Many students considering college have likely wondered about the field of "liberal arts" or liberal studies. But what is the liberal studies definition? Generally speaking, liberal study is a broad-ranging curriculum that gives students a strong foundation in the areas of the humanities, arts, social sciences and natural sciences.

Liberal Studies Program Meaning

Liberal arts, also called liberal studies, can be a confusing term. Initially, the definition, during the early years of university education, meant that the student was at "liberty" to study whatever subjects he or she desired, moving at the pace most appropriate for his or her learning.

However, over the years the liberal studies definition has shifted and changed. Today, liberal studies means a curriculum with a strong foundational focus in general topics like the humanities, social sciences, fine arts and in some cases the hard sciences like physics, life science or biology.

What's the liberal studies workload like? Liberal studies programs typically emphasize reading extensively and writing extensively about what is being read. Liberal studies majors will graduate with experience articulating their arguments, doing deep, thorough research.

Critical thinking is a key component of a liberal studies education. Rather than expecting that students will read and absorb the material presented to them, liberal studies programs urge students to think critically about what they're reading and respond with thoughtful critiques.

Topics like literature, history, philosophy, art history, language arts, linguistics and psychology are among the many subjects that students enrolled in a liberal studies program should expect to study. Students who are eager to specialize in a particular area may choose to pursue this focus in graduate school after earning their bachelor's degree.

Why Get a Liberal Studies Degree?

The main reason in favor of earning a liberal studies degree is that it offers students the opportunity to pursue a variety of careers. Unlike a science degree or a creative writing degree, which can be limiting for future prospects, a liberal studies degree earned from an accredited university indicates that the student has a strong well-rounded foundation in many subjects and competencies.

Many university students opt to get a liberal studies degree because it covers such a wide range of topics. This is an excellent way to explore areas of study that you were previously unfamiliar with. It's also a good opportunity to discover new passions.

One of the benefits of liberal studies degrees is that they allow students to follow their own minds. If a topic in literature or in a linguistics or social sciences class sparks interest, chances are that within the structure of a liberal studies program, students will have the opportunity to pursue further study in that area in the form of additional classes or an independent study project. This self-guided curiosity is an important skill to develop for anyone in higher education, particularly students who are considering attending a master's program.

What Kind of Jobs Can You Get With a Liberal Studies Degree?

Perhaps the greatest strength of what liberal studies can offer is the chance to pursue nearly any possible career. While liberal studies degrees are in no way specialized in a particular discipline, their nature as foundational and broad offers the opportunity to apply that knowledge to any number of fields.

Jobs in the public sector, in governance, advocacy or fundraising utilize the skills and knowledge taught within a liberal studies curriculum. Likewise in the private sector, in fields like business, media, the arts, advertising and hospitality, a degree earned in liberal studies can prove immensely valuable.

Students considering a liberal studies degree should think seriously about what line of work they are hoping to pursue. If they are at all undecided, a liberal studies degree may be the perfect thing to pursue. If specialization is desired, that can happen after graduation. In fact, a strong foundational background in liberal studies is something that is attractive to many graduate school admissions officials.

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About the Author

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.