Are liberal arts degrees useless?

This piece from The Atlantic (dated April of 2012) states that over half of America’s recent college graduates are either unemployed or working at a job that falls below their level of education. The article also mentions a disparity in the employment of liberal arts graduates and graduates with more practical degrees:

That said, not all degrees are created equal. The AP reports that students who graduated out of the sciences or other technical fields, such as accounting, were much less likely to be jobless or underemployed than humanities and arts graduates.

I have a degree in English. After I graduated college, I was upset with myself for not getting a degree in a more practical subject because it could’ve been easier for me to find a job. But suppose I had gotten a degree in accounting and began a career in that field; yet after a few years, I realized that I hated accounting and wanted a career change? Would I be able to find a job in another career with a degree that was only suitable for accounting?

What I like about an English degree is that it’s flexible. I joke that English is pertinent to any job that I apply for — because they’re all in English! Seriously though, the ability to write well is something that’s relevant to all careers. Especially in today’s world of blogs, social media, and e-mail, you need to communicate your ideas through writing, and an English degree demonstrates that you have that knowledge.

I think people focus too much on the “arts” portion of the phrase “liberal arts” — the word “arts” connoting a lack of seriousness and a detachment from reality. But what about “liberal,” the word that connotes freedom and change? A liberal arts degree gives me the freedom to choose from a multitude of career options, and the opportunity to change careers if that’s what I desire.

Besides, liberal arts majors still have the opportunity to take more practical courses — as well as volunteer and intern. They might even be able to do a minor or a concentration in a career-oriented subject. Does it really matter if their major pertains to a specific career, so long as they have the knowledge and experience needed for that career?

We shouldn’t be pigeonholed by what are majors are — or aren’t. Our identities change as we grow older; even after we leave college, we develop new interests and hobbies that supplant the old ones. So job-seekers shouldn’t be judged by a major that they did years ago. Instead, they should be judged by their current goals and what they’ve done to achieve them.

About David

I'm an aspiring writer and filmmaker in my twenties. I also run a blog where twenty-somethings share their stories and advice on beginning a career in this economy. Check it out at

Posted on November 16, 2012, in News & views and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice post. I am a recent college graduate and have been having similar discussions with others. Just to put things in perspective, nowadays people don’t recommend going to college for a liberal arts, non-practical degree because it is not worth the costs. While it is good to be well-rounded, I would suggest enjoying literature on your own, without paying tuition. However, I would like to share this:

  1. Pingback: Best and worst college majors « 20somethings in 2012

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