Liberal studies is the generic term for any college degree that emphasizes humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural sciences in equal measure; the goal of these programs is to produce graduates with a well-rounded academic knowledge base. Liberal arts degrees are not available at every higher-learning institution, but those who do offer the major have programs for both undergraduates and graduate students. You can learn more about specific fields of study associated with this major by exploring open liberal studies courses offered free-of-charge by colleges and universities around the world.
Liberal studies degree-holders may pursue a wide range of careers in education, business, information technology, and other broad professional fields. The federal government, as well as numerous state-level and municipal agencies, also hire a large number of liberal studies graduates. These individuals tend to excel in occupations that require expertise in areas like writing, human resources, marketing, and politics. The common bond between all liberal studies majors is a love of learning and an innate desire to share knowledge with their peers and colleagues.
Liberal studies degree pathways are compartmentalized differently than other majors. In addition to a course sequence in liberal arts (which focuses on the ways we learn, inquire about the world around us, and teach others), most programs require students to fulfill a certain number of credits in arts and humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Virtually every liberal studies major will complete a different series of courses, consisting of such subjects as literature, theater, political science, economics, philosophy, biology, chemistry, and physical education. Diversity of subjects is the common factor for all of these students.
Generally, liberal studies specializations are essentially the same as minors at the undergraduate level. Students may be able to concentrate their liberal studies degree in areas like art, geography, music, or public administration. But at many colleges and universities, minoring in these or any other subject that pertains to one’s desired career path will achieve the same end result. For graduate students, specializations often focus on history, education, or academic research.
Some liberal studies majors will be able to compete in the workforce with an associate or bachelor’s degree, while others may want to consider an advanced degree before launching their career; this decision depends entirely on the industry the student wishes to enter and the job title they would like to attain. Here is a breakdown of the four most common types of college degree for liberal studies students.
A two-year associate degree typically emphasizes introductory courses in several core subjects, so the curriculum will be somewhat similar to a liberal studies degree pathway at any level. Associate degrees are sufficient for obtaining entry-level positions in the public and private sector (as well as the federal government), but degree-holders will be somewhat limited in their options (and salary) without a bachelor’s or higher.
Many long-term, high-paying careers are available to bachelor’s degree-holders, particularly in industries associated with the arts and humanities. For any liberal studies major, job availability will depend on two factors: specialization/major and employment trends pertaining to the industry of their choice.
Like bachelor’s-level liberal studies programs, master’s degrees in this field emphasize a multidisciplinary curriculum over specialized studies. This credential is recommended for specialized fields within the social or natural sciences, such as biology, chemistry, or anthropology.
Doctoral degrees in liberal studies are somewhat uncommon, but these programs are the best bet for students who wish to teach or research liberal studies at the collegiate level. In addition to coursework, Ph.D.-level liberal studies students must write a doctoral dissertation/thesis pertaining to their specific area of expertise, and may also be required to complete an internship.
Ideal Candidates for Liberal Studies
The desire to learn and the open-mindedness to expose oneself to new, radical ideas and concepts are two hallmark qualities of successful liberal studies majors. A penchant for reading and writing will also serve these individuals in the classroom and (most likely) in the workplace. But liberal studies majors must also identify their strongest subjects, and pursue courses and specializations that will allow them to translate their passions into viable career options.
Since a liberal studies education can be used to obtain a wide range of occupational titles, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a general listing for individuals who earn this degree at the college level. However, the website does list career statistics and trends pertaining to specific professions that are often associated with liberal studies majors.
Jobs with the brightest outlook for liberal studies degree-holders include technical writers, legal assistants, marketing research analysts, and other professions expected to grow more than 15% between 2012 and 2022 (which is significantly faster than the projected rate of growth for all occupations). Public relations specialists and urban/regional planners are two of the career paths expected to grow about as fast as the entire U.S. workforce. And some careers are expected to decline in the years to come; jobs in journalism, for example, will likely fall by as much as 13% between 2012 and 2022.
Liberal studies majors are encouraged to narrow their focus during their undergraduate years, and then network with local businesses, student associations, and professional organizations that are linked to the student’s career path. Internships (if available) are another useful way for liberal studies majors to learn more about their prospective professional field.