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Liberal arts colleges and majors can lead to good futures

TheGreyKingTheGreyKing Registered User Posts: 865 Member
edited July 16 in Parents Forum
A thread on small liberal arts colleges vs. universities, which expanded into a tangentially related discussion of liberal arts majors vs. business/ engineering/ other majors directly related to a career choice, was recently closed. I thought the discussion was still interesting, so I am starting this thread to allow the discussion to continue.

Some people expressed concerns that EITHER attending a small school like Williams or Vassar (with any major available from physics to art history), OR majoring in a pure science, social science or humanities field at any sized University or college, might lead to debt and poverty.

Everyone I know personally who pursued either route has an upper middle class or upper class salary and is very happy with the way their life turned out in terms of career satisfaction, finances, etc. They are college professors, medical doctors (pediatrician, ophthalmologic surgeon), lawyers, judges, veterinarians, scientific researchers, political scientists, psychologists, social workers, public school teachers, computer scientists, journalists, insurance executives, bankers, consultants, graphic artist for a book publishing company, research librarian for a major bank, etc. Most went on to get graduate degrees after their BA; some did not.

The other thing all these people have in common is that they enjoy thinking and learning for their own sake, not just as a means to an end. They are interested in the world of ideas.

Some chose careers that make a great deal of money and also provide job satisfaction, while others made deliberate choices to earn less but do what they love.

I suppose there could be anecdotal evidence of people with unhappy outcomes as well, so the point is not that one set of college choices will lead to financial success and one to lack thereof, just that there are many possible "correct" choices for each individual, not just one. Ultimately, all choices are individual, and any one person's happiness will depend on his/her own choices and way of viewing his/her life.

The world is interesting because not everyone is the same. Someone who wants to attend a specialized school or major in a "pre"-something field should certainly do so. (If they want, they can also take some courses on Plato or Shakespeare along the way!) But no one should fear a liberal arts college or a major in something less directly career-related, if that is what attracts him/her (student) or his/her child (parent).

Replies to: Liberal arts colleges and majors can lead to good futures

  • roethlisburgerroethlisburger Registered User Posts: 1,660 Senior Member
    Most people who get a BA/BS do not get graduate degrees. If most people got a graduate degree, then you have a biased sample. Perhaps, that's because you went to Williams.
  • elena13elena13 Registered User Posts: 188 Junior Member
    @TheGreyKing - I really liked your comments on the other thread about the value of a liberal arts education and they provided some reassurance, as I am having a lot of anxiety about my daughter heading off for her first year at a selective LAC about 15 hours from home. She will likely study English and probably political science. While D was given generous financial aid, her dad is not contributing anything, so it will be a stretch for she and I to cover costs. D will have to take loans as well (just federal) and she and I are very nervous about that. As the departure date grows closer, I can see more doubt creeping into her comments. I feel that it will be a great fit for her and that it will be an incredible experience academically. However, I do have many worries about what the future holds and hope she will be able to support herself and have a fulfilling career.
  • toowonderfultoowonderful Registered User Posts: 3,466 Senior Member
    I was a history major at an LAC, and I loved every minute of it. I have had a productive career. None of my college friends seem to be in their parent's basements.... at least based on their FB profiles. I think the purpose of college getting an education, rather than job training. That sometimes makes me feel in the minority, both here on CC and in the real world too. But that's ok. My D is currently in a highly ranked school majoring in something she feels passionate about - which is consistently listed among the "least lucrative careers" (theater) - I'm fine with it, and not worried about her future (beyond normal mom worries). I don't think there are any guarantees for happiness, stability, prosperity etc - and there certainly aren't college choices that create a 100% certainty for success or failure.
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 29,495 Senior Member
    My personal opinion is that students who are articulate, good communicators, organized, and hard working can get a job regardless of major unless the economy is really in the ditch (as it is from time to time, of course). My poli sci/public policy major kid has a very good job with a consulting company. It isn't exactly what she studied for, but she actually likes the work very well (and is sorta glad she isn't working in politics at the moment!). Other kid is a physics major - - not exactly a degree that has tons of entry level jobs directly related to her studies. But she focused on research related to material science, and is in a paid grad school program this fall where that is a particular strength of the program. Bottom line is that she is self supporting (if she has her act together enough to pay her bills - ahem), and should be pretty employable when she finishes that degree.
  • calmomcalmom Registered User Posts: 18,614 Senior Member
    My kids (poli sci majors) have been self-supporting since graduating from their respective B.A. programs,-- and there has been no significant difference in career trajectory even though my d's degree is from a top-drawer, elite LAC, and son's is from an in-state regional. Both started with jobs with roughly equivalent pay & benefits within 2 weeks of graduating. Both kids also now have grad degrees, but both worked for several years before starting grad school. Son took off from work to attend grad school for 2 years; DD worked continuously while attending grad school part time for 3 years. Although their degrees are the same, their jobs are very different - son is employed by a large state agency; daughter works as a business manager for a small media firm. (Son's job bears a relationship to his degrees, whereas daughter's doesn't).

