Are liberal arts colleges worth going to?

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Discus: College Search and Selection: August 2004 Archive: Are liberal arts colleges worth going to?
By Zeppelin67 (Zeppelin67) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 09:34 pm: Edit

I personally have a love for LACs. But I cant convince my mother they are worth anything. My parents both got liberal arts degrees at SUNY New Paltz, and could basically do nothing with them out of college. (Dad polysci and mom double major magna cum laude sociology/psycology)
My mom went on to become a computer programmer claiming her degrees were worthless and my dad now does business.

They say that the liberal arts degrees dont prepare you for a career or life. They also claim that the enhanced thinking skills you obtain are •••••••• because liberal arts schools cant teach you thinking. All that it comes down to is that when you leave college you have a meaningless liberal arts degree and suddenly hafto compete with the world of business degrees, engineering degrees and other of such majors. Thus you are incapable of getting a job. My pr stats are:

so i think i can get into a damned good LAC

But my parents wont let me apply...for god sakes help me

By Mahras (Mahras) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 09:43 pm: Edit

With all due respect to your parents, getting a job straight out of any SUNY, other than Binghampton, can be a challenge. With your stats I would look into applying ED to Amherst, Williams, or Swarthmore. All three of those schools as well as Pomona, CMC, Carleton wtc get a ton of recruiters from different industries like business, marketing, and often most go onto grad school. For example try searching at financial institutions' websites where they often list the colleges they go to recruit. To make it easier for you here is one from the hyper prestigious consulting firm Bain and company: Here is another from another top consulting group The Boton Consulting Group: There are several lists like these. Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, Pomona, CMC et al are all very well represented at top ibanks and consulting groups and provide excellent support for graduates kin terms of job placements.

By Arthurd (Arthurd) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 09:50 pm: Edit

A degree is only as good as what you do with it. I guarantee you that there are people who graduate with liberal arts degrees and find employment and satisfaction in their fields. If you are looking to be a psychologist in the future, a degree in mechanical engineering won't do you much good. If your aspirations are to find a career in psychology, sociology, literature etc. then pursue that career. However, don't expect that all of these majors will give you as much leeway to branch into different fields as the quantitative skills behind an engineering degree might. If you want to become a lawyer in the future, a liberal arts degree will suffice to bring you to law school (as would most degrees).

Your mom went to school for sociology/psychology and later became a computer programmer. This isn't the fault of the degree, as there are plenty people employed with degrees in sociology and psychology in various fields.

The most important thing to do is figure out what you want to do... before you get your degree.

By Rhkid005 (Rhkid005) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 09:54 pm: Edit

Here's the thing. You can get " a liberal arts education" (as your parents did) at almost any university or college in the US. A liberal arts DEGREE and a liberal arts COLLEGE are different things. Most top-rate universities are "liberal arts universities," which means that they prepare you to think/learn more than they prepare you to go into a paricular job. Most ivies (with the exceptions of Cornell and Penn) do NOT have many pre-professional or "practical" degrees, and instead have mainly liberal arts graduates. The most popular major at Yale, for example, is history. You can get a more practical degree (like a degree in the sciences or economics) from a liberal arts college OR a university. Also, you can also consider a college education as prep for grad school (which could include business or law school).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that they're disputing the idea of a liberal arts education (which can be found anywhere) more than they are disputing the idea of a liberal arts college.

By Reidmc (Reidmc) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 10:04 pm: Edit

Your parents are making a mistake comparing SUNY-New Paltz and the LACs on your list. Nothing against SUNY-New Paltz, but Bates, Bowdoin and similar schools have higher-rated faculties and do carry more weight in the job market. 30 years ago, my LAC (rated now in the top 25) did do a good job of teaching me enhanced thinking and communication skills.

Further, there are at least a couple of differences between today and when your parents went to school. 1. Graduate or professional school is more and more becoming a requirement for significant career advancement, and the top LACs have extraordinary grad and professional school acceptance rates. 2. LACs have really stepped up their career counseling and internship programs, and at a small LAC those services are readily accesible.

More points: It shouldn't be too hard for you to come up with several well-known or local (to you) examples of successful business executives that attended LACs, (though I suspect that technology companies would not have as many as other industries.) And per the post above, if you have specific academic or career interests, you should be able to make a case for why LAC X would be a good place to pursue them.

Finally, you should determine if college cost is part of your parents' objection to an LAC and make sure that is discussed. A top LAC is not going to be much more expensive than the universities on your list, but depending on your finaicial status, one could be significantly more expensive than the in-state SUNY cost.

Good luck!

