When it comes to higher education, STEM majors and degrees that are practical are favored by most graduates. Year after year, parents and students question the value of the liberal arts. However, some students aren’t giving in to the pressure to pursue majors that lead specifically to a job. Saif Kureishi, a senior, recently wrote a letter to the editor describing the taboo of studying philosophy – and why he is still inclined to do so.
For students like myself, a liberal arts education seems to be the best way to engage with the world through subjects such as art history and philosophy. The subjects which are, in other words, being seen as increasingly less relevant, will eventually pave a path to my future.
To many, the term “liberal arts” is fairly ambiguous, perhaps evoking images of suburban campuses and classes dedicated to 18th century poetry. In actuality, liberal arts colleges are strongly associated with American higher-education. The basis of such a college is its emphasis on undergraduate study. In Latin, “artes liberales” refer to the skill set needed to take part in active civic life, such as the art of debate.
In a 2012 film titled “Liberal Arts,” the protagonist – a 35-year-old living in New York City – always says the best time of his life was the four years he spent at an unnamed liberal arts school. He often says he was surrounded by others like him – studying poetry, learning in small classrooms and gaining the richest education possible. He left his heart at the liberal arts campus where he spent the best years of his life.
Sadie Smith, a senior, applied to a mix of liberal arts schools and other universities, both public and private. She has yet to decide where she is going to college as of now. “If I want to do engineering, for example, I don’t need a liberal arts degree. But if I go to an engineering school, I won’t get the kind of core classes I want, such as in writing.”
The distinctions between liberal arts colleges and research universities – the latter being what most of us are accustomed to – are numerous. Namely, liberal arts colleges lack the recognition that research universities do, while not lacking the reputation in the academic world. The other difference is the focus – one is on general knowledge to help one become an educated citizen of the world, the other prepares people for a career in a specific area, sacrificing general knowledge.
As someone who is currently choosing between a liberal arts school and a national university, the appeal of liberal arts is hard to deny. Like many students, I am drawn to the idea of exploration and the chance to study an array of topics. The liberal arts are a key for looking into subjects and classes that were previously unknown or not available in high school.
Senior Joshua Graves has committed to Claremont McKenna, one of the better-known private liberal arts school in North America. He says there are several factors that led to his decision to attend college there.
“Claremont McKenna was appealing, in part, because of the consortium it’s a part of. I’m undecided in my major, so I get the chance to take classes at other colleges too such as Harvey Mudd and Pomona. I saw the small liberal arts in terms of academics, but it’s larger socially in terms of the other schools.”
Joshua also stated that the size of the school was an important aspect. “Initially, I was looking at really big universities,” he said. “But I realized you don’t get much interaction with your professors and peers. I think attention in an academic environment is really important.”
Many question the value of a liberal arts education. Common opinion indicates that liberal arts degrees don’t prepare students for careers – this is especially troubling at a time when students are worried about career prospects and the real world. But evidence has shown that liberal arts majors have gone on to be CEOs at the likes of HBO and Starbucks.
Popular opinion is that research universities provide a more stable foundation for future careers. But as a Time Magazine journalist writes, “There is life after liberal arts.”
At SAS, there is also an evident lack of knowledge when it comes to liberal arts schools. Many students who have committed to prestigious liberal arts schools are met with blank stares when declaring where they will spend the next four years of their life. Trevor Sturgeon, high school counselor, said that families and students alike are slowly opening up to the idea of applying to liberal arts schools.
“I think it’s a challenge in any school [to get students to apply to liberal arts colleges] and particularly this is the case in Asia. A lot families here only tend to know the ‘big’ or popular schools.”
Mr. Sturgeon remarked upon the many perks of a liberal arts education – easier access to professors, a more nurturing environment and the chance to develop closer relationships with people.
“I feel like a lot of SAS students don’t have a very favorable opinion of the liberal arts. STEM subjects are tend to be seen as more useful and the liberal arts aren’t associated with them,” Joshua Graves said.
Joshua also pointed out the most alluring factor of it all. “Ultimately, going to a liberal arts school really helps people see what they want to do with their lives.”
While I see the value in studying the subjects which provide security long-term, the magic of learning a little of everything – in order to find what you truly want – surpasses that. To me, learning about both the arts and sciences is important. This kind of balance can, arguably, only be struck through attending a liberal arts school.