are structured and how groups of people interact. History, political science, art, and math all play a role in this major.

These are just a few possible degrees available when you study in the US. While each degree program focuses on a particular academic interest, they all require students to complete a wide-ranging curriculum before graduation.

What Jobs Are Available?

What can you do with a liberal arts degree? Almost anything! 

Pursuing this type of degree prepares you for a wide range of jobs across many industries. Jobs for liberal arts majors could include becoming a journalist or a professor, getting involved in politics or curating a museum, helping businesses succeed or marketing products. Some students earn a general humanities degree, while others choose a more focused — but still well-rounded — major. 

Here are a few possible jobs and the majors that can help prepare you for them:

  • Business manager — economics, philosophy sociology

  • Curator or librarian — art history, classics, history, languages

  • Human resources professional — communications, psychology, sociology

  • Lawyer — American studies, history, political science

  • Marketing and public relations associate — communications, journalism, sociology

  • Politician — American studies, classics, communications

You can get real-world experience to boost your major with an internship or campus job. With skills in critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and connection building, you are well-equipped for a wide range of internship opportunities. Consider applying at a publishing house, newspaper, law office, or marketing company. If you are unsure what you want to do when you graduate, internships are a great way to test out possible careers.

After you graduate, there are many possible jobs and employers often recognize the value of well-rounded graduates. As a result, most graduates with a liberal arts degree end up with a full-time job. The average full-time employee with this type of degree earns $55,000 a year

Over time, liberal arts majors can transition into specialized, high-demand jobs. For example, graduates who work as human resource specialists, training and development specialists, or technical writers can earn even more than the average. 

The broad-based education you can gain at your US university can qualify you for a range of jobs across many industries. You can truly build essential skills and prepare for a lifetime of learning with a liberal arts degree. 

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