In Defense of the Liberal Arts

By: Nicky Barone

My junior year, I wrote a piece detailing the importance of humanities education in schools. The humanities, as argued in the article, are a cornerstone of our society and are a necessary component of any quality education. This upcoming fall, I will be attending Vassar College , a small, liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York. In the realm of academia, liberal arts schools seek to encompass a wide breadth of intellectual study rather than focusing on technical or professional development. Liberal arts schools desire their students to become better educated citizens of the world rather than specifically prepare them for a single career path. The idea is that these students can then apply the skills learned in college and apply them to a plethora of careers in the future. Among some parents and students, liberal arts schools have the “hipster” stigma often attached to them, institutions riddled with long-haired, radical, bearded beatniks drinking soy lattes discussing Marxism.

Most toxically, stigma is often attached to liberal arts college graduates in the sense that they are ill-prepared for legitimate professions and find themselves unemployed. This stereotype could not be further from the truth. The Forbes Best Colleges 2014 list, which encompasses post-graduation success rates and return-on-investment as the most important aspects of ranking colleges, ranked Williams College, Swarthmore  College, Amherst College, Bowdoin College, Wesleyan University, Middlebury College, and my future alma mater Vassar College in the top 30 best institutions of higher education in the United States. In total, twelve of the top thirty colleges listed were liberal arts schools. Forbes methodology utilizes life after graduation as perhaps the most important factor when assessing the quality of a college. From this list, it can be deduced that the liberal arts are indeed effective at preparing students for future careers.

The benefits of a liberal arts education are undeniable. If an individual does not know exactly want they want to do for a career path, a liberal arts school allows them to explore their passions and experiment with different academic concentrations that reflect their abilities and interests. Additionally, most liberal arts schools sport open curriculums where a student is able to declare a major, but can take numerous classes in other fields. For example, I am planning on double majoring in quantitative economics and English at Vassar, but want to take classes in psychology, art history, music, and the like. The liberal arts are crucial to personal development and becoming a more well-rounded, open-minded human being. The value of a liberal arts education goes beyond academic and tangible success. Liberal arts schools instill an openness and freedom of expression into their educational mission statements which sets them apart from traditional universities. This emphasis on intellectual discourse and discussion is one of the major reasons I chose Vassar.

Overall, my goal was to dispel the stereotypes and clichés that often are evoked when someone hears the word “liberal arts.” Some of the country’s most celebrated and successful figures have attended liberal arts schools, including President Barack Obama, Carter Bays (creator of How I Met Your Mother), Meryl Streep, suffragist Alice Paul, Uhuru Kenyatta (current president of Kenya), and many others. A liberal arts education properly equips students with the knowledge necessary for activating positive change in the world and effectively entering professions with a wide breadth of skills and abilities.