â€œA liberal arts degree? Why on Earth would you want to do that? Isnâ€™t it rather . . . pointless?â€
For many students and recent graduates, revealing that they are studying for or received a liberal studies degree is usually a fast track to derision. To some people â€” usually those with highly specialized, â€œin-demandâ€ degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines â€” the liberal arts are â€œeasyâ€ subjects that donâ€™t offer any real marketable skills.
Someone who earns a liberal studies degree, in their view, is someone who cannot commit, and who may lack the in-depth knowledge necessary to succeed in any field. While anyone who has successfully completed a liberal studies degree can handily disprove those assumptions, there is one arena in which many people can successfully argue that a liberal studies degree is actually more beneficial than a STEM or traditional business degree.
Entrepreneurs across all sectors can attest to the fact that while a business degree does provide a foundation in certain vital principles, the skills gained in a liberal studies program are also important, and make starting a business easier and more profitable. So what are those skills?
Most liberal studies programs, which involve designing a personalized program around a number of interrelated disciplines, include a wide array of communication courses covering both written and verbal communication. According to some experts, communication is the number one skill sought by employers, and the most important skill for any entrepreneur. After all, how can you express your vision to investors and customers if you cannot effectively communicate?
Being able to write and speak well are valuable skills no matter what the setting. While some students who focus on a particular trade or function may be talented and knowledgeable, they may not be able to as effectively communicate their knowledge as a liberal studies major can.
Often, students in specific disciplines have a great deal of knowledge within their fields. After all, you do not want to hire an accountant who doesnâ€™t understand the basic principles of the field. Yet many fields do not encourage creativity in thinking, instead focusing on teaching students the foundations of the field and providing a well of knowledge from which to draw to solve problems and develop new innovations.
Liberal studies students, on the other hand, are constantly focused on making connections between diverse disciplines and finding new ways to think about and understand issues and problems. They have a breadth of knowledge â€” which might just be what they need to come up with their next winning idea.
Liberal studies students are by definition flexible. After all, at any given time they could be studying world religions, mathematics and conflict resolution. The diversity of subject matter in such a degree requires an ability to â€œshift gearsâ€ and change modes of thinking regularly.
This is an important skill for an entrepreneur, who often must wear many hats in the early stages of business development. Specialists, on the other hand, may find themselves pigeonholed: Extremely knowledgeable about one or two areas and stymied by others, and unable to manage all of the aspects of running a business without a great deal of outside help.
Many employers note that one of the most important qualities of a potential employee is being goal-oriented. They want to hire those people who are able to envision what they want to accomplish and develop a plan for achieving that goal â€” and then take action on it. While most graduates of traditional degree programs can demonstrate this to some extent, liberal studies majors are often exceptionally well-equipped to set and achieve goals; after all, some programs include personal development coursework as a part of the program, and require students to rationalize their course choices.
As an entrepreneur, success is all about setting goals and planning, and making decisions that move the enterprise forward â€” and liberal studies students are able to do that right out of the gate.
At one time, higher education was seen as the opportunity to teach young adults how to think, how to tap into their intellectual capacity and become productive, socially responsible members of society. A liberal studies program returns higher ed to that lofty goal, by focusing on concepts and critical thinking rather than â€œhard skillsâ€ that can be learned on the job and developed in time. For an aspiring entrepreneur, then, itâ€™s a perfect fit.