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Old 08-28-2008, 09:33 AM
 
878 posts, read 1,970,508 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Haaziq View Post
Well, they say the best thing to do these days is be a liberal arts major.
I don't want to pick on Haaziq, but this was posted in another thread and I found it interesting and thoughtful. I would like to discuss the relative merits of a specialized degree (science, engineering, or those that teach a specific skill set) against a liberal arts education (teaching to a broad range of interests).

Haaziq posts a lot of arguments for a liberal arts education and I wanted to discuss them point by point, compared to a specialized degree.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Haaziq View Post
You study a wide spectrum of things and it prepares you for many possible jobs.
A technical degree teaches a narrower field, but in more detail. Depth of knowledge is more important than bredth.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Haaziq View Post
Not to mention, you can decide what you want your focus to be. I know here in the states, you only have to have taken 4 economics courses at a university to be considered an economist. This applies to some other career fields too.
The narrow focus of specialized degrees allows for a wide range of focus as well. A civil engineer might specialize in traffic management, residential code, utilities, or building water parks. A physicist can specialize in the micro- or macroscopic realm, energy sources, or material science.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Haaziq View Post
With a liberal arts degree, you will be flexible and prepared for many different jobs.
I have said it before, I cannot imagine very many jobs where a liberal arts degree would be preferable to a technical degree, assuming neither is tailored to the position. For example, a political consulting company would likely choose a political science major over a math major. But why would such an employer choose a philosophy major over a computer engineer?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Haaziq View Post
Not to mention, with a liberal arts education, there is a lot of focus on thinking critically, speaking properly, and writing well. Employers look for things like that.
Critical thinking is an important element in science and engineering. Writing is strongly taught in these fields as well, although the nature of the teaching is directed towards technical, not persuasive, writing. While I agree Liberal Arts majors tend to better speech, there are many colleges which require a public speaking class as a requirement for all majors. Also, many universities allow some electives, and those could be filled with speaking classes. In summary, none of these skills are unique to a liberal arts education

In summary, I think that the dedication to a specific field of focus and depth of knowledge in that field is more important than learning "a little of this, a little of that." Further, because a specialized degree teaches clear and specific sets of skills, a potential employee will have specific accomplishments that they can point to, rather than relying on a vague description of skills picked up across a number of classes.

I will admit, I am somewhat biased. I have two degrees in specialized areas, and both are directed towards specific career goals. I work in a fairly narrow field which requires a base of knowledge from both of my degrees, while using very little in the way of specifics. My parents and likewise have degrees in specialized fields.

I would like to hear from others about the advantages of a liberal arts education over a specialized education. Maybe I'm missing something important.

Your replies are appreciated.
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Old 08-28-2008, 09:39 AM
 
Location: Texas
44,255 posts, read 58,517,023 times
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I have to agree that if all you are going to have is a bachelor's degree, it would be harder to find a good job with just a liberal arts degree.

However, if you are going to grad school for an advanced degree in law, medicine, business...having a liberal arts degree can't hurt. In fact, you may find yourself better prepared for critical thinking, argument preparation, and creative expression.
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Old 08-28-2008, 09:57 AM
Rei
 
Location: Los Angeles
494 posts, read 1,689,743 times
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Quote:
However, if you are going to grad school for an advanced degree in law, medicine, business...having a liberal arts degree can't hurt. In fact, you may find yourself better prepared for critical thinking, argument preparation, and creative expression.
If you're going to grad school for an adv. degree, any kinds of degree won't hurt.
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Old 08-28-2008, 10:14 AM
 
83 posts, read 371,197 times
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As an engineer I would have to agree with you zman0.

I have a BSME and had 5 semesters of literature/writing classes. In addition we were required to take economics and one additional elective that was non-technical.

There was also one class specifically for technical writing and presentations. And our senior project (which totaled 3 semesters) was endless presentations and writing.

And this was mostly my freshman and sophmore years.

I do believe however that a BSME covers a very broad range of studies. Sure, the basics all come from Physics and math, and a lot of the formulas cross over into different classes, but we studied everything from Airflow across a planes wing to spring design to designing a hot tub

Top off my engineering classes with the amount of literature/writing, business, economics and statistics classes and I would consider myself well rounded Enough that for my Masters its not much of a stretch for me to do an MBA.

We also took electronics classes (three semesters) which I must say sucked But it does give me that edge.

I could be a technical writer just as easy as being an engineer.
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Old 08-28-2008, 12:32 PM
 
2,185 posts, read 3,424,774 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zman0 View Post
Depth of knowledge is more important than bredth.

I have said it before, I cannot imagine very many jobs where a liberal arts degree would be preferable to a technical degree, assuming neither is tailored to the position. For example, a political consulting company would likely choose a political science major over a math major. But why would such an employer choose a philosophy major over a computer engineer?

Critical thinking is an important element in science and engineering. Writing is strongly taught in these fields as well, although the nature of the teaching is directed towards technical, not persuasive, writing.

