Thinking about a liberal arts degree? Think about this first.
Ahh that age old question of what you should go to school for. Many are even questioning if higher education is even worth our time any more. I do think it's worth our time, but that's for another entry. Let's assume you're already planning on going to college. What should you get your degree in?
It's a common philosophy that college should be used as a time to pursue whatever you love, even if whatever you love isn't a viable career... I'm not sure I agree with that. If you're going to spend four years and who knows how much money on getting a piece of paper, it better be a piece of paper that works for you once you're graduated.
This means — brace yourself — that liberal arts* degrees will not be your best bet.
There are plenty of bright individuals who prove that there are exceptions to this rule. However, for most people, a liberal arts degree isn't going to be incredibly useful on its own. Few people who receive degrees in the liberal arts ever go on to use them in a direct capacity.
*By liberal arts degrees I'm not referring to a "Liberal Arts Education" which is a fancy term for a well-rounded education. I'm referring to degree programs in the arts, languages, literature, philosophy, religious studies etc. When I refer to technical degrees, I'm not talking about degrees from trade schools (though they're included). I'm referring to degrees that have a technical element in some form such as chemistry, law, business or engineering.
It isn't that these degrees don't teach you anything valuable - to be sure, they do! Here's the rub: they aren't often associated with concrete skills such as chemistry, law or economics. Based on perception alone, the degree does very little to help you lock down a job in the "real world."
When I first entered college, I was going for a visual arts degree. Why? Because my first love was photography. I believed that I could make it as a photographer if only I had some formal training in the arts. What I soon discovered, however, is that I was much better off learning my craft through personal exploration and online study. By approaching photography in that way, I was poised to learn what I felt was relevant to my style and subject matter, progress as fast or slow as I desired, and practice at my convenience.
Figuring out that this approach worked best for me, I decided to pursue a degree that I knew would be difficult for me to learn on my own without a mentor or teacher, would teach me something I wasn't already learning on my own, would benefit me in turning my craft into a career and would act as a fail safe should photography not work out.
I decided that a degree in business would fit the bill and graduated four years later with two degrees in management/marketing and economics/finance. The application of a business degree wasn't so narrow that it locked me in to a particular field or industry, but it also gave me a better understanding of how my particular craft fit into our economy.
Here's why technical degrees peak interest in the job market:
1. Technical degrees teach you skills that are both difficult and useful in a very tangible way.
While a degree in ancient languages might be of the utmost importance when translating a newly discovered manuscript found in a tomb in the desert, the end result of that doesn't have a lot of immediate or direct significance to our present day. On the other hand, a degree in law has immediate and direct impact on human lives today.
2. Technical degrees are evidence of a dedicated and hard-working person who isn't afraid to tackle big ideas or problems.
Someone who is either apathetic or a laggard (or both) will not survive in a technical program, thus is helps to sort the wheat from the chaff. This isn't to say that everyone with liberal arts degrees are apathetic or lazy. Some of my best friends have liberal arts degrees and are some of the most hard-working people I know. But I know few (if any) apathetic and lazy people who have made it through med school.
3. Technical degrees teach you to think in logical and practical terms while leaving room for creativity.
The sciences allow you to explore and experiment as creatively as you like, though you're bound by the laws of our universe. Business allows you to get creative in how you market and structure an organization, but it is governed by the laws of economics. These sorts of skills give you a solid perception of the world we live in and how we can shape it.
Let's say you do have a liberal arts degree. Are you out of luck? Not even close. We're seeing a new age arise from the Information Age - the age of the Hybrid. In this new age, more things are possible than ever, including learning valuable skills that are, what I call, "adjacent skills." They're related to but not specific to your primary skill or career. To use my story, business was a great adjacent skill to photography because it strengthened and enhanced the viability of my skill in photography.
Leveraging the web, you don't have to go through formal education to become great at a particular craft. You can learn from hundreds of thousands of teachers across the world. Here's what that means for you:
You can get a masters degree in a technical field.
With online education becoming cheaper (sometimes free) and more available, you have an opportunity to couple your liberal arts training with something like an MBA.
You can learn nearly ANY skill.
Having a degree in Renaissance Literature combined with skills in programming and design can yield some incredibly unique results which makes you valuable in that niche space. You don't necessarily have to go get another degree in a technical field - you could simply beef up your liberal arts degree with some concrete skills that give the arts an injection of viability and usability in our world.
For those who received their undergraduate in a technical skill, those two points are just as relevant to you. We all have been positioned to pad our portfolio of skills like no other time in history. You want to stay relevant? Stay useful.