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  • Writer's pictureNancy Adis

The Case for a Liberal Arts Degree

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

While many parents might have sleepless nights wondering what their child will ‘actually do’ with a Liberal Arts degree, the book You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education by George Anders, should help relieve some of their fears.


As part of my work as an Educational Consultant, I read an abundance of books related to higher education, personal motivation, and goal setting, and I recently read You Can Do Anything and I found its arguments for a Liberal Arts degree compelling.


This book does an outstanding job of highlighting transferable skills and explaining the value of a liberal arts education – and, for those of us who are beyond the college years – it also shares very relevant information. The book’s big themes are: (1) how to rebuild your spirits, (2) how to get a job, (3) how to make the most of your current experience, and (4) how to improvise your way to a successful career. Who doesn’t need a reminder to revisit their skill set and match up what they are doing now with what they aspire to do in the future?


Many students struggle with deciding what to do after high school graduation; which job, what training, which college, which major? And often parents also struggle with the possibility of a student going off to college undecided about a field of study or with an intention to take a liberal arts program of study, because they worry about the practicality and job-marketability of such a choice. (And let’s face it, a college education is a big investment of money and time.)


Throughout this book, Anders argues effectively for the value of a liberal arts education and demonstrates exactly how to market the skills and experiences gained into job skills. He makes the point that students with humanities and social science majors are the ones many businesses want to hire for their strengths in critical thinking, writing skills, researching, and working effectively with others. The book highlights case after case of a company looking for graduates with something more – namely, curiosity, creativity, and empathy. Employers are looking for team players and researchers and they value other people skills that come from a college education, no matter the major or areas studied. This supports the idea that people can be taught specific job functions, so employers should look for the other, less tangible, qualities. Anders also offers readers specific action-oriented advice for how to get the job they aspire to.


As I work with students and their parents who are quite stressed about the college selection process, I point out how this is a very personal choice and there are many colleges or universities that each student could be happy and thrive at. This book reinforces the concept that it may be less important to worry about which major to study, and more important to focus on the commitment, curiosity, and attitude that students put into the college experience – and how they can parlay that in an interview and while networking. Did they learn how to attack the job market, how to find a life balance, and how they’d like to ‘give back’? Have they done the work of deciding what would be a good first step? For some, the value of college is really both the content learned as well as mastering the skills of working with others and adapting to constant change.


Another take away from this book is that students should study what they are interested in and think about how they can use their transferable skills and experiences in a way to help the business or industry they choose. On the practical side, with college debts looming, I remind my student-clients that it’s up to them to make the time, think deeply, and do the work to tell their story and show prospective employers what they can bring to the table.


As I read this book I was also reminded of other books and articles I’ve read with a similar suggestion; that our value as an employee or a contributing member of society is not determined by our specific degree, major, or training, or even by our current or past jobs; rather, it’s much more about the strength of our “other” skills, like our willingness to stretch ourselves or our ability to read the room and inspire others. These days, careers zig and zag more than in the past and so it’s up to each of us to continue goal setting, strive for what is interesting or meaningful to us personally, and be prepared to explain how our passion, experiences, and skills are a good match for the next position.


Perhaps, as Anders says, “with a liberal arts degree in hand, you will be ready for anything!” And perhaps parents of liberal arts students can rest a bit easier tonight.


My expertise is knowing how to address the student’s and parents’ needs distinctly and differently so that the family experiences less stress in their college-selection process. If your student could benefit from an initial conversation to explore their potential paths forward, email me at nancy@confidentcollegeplanning.com.



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