    I never worried -- the most important factor for employment is previous employment history, so the best career preparation is simply the various part time and summer jobs student take over the years, whether or not directly related to their choice of school or major.
  • kiddiekiddie Registered User Posts: 2,650 Senior Member
    I think the one problem that can arise with a Liberal Arts degree is that although you are well prepared for many jobs you may not know what direction you want to go in. Compared to getting an accounting or engineering degree, where your career path (at least initial path out of college) is pretty clear. You need excellent guidance and career services to help these liberal arts majors see the opportunities open to them and help them set out on a path. I know of several recent LAC grads who are floundering - not for lack of intelligence or talent but for lack of direction.
  • homerdoghomerdog Registered User Posts: 1,405 Senior Member
    edited July 17
    I am firmly in the camp that believes in a liberal arts education. Our S19 is a thinker and wants to be around kids who want to learn for learning's sake. On a recent trip to a local Colleges That Change Lives LAC, he was like a kid in a candy store when one of the physics professors took him and two other prospective students on a tour. She told the kids to call her by her first name and then spent over an hour showing them around. He loved it. He very easily could have visited with a history or English professor and loved it just as much. He wants to know his professors and has yet to narrow down his interests.

    My biggest concern revolves around the career center at schools like this. Top tier LACs have better alumni systems and more companies that recruit undergrads for summer and post-undergrad jobs. I'm not worried to send him to somewhere like Carelton, Middlebury, etc., but I am a little worried about his safety LACs being able to point him in the right direction. Also, and I hope this isn't too controversial, some of his safety LACs have a decent amount of Pell Grant recipients. While I think that's wonderful in many ways, it doesn't bode well for S19 to meet kids who may have connections. Both my husband and I benefitted from our fellow students' connections from Northwestern. I don't see our S19 going to grad school (maybe not at all but definitely not right after undergrad). While he's a curious kid and very bright, he wants to be out in the world working after college.
  • wis75wis75 Registered User Posts: 12,355 Senior Member
    I was prepared to explain that sciences were a part of the liberal arts but, Bravo!, you did include them.

    I got my BA with Honors in Chemistry at a flagship U. The choice of BA/BS was mine as I had met requirements for both- I liked the white tassel better than the yellow. My large top tier research U included so many opportunities for diverse courses I'm sure no two students ever have had the same list. I believe about 80% of undergrads are in the College of Letters and Sciences- ie most students. Breadth requirements are there for an education, not just job training. A huge nation (and world) wide alumni network for those who care.

    I am glad people pointed out your limited sampling for success. It is anecdotal. In your world you do not run across the less successful.

    Since the majority of grads are likely to have liberal arts degrees (see above 80%) I do not see your point as being noteworthy. You do point out that those from small LACs can succeed as well as the others. The mindset of those in the Northeast who post on CC seems so geared towards the myriads of small LACs. I'm sure the public U grads there just as often do just as well. Like most of those elsewhere they see no need for CC.

    Post # 8- attitude... Amen.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 62,861 Senior Member
    edited July 17
    homerdog wrote:
    Also, and I hope this isn't too controversial, some of his safety LACs have a decent amount of Pell Grant recipients. While I think that's wonderful in many ways, it doesn't bode well for S19 to meet kids who may have connections.

    If the implication is that, for job and career prospects, whom you know matters more than what college you attend, what you study in college, or how well you do, then that implies that, for the majority who go to work after earning a BA/BS, college is more of a finishing school, networking opportunity, or some such than any other purpose it may have.
  • homerdoghomerdog Registered User Posts: 1,405 Senior Member
    @ucbalumnus I didn't mean to imply that I want our kids to go to college solely to make connections. I don't think that's what I said. I just know that it's not a bad thing to go to school with kids who may be able to help with job prospects. i don't think there's a downside to that.

    And I know two Wisconsin grads who came upon their first jobs through a friend's parent so I know it's not just small schools that can provide connections. The combination, though, of small school, less-connected students, and a small alumni base may not be the best for job opportunities out of undergrad. I guess it's just something I will have to ask each school when we visit their career centers. I don't think most LACs have a multitude of companies coming to campus to interview so I wonder how the kids to about finding jobs.
  • garlandgarland Registered User Posts: 15,037 Senior Member
    My D and S graduated with liberal arts degrees from a top LAC and a Top Univ. It would never have occurred to either of them to seek jobs through classmates or classmates' families. Both are employed and enjoying their work. I would not choose or avoid a school based on the income backgrounds of fellow students.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 62,861 Senior Member
    OHMomof2 wrote:
    2. Liberal arts does not include STEM. With the caveat that the "E, engineering, is available at only a handful of LACs, S (science), T (tech, usually in the form of computer science) and M (math) are most definitely available at just about every LAC and university in the country.

    The T (technology) can also mean engineering technology majors, which are somewhat less common than engineering majors.

    The S (science) and M (math) in STEM are among the liberal arts.

    One other misconception is that all STEM majors have good major-specific job and career prospects. But the most popular STEM major is biology, and the heavy supply of biology graduates (who did not get into health professional schools and such) relative to the biology-specific jobs means that the biology-specific job prospects are not that great, so biology graduates should consider also looking into major-agnostic jobs as well.
    OHMomof2 wrote:
    An additional goal was for students to have a solid understanding of our history so they could participate fully in our democracy as informed citizens, whether they participated directly (going into politics) or just passively (voting).

    Since most citizens do not complete bachelor's degrees, such goals need to be addressed in high school. Indeed, high schools often attempt to do so with mandatory US history, civics, and sometimes state history courses, but the quality of such is uneven, and the content and teaching are often biased by the political leanings of the day in the state boards of education (e.g. what was the major political dispute and reason that led to the civil war?).
  • TheGreyKingTheGreyKing Registered User Posts: 865 Member
    @OHMomof2 -- fascinating Chronicle article. Thanks for sharing the link.
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