Many liberal arts colleges offer business degrees. Even more important, though, is that many businesses are enthusiastic about hiring people with the sort of well-rounded education provided by liberal arts institutions. Understanding how a liberal arts institution can prepare a student for a business career means first getting a sense of what truly defines liberal arts institutions and secondly understanding what skills businesses want and need.
Liberal Arts Institutions
Liberal arts institutions are known for their traditional strengths in the arts and humanities, but that is not actually what defines them. Many institutions, including the United States military academies, fall under the liberal arts rubric even though they offer a wide range of specialties.
The defining elements of liberal arts institutions are two-fold. First, they are dedicated to building well-rounded individuals with a broad, general knowledge base and critical thinking skills who will be able to act as informed citizens and engage with society in a productive manner. Next, liberal arts institutions believe that the best way to accomplish this mission is through small classes with individualized instruction and substantial interaction among faculty and students as part of a community. Liberal arts institutions, whether teaching business, technology, or the humanities are student-centered and focused on undergraduate education.
One of the substantial issues students face in choosing degrees and majors is that the checklist of skills businesses might ask of an entry-level hire are not the ones that define success as one moves up the corporate ladder or starts one’s own business as an entrepreneur. According to an article in The Atlantic Monthly, when businesses are looking for managers and executives, they actually prefer humanistic skills such as oral and written communications, critical thinking, and ability to understand the big picture rather than narrowly technical skills. For example, while the ability to use a specific application or piece of equipment may be necessary for an entry-level worker, after five or ten years, any software or equipment someone studied in college will be obsolete and a good employee will be managing people who use newer technology. The ability to communicate well with colleagues or customers or to understand how social and political change can impact a business will never become obsolete.
Business Degrees at Liberal Arts Institutions
Many liberal arts institutions do offer degrees in business or related fields such as technology. Students who are serious about long-term career success can use the traditional strengths of liberal arts institutions, including the ability to create individualized programs of study, to build degrees that prepare them for long-term career success rather than just entry-level positions. For example, a student who would like to be a Chief Financial Officer or an entrepreneur might create an individualized program that includes a mix of economics, statistics, and communication courses or a student interested in a career in sales or marketing could mix art and design courses with offerings in digital media and communication studies.
Conclusion: Business and the Liberal Arts
Students who want to study business at liberal arts colleges have two options: finding liberal arts institutions that offer business degrees, or creating individualized programs within traditional scientific and humanistic programs that will prepare them to succeed in their long-term career goals.