The Practicality of Liberal Arts
Most undergraduate institutions mandate that students complete a core curriculum or fulfill certain distribution requirements in the Humanities, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences divisions. Instead of viewing this academic policy as a scholastic restriction, think of it as the perfect opportunity to delve into academic fields that you would remotely think of. Similarly, if you are applying to the few colleges that have open curricula, do not be inclined to pursue a rigid coursework filled only with classes that you are comfortable with.
The College Search
As you narrow down and finalize your college list, try considering the different academic opportunities each college has to offer:
- What are you interested in? Write down the academic fields that you may be interested in (these may be subjects that you have done in high school or general knowledge that you were exposed to through extracurricular activities, conversations with friends or even Wikipedia!)
- Are there any unique courses or opportunities available? Browse through the academic department’s website, which is a great source of information on course descriptions, study abroad opportunities as well as the types of student-faculty research provided by the department. This is a great way to learn not only about the coursework but more importantly, know what the college can offer you!
- Compare and contrast. Some colleges have great science research modules, while others have excellent study abroad programs for the language departments. Some institutions have minor programs for students who want to further specialize in an academic field, while others do not. Some colleges have as many as 150 undergraduate majors while others offer only up to 30 majors.
While this criteria list is not a comprehensive one, look at the opportunities available at a variety of colleges and see how they can further enhance your learning.
Next, when it comes to the Common Application, applicants are often required to list down their current academic fields of interest or intended degree program. However, it is important to know that applicants are not obliged to pursue those academic disciplines because colleges understand that students are prone to changing their mind, and will not dictate a student’s choice of major. In addition, do not be obsessed with declaring a certain major just because several rankings rated one academic field as a more pragmatic or more useful major than another. The major or concentration of a student does not determine the usefulness of an undergraduate education. In fact, what matters most is the learning that takes place through critical thinking as well as the ability to use knowledge from different disciplines to construct coherent and sound arguments.
Ultimately, what defines a truly meaningful liberal arts education is neither the prestige of the college nor the usefulness of the major but the opportunities seized by the students to explore and learn. Besides, an exploratory approach to learning not only enhances your undergraduate experience but also increases your street cred. After all, it is always impressive to be a microbiologist with an in-depth knowledge on Greek literature or a budding artist who draws inspiration from science to create magnificent works of art or poetry. Enter college with an open mind, take risks, explore and enjoy learning. Deciding on a major can wait.
Does it matter what you major in? Let us know what you think in the comment box below.