Faculty Blog – Jan 2017
The January Faculty Blog
“A Liberal Arts Education”
B.A. Austin College; M.S. Baylor University
Dean of Middle School and Chemistry Professor
Vanguard College Preparatory School
“A Liberal Arts Education”
Over the years I have recognized a trend of Vanguard students choosing bigger, name-brand colleges rather than choosing a smaller liberal arts school. I believe some students make this decision because they lack information and insight into the benefits of attending a liberal arts institution. As the product of the liberal arts education I received at Austin College, I believe I have considerable insight into the benefits a person obtains from studying at such a school. My degree is in chemistry, and I have a minor in Classics. My freshman year I took a class on how to play bridge and during my senior year I was enrolled in a class that analyzed fairy tales, meanwhile preparing to take the MCAT. Where else, other than a liberal arts school, could someone do that?
The American Association of Colleges and Universities defines a Liberal Education as the following:
“Liberal Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings” (“What Is a 21st Century Liberal Education?”).
A liberal arts education provides general knowledge and develops an intellectual ability that can prepare a person for many fields in today’s workplace. Schools, like Yale, believe that “gaining the ability to think critically and independently and to write, reason, and communicate clearly is clearly the foundation for all professions” (“A Liberal Arts Education”). Students at liberal arts schools are required to take classes beyond their intended major and are often challenged to present material to their peers. This approach to learning often creates people who interview well and perform above expectations.
Why get a Liberal Arts Education?
According to Forbes, a liberal arts degree is one of the ten worst college degrees to receive (Altschuler). I wholeheartedly disagree with this assessment. Yes, they base much of this on average earnings and unemployment rates, but a degree is about more than the numbers you see on a paycheck every month or the job market. One could contend that the overall unemployment rate plays an important role in these numbers. To me, the diverse courses you take at a liberal arts institution give you the opportunity to work in a variety of areas and the potential to be successful in any arena.
If you knew me in high school and college, I would have told you that I was going to be a doctor when I grew up. I took all of the necessary classes and tests to go to med school, I applied and went on interviews, and I was accepted to several schools; but something did not feel right. There was something in me that said it was not the right path for me. Soon after that, I received an email looking for a chemistry teacher at a small private school in Waco. Although the thought had never occurred to me prior to that email, I decided to apply. After a couple of trips to Waco, I officially became a teacher at Vanguard. Anxiety fell over me, as I had no clue what to expect when I got here. Fortunately, I was well equipped to handle this transition in large part due to the education I received at Austin College. I had very little trouble effectively presenting the material and knew how to manage my time well, which are both skills I learned in college that are extremely important for teaching.
Many people believe that your degree must be in the same field you plan to work in: for example, in order to be a teacher you would need a M.Ed. or a teaching certificate; but that is not necessarily true. According to a report from CNBC, the top five attributes that employers are looking for are internships, work experience, college major, extracurricular activities and volunteering (Cappelli). Based on this, a person can still succeed in a field outside of his or her main area of study in college. Like many others, I believe experience is an invaluable asset and a person’s ambition can definitely make him or her a valuable asset to any company or institution. There are also opportunities for certificates and training to build your resume once you find an area in which you would like to specialize in after college.
Liberal arts schools are often small in size, which affords a student the opportunity to have a more enriching experience. Students can interact with their professors on a more personal level and gain a better appreciation for their subject. These professors are passionate about their courses and look to inspire their students. This was very evident when I was in college. A friend of mine who was taking an introductory chemistry class at a large university described his classroom experience to me. I was shocked to learn that the professor barely covered material that was imperative to the subject. I firmly believe that students learn more when they know their teacher is engaging and a master of his or her subject.
Receiving a liberal arts education can be a fulfilling experience and one that I think students (especially those at Vanguard) should always consider when looking at colleges.
What are some good Liberal Arts Schools?
The following sites provide a helpful list of the top rated Liberal Arts Schools.
U.S. News 2017 National Liberal Arts Colleges Rankings
Niche 2017 Best Liberal Arts College
Forbes 2016 Top Liberal Arts Colleges
“What Is a 21st Century Liberal Education?” Text. Association of American Colleges & Universities. https://aacu.org/leap/what-is-a-liberal-education, 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.
“A Liberal Arts Education.” Yale College Undergraduate Admissions. http://admissions.yale.edu/liberal-arts-education, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
Altschuler, David Skorton and Glenn. “No. 5: Liberal Arts – Pg. 6.” Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/fgek45hg/the-least-valuable-college-majors/, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.
Cappelli, Peter. “Go Ahead, Get That Liberal Arts Degree.” CNBC. http://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/17/go-ahead-get-a-liberal-arts-degree-commentary.html, 17 June 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.