Twenty years ago, many students heading off to college were advised to invest in a liberal arts degree. It was thought that disciplines based in literature, philosophy, and religious studies would turn out well-rounded thoughtful students ready for a variety of careers.
Today, STEM degrees dominate the conversation, with good reason: students who graduate with science or engineering degrees are likely to earn more, be employed more steadily, and are less likely to regret their degree choice.
But this does not mean you should avoid a liberal arts degree if your heart is set on that path. In fact, a liberal arts degree may uniquely prepare you for a STEM career. And while a BA is not the proper pathway if you want to become an Electrical Engineer or work in or some other highly technical role, a liberal arts degree can give you the skills for many of the less technical but still necessary jobs that technology companies, manufacturing plants, and engineering firms must fill every year. Check out why your liberal arts degree might make you a great fit for these positions.
Soft Skills Matter
Turns out, that advice from twenty years isn’t so outdated after all: liberal arts degrees still teach the soft skills employers value. This includes leadership, self-motivation, a continued thirst for knowledge, critical thinking, an adeptness with both verbal and written communication, and the ability to collaborate and work with others. All of these abilities are key components for success within a technical career.
Certain liberal arts degrees have critical implications for technology. For example, it’s imperative for companies working on AI (artificial intelligence) development to consider the ethical ramifications of such work, which creates a demand for graduates with philosophy, sociology, or religion degrees, who can help guide companies through these new ethical boundaries. VR (virtual reality) firms also rely heavily on those with graphic design and art backgrounds to design the actual worlds, as well as the digital twins of the people who exist within them.
Liberal arts graduates also excel at complementing the hard skills of their engineer coworkers by offering different viewpoints garnered from their four years of study within the humanities and social sciences. As technologies creep ever more deeply into our everyday existence it is of paramount importance they are designed in ways that feel comfortable and unobtrusive to those who interact with them. This can only be achieved by a team who grasps the intricacies of the human end-users as well as they understand the details of the technology itself.
STEM Employers Need You
Last year, about 2.4 million STEM-related jobs remained open because employers could not find properly skilled workers to fill those positions; that’s equivalent to the population of Austin, San Francisco, and Atlanta, combined. As daunting as that number may seem, the gap in available workers vs. the number of workers needed is expected to continue to grow. Several industries such as industrial manufacturing don’t have enough skilled workers entering the field to make up for the number of workers retiring each year, much less have properly trained workers to compensate for ongoing expansion in high-skilled jobs. This creates a perfect storm where employers are now looking at graduates from non-traditional majors to fill STEM jobs, as long as they can prove they have life skills and an openness to learning. Some of the positions are well paying and challenging, especially managerial, research, communications, and time-management positions. Liberal arts students who are open to additional on-the-job training may find a STEM career fits their interests surprising well, as many of these positions demand workers who can solve complex problems by innovative and creative means.
You Can Prepare Now
You can major in history, English, philosophy, or linguistics, or whatever field is your passion, with an eye toward a possible STEM career, or you may consider branching out while still in college to finely tune your education for a future career in STEM. Some universities have curated special degree programs like Purdue’s Degree+, that allows students to complete a BA on one field while also completing a degree from a more traditional STEM discipline. By using such a program, you can get that philosophy degree while simultaneously completing a degree in Computer Science, or study English while also working toward an Ag Science degree.
Even if such a disciplined approach doesn’t seem like the right path, the addition of a few higher-level STEM classes will increase your marketable skills after graduation and will give you more value as a future employee in many markets. Regardless of whether you choose a STEM career or a more traditional liberal arts path after graduation, those extra classes on your resume will tell future employers you have the soft skills they’re looking for: curiosity, the willingness to explore new things, and the desire to push yourself to do more.