How to Make the Most of Your Liberal Arts Major

Some higher ed observers claim that majors in the liberal arts don't provide an adequate path to professional success. But far from limiting graduates' options, earning a liberal arts degree can open career doors in an impressive array of disciplines. Learn how graduates can leverage a liberal arts degree in a competitive job market.

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By Douglas Fehlen

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The True Measure of Liberal Arts Education

Unlike STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), degree programs in the liberal arts often don't train students for work within a specific discipline. While this fact causes hesitation among some in higher ed, others suggest that it is precisely what makes the liberal arts so valuable. Earning a degree in English, psychology, history or another of the liberal arts can provide grads with a greater degree of professional choice and make available career opportunities that elude workers in more specialized fields.

Hiring managers across industries and disciplines understand that graduates of liberal arts programs have a bevy of skills that are of great value on the job. Generally speaking, those who have earned a liberal arts degree are effective, organized communicators who possess important critical thinking skills and creative faculties. They are intuitive problem solvers who can easily grasp new concepts. Liberal arts grads are also seen to be gifted researchers capable of figuring out what must be done to complete a task. They are thought to understand and appreciate others' perspectives, making them valuable members on workplace teams.

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Making Your Case in the Job Market

With so many proficiencies being cultivated from a liberal arts education, it's difficult to understand how some people underestimate their value. Their perspective likely at least in part stems from the fact that aptitudes developed in liberal arts education are less easily observed than skills associated with the material. With that said, liberal arts grads can take steps to change attitudes among those who under-appreciate their skills. Here are some suggestions specific to approaching the job market:

Get experience outside of your field. Just because you majored in history doesn't mean you can't pursue an internship in business - or in any other non-liberal arts discipline. Getting training in other fields is a great way to make yourself more appealing to potential employers. If you're still in school, take a few electives in an area of study that is appealing to you and in demand. You might also join relevant extracurricular activities and professional organizations. Some hot areas that can complement the liberal arts skill set include social media, search engine optimization (SEO), e-commerce and website development.

Market yourself effectively. It's safe to say that job applicants with a liberal arts background do face a perception problem. Unfortunately, many people will overlook the valuable skills you possess. Flourishing in the job market, then, will require you to effectively market yourself to potential employers. First, represent yourself with confidence. Don't be apologetic that you have a liberal arts background. Instead, highlight the skill you posses for writing, presenting, critical reasoning and creative problem solving. You might even draw direct attention to common misconceptions about the liberal arts and, through a showcase of your skills, demonstrate how they are flawed.

Make the connection for employers. Even if you carry yourself with confidence and effectively show your skills, potential employers may not see how your abilities will translate to their particular work environment. Connect the dots for hiring managers, speaking to how your abilities will support the work they do. This may require research on your part, of course, but it can impress an employer who might never have thought you would possess such knowledge. Be specific in also relating past occasions in which you leaned on your liberal arts education to get tasks done while working with others. Show employers at every step what you can do for them on the job.

Leave no profession unexplored. A liberal arts education is intended to provide you with a broad education that allows you to perform in various capacities across multiple industries. Use this to your benefit in pursuing opportunities in the private sector, nonprofits and government. Consider positions in education, finance, consulting, market research, sales, public relations and any other field that requires creativity, communication and critical thinking. While you may have to settle for entry-level positions now, your skills should one day allow you to pursue managerial or specialized roles.

Learn how it is up to you to give your degree its worth.

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