Further, because a specialized degree teaches clear and specific sets of skills, a potential employee will have specific accomplishments that they can point to, rather than relying on a vague description of skills picked up across a number of classes.

I will admit, I am somewhat biased. Maybe I'm missing something important.
I find the debate absurd, personally.

Working in the high tech world, during a hiatus from teaching positions, I was part of a technical writing department. We had an English, archeology, Russian, and Biology majors, a community college liberal arts grad, a perpetual college student with revolving majors, and one high school graduate.

The manager hired us on the basis of our skills, not our degrees - and it worked. The English major had the least technical background when hired, and was sought primarily as editor - and went on to become domain expert in one of the most convoluted parts of the network. The archaeologist proved to be a brilliant interviewer. Our manager was the CC grad - younger than most of us, respected by all.

There are jobs that require a specific background to do the job, though even there the determination of best candidate is not always so simple as "What degree do you have?"

It is not the degree that makes the person.

It is the person who makes the degree.
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Old 08-28-2008, 01:11 PM
 
878 posts, read 1,970,508 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jps-teacher View Post
It is not the degree that makes the person.

It is the person who makes the degree.
This would be a compelling argument if we were talking about public schools or some other aspect of life where you don't have a choice of circumstances. But when a student enters college, he can choose to pursue any degree he wants. I'm wondering why any student would choose to pursue a degree in liberal arts as opposed to a specialized degree? You've even made my point for me, if Liberal Arts majors and Technical majors can perform equally well in a traditional "liberal arts" field, then why not go for the Technical degree and have even more options?

In other words, if there are 1000 liberal arts jobs, and 100 requiring each of a number of specialized degree...why limit yourself to 1000 jobs with a liberal arts degree, when you could have a chance at 1100 different jobs with a physics degree?
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Old 08-28-2008, 01:30 PM
 
Location: Denver, CO
1,922 posts, read 4,433,466 times
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As some people have mentioned above, it's much easier to get the GPA necessary being liberal arts major to go on to graduate or professional school rather than struggle with advanced level technical courses. Medical schools don't care if you are a chemistry or biology major, they only care that you've taken the few core classes but have high GPA and test scores.
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Old 08-28-2008, 01:45 PM
 
2,185 posts, read 3,424,774 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zman0 View Post
This would be a compelling argument if we were talking about public schools or some other aspect of life where you don't have a choice of circumstances. But when a student enters college, he can choose to pursue any degree he wants. I'm wondering why any student would choose to pursue a degree in liberal arts as opposed to a specialized degree? You've even made my point for me, if Liberal Arts majors and Technical majors can perform equally well in a traditional "liberal arts" field, then why not go for the Technical degree and have even more options?
Tech writing as a traditional liberal arts field? You and I must be from different parts of the country. (But, honestly, few of the computer engineer sorts could write tolerably, and they built far too many unstated assumptions into their docs.)

You say that by my noting that the science folks made good tech writers, I proved your point. But then you ignore that the English major became domain expert on a computer network component - not among the writers - within the company. "Why get a technical degree when an English major can perform equally well in a traditional "technical" field?"

It's not the degree. It's the person. Mostly, the degree did not give us our skills.

One of the more entertaining debates I have with some of the college students I work with centers around "Who's smarter? A smart science student or a smart social science student?"

Mostly, the social science students are sure the science students could do anything the SS kids can - but the science students are far less sure of it. While they are dismissive of the actual math/stats aspect of it, they freely grant that they generally have no clue what makes this aspect or that important or why a particular area should be explored.

(Don't ask me about philosophy majors. I presume it is passion, but I don't get it. Anything else I can probably answer.)

I think your bias blinds you, in your belief that one gets the same breadth out of a technically focused degree as from a liberal arts degree, and your other assertion that depth is better than breadth.

They are different, but not better.

I doubt anything I could say would convince you.
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Old 08-28-2008, 05:00 PM
 
Location: Southern Illinois
10,309 posts, read 19,142,650 times
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Well I'll jump in here because you all seem to be in agreement that a tech degree is best. Years ago, when I was in college, I wanted to major in English Lit--it was my passion after all, but everyone kept telling me that it would be like flushing the money down the toilet and that the only thing I'd ever be able to do with a degree like that would be to teach. I didn't think I wanted to teach, so I got my degree in Economics instead and then got out of college and didn't get a job right away. I don't think I came off as too convincing in the interviews because, guess what--I didn't care about economics. Then I had babies and stayed home with them for several years and homeschooled them and now I'm trying to re-enter the work force and guess what--I still don't care about economics. All I want to do when I grow up is teach English Lit. Fortunately I kept up with my reading, but I really believe that if I had majored in English Lit as I wanted to, I would be a college professor by now.

My cousin got her degree in Lit and has a great job with a great company right now. I say do what you want, because if a technical degree or business degree doesn't gibe with your tastes, you probably will have a hard time getting hired because you won't be convincing.
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Old 08-28-2008, 05:07 PM
 
2,185 posts, read 3,424,774 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stepka View Post
Well I'll jump in here because you all seem to be in agreement that a tech degree is best.
Huh?
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