Can you major in liberal arts

Michele Masiello is a 2012 graduate of the University of Chicago where he majored in philosophy. He lives in New York City and currently works in the publishing industry and is interested in technology, especially the Internet of Things.

As college tuition continues to rise, many students are weary of majoring in liberal arts subjects because they’re concerned about landing a great job after graduation. While everyone’s personal and financial situation is different, I’d like to share three thoughts I have on the matter, as a recent graduate who majored in philosophy.

1. Experience and interest trumps major for many employers

Many employers are not interested in people that studied a specific subject as much as they are seeking those with experience and real interest in their business and industry. If you want to be a journalist, write for your school newspaper. If you want to be a software engineer at a tech company, work on coding projects you can showcase. If you want to be a management consultant, find a way to help a business improve its operations. Building some experience by doing the actual work you’d do on the job (or approximating it best you can) is often more valuable, and a better use of time, than majoring in, say, journalism, computer science, or business. As a college student, you have many extracurricular opportunities to get experience in something outside the classroom to show that you’re really interested and committed. You just have to find, or create, these opportunities for yourself and put in the hard work to see them through. Best of all, you can do this and major in whatever you want.

A great way to demonstrate your interest in a business or industry to a potential employer is to maintain a blog where you can share your thoughts on relevant news, trends, ideas, or products. A blog will also help employers see how you think about topics they care about, which can differentiate you from other candidates.

2. Not all liberal arts subjects are created equal

The fact of the matter is, some liberal arts subjects have a wider range of applicability and relevance in the working world than others. In my experience from both job hunting and reading hundreds of entry-level job descriptions, majors that develop your quantitative reasoning and analytical abilities tend to be more valued by employers. Someone who studies mathematics, statistics, or economics is likely to have an easier time proving to employers that she can “think analytically” or that she is “data driven” than someone who studies anthropology, English, or even philosophy. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great jobs for the English majors of the world, but I personally have found that more and more jobs require experience working with numbers and analyzing quantitative data.

3. You don’t need to major in a liberal arts subject to receive its benefits

Many claim that the liberal arts teaches you “how to the think” or to “see things differently.” I definitely believe this is true, but you don’t necessarily need to major in a liberal arts subject to receive those benefits. Taking a few art history, anthropology, or philosophy courses while preparing for a career in accounting, for example, can help you learn “how to think” without dedicating your entire college career to a liberal arts subject. You can pursue a double major or minor to have your bases covered, or you can pursue an interest in a liberal arts subject outside the classroom, through student organizations or by attending lectures, for example.

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