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What Are Liberal Arts? - Definition, Subjects & Importance

Instructor: Theresa Spanella

Theresa has taught college Writing for 15 years and is two classes from completing a doctorate in Education

Why do almost all students, no matter their degree path, have to take history, English and art courses? While the liberal arts do not train students for a specialized career path, these courses provide students with an invaluable skill set that will make them more marketable in today's tough job market.

What Are the Liberal Arts?

In the very broadest sense, liberal arts courses are those courses that provide an overview of the arts. No, I don't mean painting or ceramics or pottery! Arts is a broad term encompassing disciplines such as humanities, social sciences, mathematics, and natural sciences. Originally known as Artes Liberales, liberal arts are rooted in a classical education and refer to general skills people need to contribute to society. A liberal arts education will prepare you to deal with complexity, diversity and change by helping you to better understand yourself and by providing you with a broad knowledge about the world around you.

Liberal Arts Coursework

In choosing liberal arts coursework, you'll have many opportunities you wouldn't have otherwise. You can choose from courses in anthropology, communication, English, history, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, political science, math, language, sociology, economics, geography, theater, creative writing and literature. And sure - you can take pottery, ceramics, piano, voice or even ballroom dancing! That's the great thing about the liberal arts; what you take is really up to you! Liberal arts coursework gives you the chance to explore multiple areas of interest, and along the way, you'll pick up vital skills such as research, communication, writing, problem solving, critical-thinking and team-building, as well as an appreciation for 'the arts.'

Liberal Arts coursework covers many types of subjects.

Why Liberal Arts?

So why would you want to take liberal arts coursework? The better question is why wouldn't you want to take liberal arts coursework? Liberal arts coursework can prepare you to deal with the situations and rigors of life.

Derek Bok, former President of Harvard University and staunch supporter of the liberal arts, said, 'For some students, especially in the sciences, the knowledge gained in college may be directly relevant to graduate study. For almost all students, a liberal arts education works in subtle ways to create a web of knowledge that will illumine problems and enlighten judgement on innumerable problems in later life.'

One of those problems just might be finding employment. Today's tough economy brings with it a tough employment market. Employers want employees who not only know a specialized skill but also know how to solve problems creatively, think on their feet, see things outside of the box and work well in a team. They're looking for employees who can effectively communicate (both orally and in writing), listen well, have the desire to learn new things, get along with a diversity of people and bring an innovative spirit to the workplace - all skills you'll learn in liberal arts coursework!!

So, what exactly will liberal arts coursework teach you? Skills that are learned through liberal arts coursework include:

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