Why Liberal Arts Majors Should Learn Technical Skills

By Eric Garneau


Liberal Arts, Emphasis on ARTS

Do you remember why you picked your major in the first place? Hopefully not a lot of college students decide on a discipline under the liberal arts umbrella unless they really love what they choose. Even if that's the case, though, many people are probably attracted to such a program at least in part because they don't do well with highly technical disciplines. Compared to vehemently discussing the pros and cons of literary giants or analyzing the lesser-known texts of history's greatest thinkers, number-crunching and working in labs can seem downright pedantic. But even philosophy majors can benefit from some technical training.

Time to Get Technical

We're not saying you should learn everything you can about megawatts and sine waves, but it's wise to have respect for disciplines that teach such things. Certainly engineering majors take that knowledge farther than most people will ever need to in their lifetime, but isn't that what English majors do with books? The average person probably does not care about a feminist critique of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, for instance, as fun as it may be.

But basic technical skills, like the kind of stuff you might learn in 100-level classes, are not just pretty cool facts to have at your disposal - they're useful, too! And that's true in a variety of settings. Basic computer science knowledge, for instance, might allow you to repair your own PC in the event of technological failure, thus saving you from having to pay a repair person to do it. You might even learn enough to trick out your computer's performance or build a totally new machine from scratch, if that's your thing.

Or say you're a homeowner with some minor electrical issues. If you took a couple of classes in electrical engineering to eliminate a few gen-eds, you might know a thing or two about rewiring an outlet, getting a fuse kicking again or installing dimmer switches on your lights. Again, you'll be saving money by not having to call an electrician, and you can impress any housemates/romantic partners with your awesome, somewhat rarefied knowledge. And because you're saving both money and time (no need to wait around for a contractor), you'll find yourself making improvements to your property much more often than you might have before.

An Eminently Practical Appeal

But perhaps the most convincing reason for liberal arts majors not to totally shun technical skills has to do with job prospects. Now, lots of people think that 'liberal arts' is synonymous with 'future in fast food,' but this is demonstrably false. As it turns out, many skills possessed by liberal arts majors are actually held in pretty high demand by employers, including critical thinking, teamwork, communication and adaptability. It's that last one that interests us most.

It turns out that lots of employers don't really care what you studied as long as you have a certain set of base skills. This is especially important for liberal arts majors, who typically don't train for specific careers, but rather amass abilities that allow them to fit in numerous fields. Why, then, would you forego technical skills learned in non-liberal arts disciplines? We're not saying you'll want to apply for jobs as lab technicians or civil engineers, necessarily, but the more general knowledge you can have to show for yourself, the better. You may not even need those skills at your job, but just having them might be enough to impress your potential employer. Well-rounded individuals, after all, are the goal of a liberal arts discipline. Why exclude something categorically just because you don't like it?

If you've got employment on your mind, you might want to know what majors guarantee you a job after graduation.

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