By Zeppelin67 (Zeppelin67) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 11:13 pm: Edit

Yeah well its not working...umm they still say its worthless, cuz in the business world a college education isnt really necesssary its just cuthroat corporatism...they say when u have a skill your invaluble and when u get a liberal arts degree your worthless because other people have a talent not everyone has...all you can do is "think critically" while others know business from business school and can program a computer

By Arthurd (Arthurd) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 11:21 pm: Edit

My sentiments are with you.

By Zeppelin67 (Zeppelin67) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 11:32 pm: Edit

So what your saying is, an LAC isnt a good idea?

By Arthurd (Arthurd) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 11:35 pm: Edit

Read my first post under this topic... i think LACs are great for certain things.

Do you know what you want to do after college?

I say my sentiments are with you because it seems like you're going through quite the battle with your parents to attend the college you want.

By Zeppelin67 (Zeppelin67) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 11:42 pm: Edit that i contemplate it, i dont know what i want to my opinion, i need a well paying job, so i can go into the stock market, make some captial and buy up some real estate...can an lac help me?

By Arthurd (Arthurd) on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 11:49 pm: Edit

Graduating from any of the colleges/universities you listed with quality performance will give you a sure shot at your aspirations. You speak like a businessman to me... maybe you should research the various business majors @ those and other schools. Maybe minor in comp sci to please your folks. lol

By Zeppelin67 (Zeppelin67) on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 12:25 am: Edit

well a business major usually means a business school, and the hippyness of LAC and its other advantages go down the tubes while i waste away culturally at unc chappel hill or stern

By Arthurd (Arthurd) on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 12:30 am: Edit

You don't have to go to Stern or Wharton to get a good education in a business field. I see CMU on your list... great for business. So is Duke. But there are still other alternatives to a business major.

By Mikemac (Mikemac) on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 12:44 am: Edit

The stuff below is from something I just posted on a thread in the "College Admissions" forum and I hope you find it worth reading, but let me cut to the chase. Ask your parents what, exactly, they did IN college to prepare for a career. Did they talk with alums of their college to find out how to break in? Take any business oriented courses (accounting, etc)? And, the most important key IMHO, did they get internships? If the answers are no, no, no, I think you have your explanation for what happened to them and how you can make your LAC experience turn out differently.

What can you do with an liberal-arts major? The question harkens back to the question of what is higher education for? Its really still a question of some debate. On one side you have the vocational camp, on the other those advocating the "life of the mind". For the former, think nursing, engineering, journalism, accounting, etc. These majors are just a step or two removed from the days of apprenticeship. Ask someone from one of those majors what they will be doing after college and the answer is obvious. To the vocational school of thought, college prepares you for a job, a better job than you get out of HS.

Just as earnest, on the other side of the debate, are those that argue that college should prepare you for precisely nothing! Well, they don't put it exactly that way, but thats mostly the intent. In years not so far removed when college was largely the province of the rich, one went off to college to enrich the mind or to become a clergyman (most old US colleges were founded as divinity schools). Those studying the liberal arts divorced themselves from the practical world in favor of the academic life inside the ivory tower. After the undergrad degree one could cement this relation with a PhD or switch to the grubby commercial track by going to a professional school such as medicine or law.

So what you are really asking is a bit of a non-sequiter through most of history, since you are asking what is the practical usefulness of a liberal-arts degree such as english or poli-sci. And through most of history the answer would have proudly been "nothing!".

These days, of course, the world has changed. Vocational-oriented students are required to take take liberal-arts courses. And while the liberal-arts curriculum has not changed in goal all that much (although you don't study the Trivium and then the Quadrivium), colleges these days tout it for its preparation of the mind. Liberal-arts majors are not generally intended to prepare you for a specific career. You learn to analyze, to argue, you are exposed to many points of view (well, on some campuses anyway), and to reason.

What you emerge with to sell to employers is potential. This is where the game gets a bit unfair. Employers don't assess the potential of every student the same. The more reputable your school, the more likely employers are to have some interest. Hence the obsession you see with Ivy, top LAC, and similar colleges isn't entirely unfounded.

Almost ANY career field is open to the liberal-arts grad outside of the ones that require specific training (engineering, nursing, etc), and for almost all of these you could go to grad school anyway if you really wanted. That's why books like "jobs for the english major" are too limiting; you can do almost anything but the question is how to get there?

Fortunately there are things a student can do to become more attractive to potential employers. I've already mentioned go to a school that has a good reputation. After that the things to do are get a good GPA, the second is to take some business-related classes, lets not forget networking with family and friends, but the MOST important is internships. First off, its better to take a peek at what its like in a law firm/accounting/marketing/etc. rather than start your career and find out you don't like it. And even if an internship is in field A you will encounter people at work doing B or C, things you maybe didn't even know about, and find you like them even more.

