Liberal arts refers to those academic subjects that in classical antiquity were deemed necessary for any citizen to effectively integrate and interact in society; in essence they were the base of civilized culture. Much like today, the objective of studying liberal arts was to become knowledgable, articulate, learned and well rounded. In all ages, from antiquity through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, becoming educated in the liberal arts encompassed the study of certain subjects, which typically included grammar, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, rhetoric, astronomy, astrology and later history and philosophy.
In our modern day, an education in liberal arts means different things. It can refer to certain subjects (e.g., history, literature, psychology, math, science, languages, and science) or it can refer an academic degree–which may incorporate additional subjects such as biology and social sciences. Many colleges and universities today offer liberal arts degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. In fact, liberal arts degrees are one of the most popular undergraduate degrees offered in the United States. Which ever interpretation you choose, it is commonly accepted that liberal arts degrees are non-professional and non-technical in nature.
From a modern academic perspective, liberal arts includes the following areas:
- Visual Arts – drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpting, photography, crafts, design, etc.
- Great Books – 150 books that constitute the foundation of Western literature
- History – includes human, geologic, cosmic and organic history
- Languages – verbal and written forms of human communication
- Linguistics – scientific study of human language, which includes languate structure
- Literature – genres includes romance, mystery, fantasy, crime, and adventure, among others
- Mathematics – study of quantity, stucture, space and change
- Music – includes music history, theory, appreciation and music intruments
- Philosophy – study of conceptual and fundamental problems facing humans
- Political science – study of the state, nation, government forms and policies
- Psychology – study of behaviors and mental processes in humans and animals
- Religious studies – study of religious beliefs, behaviors and institutions
- Natural Science – includes chemistry, astronomy, physics, earth science and biology
- Social Science – disciplines include economics, psychology, and sociology, among others
- Performing arts – art through use of the body (dance, theatre, etc.)
Traditionally, liberal arts degrees–at the undergraduate level–have been designed for academically oriented students who plan on pursuing a graduate or professional degree upon graduation. While most liberal arts degrees are general in nature, some colleges offering liberal arts degrees that are very focused. Liberal arts curriculum will vary from school to schoo but most liberal arts programs include courses in history, music, civics, languages, geography, art, informatics and the sciences. Areas of specialization that exist include economics, technology and languages.
Value of a Liberal Arts Degree
The debate over the value of college-level liberal arts education rages on. Within political and business circles, some contend that the value of a liberal arts degree (especially a degree in history, literature of philosophy) is overrated. However, others argue that liberal-arts education has never been more important as it helps students develop communication, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills that employers are demanding. When surveyed, over 90 percent of business reported that the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively, think critically and solve complex problems is more important than knowledge in a particular discipline.
It’s a given that if you plan on pursuing a graduate degree then an undergraduate degree in liberal arts makes sense. But it a liberal arts degree also makes sense for those who plan on pursuing a career following graduation. According a survey produced by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the most important personal qualities and skills employers are looking for are communication skills, analytical skills, flexibility, ability to relate to others, computer skills, attention to detail, integrity, honesty, motivation and a strong work ethic–all of which can be achieved through a liberal arts education.
Below you can search our database of accredited colleges and universities that offer degrees and programs in various liberal arts fields and concentrations, including languages, humanities, economics, science and general liberal arts.
Liberal Art Degrees and Programs
Southern New Hampshire University
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