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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

One Tall Voice: Is a Liberal Arts education worth it?

Published: February 15, 2008
Section: Opinions

Brandeis University gives us a fine liberal arts education. This college and many others like it say that this learning will expand our minds and augment our intellectual horizons. But how exactly will this education tangibly assist us in the real world? Many people go to college to increase their likelihood of landing a good job in the future. To this extent, many other universities offer majors in hospitality, business management, and a number of other useful fields. Yet, this school includes concentrations like classical studies, anthropology, and a number of other academic, but not practical majors. In fact, looking down the list of concentrations at the registrar website has me scratching my head. What can a person with an American Studies major do with their life related to that field, how can a person with a variety of other majors tangibly benefit from their learning? I’d like to take a crack at this whole liberal arts mentality.

I’d first like to attack what people say are the benefits of a liberal arts education. Some believe that it expands your mind, increases your store of knowledge and prepares one for future life. In his graduation speech, Thomas Friedman even spoke about how the CEO of Apple formatted his computer keyboards a certain way after taking a calligraphy class during his liberal arts education. Most of this reasoning is hogwash. Despite the utility at cocktail parties, much of the liberal arts education is useless. Very rarely do those moments arise where ones expanded education comes in especially handy, not often is this obscure knowledge used. If cutting corners on readings and doing papers at the last minute is helpful for life, than perhaps this type of learning is utile. If not, it does not prepare students as well as people would dictate.

Not all colleges have this limited liberal arts mentality. Some offer a wide array of concentration that tangibly assist students in their future vocations. My brother Jared, for instance, majored in communications at Ithaca University, a concentration that could assist him in many jobs. My other older brother Seth majored in hospitality at Lynne University, and now he is the owner and manager of a restaurant in Florida. My triplet brother Bradley is majoring in finance and accounting, and he hopes one day to become an accountant. These concentrations gave my brothers actual skills to use in the future. They didn’t just teach them about ancient civilizations, or obscure theories about the mind, these programs gave them tangible skills for their future jobs.

Of course these universities also offered typical liberal arts programs such as history, philosophy and the like. I also realize that our own university offers certain vocational majors like computer science and others. Still, I think it could greatly help students at our university to have the option to major in one of these practical fields. It could give us more specific opportunities once we begin to enter the work force.

I certainly like certain aspects of the liberal arts education. I think that it is really great that I can discuss the stars, comment about ancient civilizations; speak a foreign language and run a mile. It also makes me look smart at social occasions as I often reference classical works and historical events. But as for preparing me for a future job, the liberal arts education is lacking. Other universities offer tangible concentrations that will directly assist their students later in life. I also understand that some of the appeal of this university is the idea of intellectual exploration. But really, we must be serious with ourselves. Only so many people can become philosophers and anthropologists in their future lives!