Most HS and college students probably can only name a handful of careers, yet in the business world there are dozens and dozens of separate careers under some broad headings. You don't just have to become a doctor or lawyer. Take the broad heading of accounting, to pick just one example. Depending on your interests you could work with non-profits, or in health-care, or on Wall Street, or in education, or insurance, or corporate finance, or in hi-tech, to name but a few. Internships help open a student's eyes to all the possibities that are out there in a way that grabbing a handful of brochures from the career center can never do.

Internships give you concrete reasons to tell employers why you are starting your career in field X rather than vague "I think I'd like it". Internships jump out of your resume and attract attention. From the potential employers point of view, the total time spent with a graduating senior in a course of interiews on-campus and at the company is only a few hours but an internship gives months of exposure so they really know you. If you do well in an internship you are practically guaranteed a job offer, another plus in this tight market.

BTW an excellent book that talks about how college students explore careers and parlayed internships into great jobs is called "Major in Success" by Combs. I really can't recommend this book highly enough, it lays out the whole process of using the years in college to discover fields you would enjoy and how to prepare for getting a job after graduation.

So my advice comes in 2 parts: the first is to major in something that you love. BTW don't be surprised if you change your major when you get to college; most students know little or nothing of the broad sweep of academic fields that are out there since they've never taken courses in anthropology, sociology, economics, etc and may discover they have a passion for one of these fields after taking a survey course.

The 2nd piece of advice is get Combs book and follow the process he outlines. There is no need to identify a career today, but it IS something you want to be working towards in college. If you want until spring of senior year you are at an immense disadvantage compared to your peers. Instead a student should spend the early years testing the waters and finding areas that are of interest, talk to alums of the college who are working in various fields (a service the career center is happy to arrange), etc. Do volunteer work, internships, whatever it takes to find out what areas are interesting and to get some real-world experience under the belt.

By Blaineko (Blaineko) on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 12:49 am: Edit

Most LAC graduates go on to grad school.

Your parents, should have known better. Even back then, going to a grad school is what trains you for a specific area. If your Mom wanted to be a psychologist, public policy planner, lawyer, business person or doctor, she should have gone to grad school. If she wanted a career right after college, then why did she not major in computer science or business. BTW, computer science undergrads are making less money because of outsourcing. I hope they don't think that CS is safe. Likewise, if your parents think an undergraduate business degree is worth a lot, then they are sadly mistaken.

As for your Dad, he could have gone to get his MBA, or go to law school, etc...That he didn't do that is what caused the problem to begin with. Not the liberal arts degree--which most universities and colleges at the undergraduate level give for four years of work.

The beauty of a liberal arts college is that it should train you to think on your feet, not guarentee a job after four years. No degree can do that NU or NLAC.

Why not study economics? You can't tell me it won't help in the business world. Likewise, if you want to be a glorified techie that is in middle management you don't need a college education (although it helps). Just got to a two year program at ITT if that's what you or your parents want.

In this day an age the Bachelor's degree is becoming a pre-rec for a bottom rung position, and a graduate degree is necessary to get a promotion.

All NLACs have a business curriculum that helps you get to graduate business school. In fact, their admissions rates are amazing. Just ask the grad schools to see who goes on to get a MBA. You'll be very surprised.

Didn't mean to rant, but your parents are all about misinformation.

Just my 2 cents. As for me, I'm EDing at Amherst. Why? Becuase it will prepare me for grad school (i.e. business, law, social work, public policy, medicine).

PS--it's so nice when parents hold a kid hostage by being less than fair and calling the shots.

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 01:21 am: Edit

If you graduate from a prestigious LAC, the degree won't be seen as meaningless whatsoever. There are LAC's that employers value as highly as the Ivies. Additionally, there are LAC grads who make up MANY of the executive positions in Fortune 500 companies.

As far as succeeding in the business world. I think that's heavily dependent on your network, and also your education. If business is what you would like to do, then you'd have to seriously considering going to grad school for an MBA or lets say a Masters in Econ.

Also, you would have to work for a few years professionally before you can apply to grad school for an MBA. Practically all the good MBA programs want some work experience from applicants (although they do take a few directly from undergrad).

I know someone who graduated from a university, not an LAC, who's been looking for a business oriented job for over a year, despite majoring in business for undergrad. At LAC's, a graduating student can have less of a problem because much of the prestigious LAC's have a great alumni network. So they tend to "hook" each other up with jobs. And please keep in mind that, in the real world, most jobs people attain is through their network (friends, associates, acquaintances, etc).

And definitely, as someone else mentioned, do internships each summer. Or even during the year if you can, part-time. Make some business cards for yourself. Keep in touch with people who you meet at companies. Because a lot of it is based upon who you know.

