What are the “liberal arts?” by Ariel Bloomer


If you’ve been researching colleges and universities, you’ve likely encountered the phrase “liberal arts,” a term used to describe an educational model found around the world, but especially in the United States. The foundation of the liberal arts is a well-rounded education, one that includes literature, foreign languages, history, math, psychology, philosophy and science. Students at liberal arts colleges may choose a concentration from among these fields, but also take a broad range of classes. Even large research universities often adhere to a liberal arts foundation by requiring undergraduate students to take courses that touch on each of these categories.

A liberal arts education is a good choice for a student who is not ready to commit to a concentration and wants room to explore different academic paths. It is also a good option for students who have multiple academic disciplines they want to pursue, like someone who dreams of a double major in Physics and Philosophy with a minor in French. The liberal arts do not encompass trade-crafts, like masonry or carpentry, or vocational studies, like those required to become a chef or beautician. It also does not include professional studies programs, like accounting, business, journalism or law, though liberal arts alumni often pursue professions like these in graduate school.


Still confused?

Economics is liberal arts, but business is not. English and creative writing is liberal arts, but journalism is not. Religious studies, biology, studio art are all liberal arts. Metallurgy, education, and nursing are not liberal arts. Engineering, though not included in the liberal arts, is becoming incorporated in many colleges so that students can benefit from both a liberal arts education and focused engineering program. For instance, Harvey Mudd College has a rigorous curriculum of science, engineering, and mathematics while remaining committed to the liberal arts.

Harvey Mudd College (Southern California)


Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, New York)


Criticisms of Liberal Arts Education

There is a long standing debate over the worth of liberal arts majors; some claim that students waste their money on programs that do not lead directly to specific careers or occupations. However, the skills students learn in a liberal arts program (writing, research, lab work, critical thinking, and language) continue to be important to employers. There is more than one path to success, but it’s important to consider if the academic requirements of your intended colleges and universities will further your own academic and professional goals. For instance, Vassar College is a highly acclaimed and selective liberal arts college.

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