By Alexandre (Alexandre) on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 08:25 am: Edit

Are you kidding? LACs are awesome...and that's coming from Mr. Gargantuan Research Universities!!! LOL LACs offer great academic and social opportunities. If you like a small community feel and a great deal of personalized attention (which you will never get from a research university, even the ones that claim to be dedicated to undergraduate education), you cannot beat the LAC experience.

By Blaineko (Blaineko) on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 06:21 pm: Edit

BTW..the SUNY school your parents went to is classified as a university, not a liberal arts college according to USNews. Perhaps, that is what is causing your parents to misunderstand what a liberal arts college is and does.

The SUNY they attended, dispite it's name, was a university. Surely they don't mean that a university education is worthless. Do they? And, how would they know about the NLAC's without any practical experience?

Just a thought.

By 3togo (3togo) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 08:51 am: Edit

Hi Zeppelin67,

I think the LACs sound like a terrific place to go to school ... if I could go back 25 years I would give them a much bigger consideration than I did.

Here is a suggestion for both you and your parents. Do a little research on the graduates of top LACs and of top research schools. The admission and placement offices at schools should be able to help. If it were me I'd be interested in knowing ...
* How many graduates go directly to grad school (do you care what type ... law school, med school, MBA, PhD, etc)
* How many get a job immediately?
* What is the placement percentage?
* What is the average salary?
* Who hired grads

I believe what you'll find is that students at the top schools research or LACs are in great demand. For example, consulting firms hire from top schools and hire liberal arts majors liberally.

As someone mentioned earlier majoriing in a liberal arts major or going to a LAC leads to jobs ... as long as you're at a top school ... and you have the background to get into a top school.

Good luck!

By Emeraldkity4 (Emeraldkity4) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 09:30 am: Edit

I don't know if it will help you sway your parents any, but this chart that shows the top 10 percentage producers of students who go on to recieve their Ph.ds are overwhelmingly from LAC's ( of course this could just mean that those students don't want to leave the ivory tower......)

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 11:55 am: Edit

Have your parents actually visited and gone on college tours at top LACs with you? If you can convince them to do so, they may have a different opinion about whether a SUNY or an LAC is a better fit for you. Rather than arguing with them, ask them if they'd be willing to visit one or two of the LACs on your list in addition to some of the schools they prefer. If you can get them to visit, make sure they have a chance to talk with students and admissions people about graduate outcomes in terms of the job market. Good luck.

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 08:04 pm: Edit

I think the best thing would be for your parents to speak with people who aren't necessarily affiliated with a specific LAC, to inform them about how good they actually are. Or, if you know relatives or whatnot, who can speak on how great LACs are.

When I decided to attend a top LAC, my father didn't like the idea at all. He hadn't heard of the school, and since it was strictly an undergrad college (rather than a university with a grad school), that only made matters worse in his eyes.

It wasn't until a few people he ran into, had told him about the LAC that his tune changed. When he told these individuals, some random, where his son was going to attend, they were surprised. And each gave rave reviews of the school. That alone changed his attitude.

By Mikemac (Mikemac) on Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - 12:14 am: Edit

earlier I had posted about the importance of internships in getting a job after college. Just today in the NY Times was the following:

The focus on internships as a tool for professional success has never been greater, according to Mark Oldman, co-author of "The Internship Bible" and co-founder of Vault Inc., a career counseling company. About 80 percent of graduating college seniors now have done a paid or unpaid internship, according to surveys by Vault, compared with about 60 percent a decade ago.

"The interest in internships is at a fever pitch," Mr. Oldman said. "It used to be that internships used to be a useful enhancement to one's résumé. Now it's universally perceived as an essential stepping stone to career success."

see Crucial Unpaid Internships Increasingly Separate the Haves From the Have-Nots"" published in the NY Times on 8/10/04

By Bettina (Bettina) on Saturday, August 14, 2004 - 03:31 pm: Edit

I'm sure we all share your frustration at your parents smallness of vision and uninformed bias. I think it was a good point to try to get them to compromise on learning about some of your colleges in exchange for you to consider some of theirs.

Perhaps you can major in Economics, which is strong at many LAC's. When I was in finance, many traders and analysts had Econ degrees.

Economics majors acquire the analytical and communication skills that are useful to careers in finance, insurance, government, management, marketing and medicine. The training is also ideal for students who want advanced training in business through an M.B.A. degree. Economics has become increasingly important in legal analysis; hence, economics is a popular major for pre-law students.

Perhaps you could impress them with Distinguished Alumni lists for Bowdoin et all--I'm sure these guys didn't find their degrees useless:

Chenault, Kenneth
Class of 1973 - President and Chief Operating Officer of American Express Corporation

Druckenmiller, Stanley
Class of 1975 - Managing director of Soros Fund Management

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