• Ellen

What is a Liberal arts degree?

Ever heard of a liberal arts degree? The answer for most people is probably no, if you have you are on either side of a line, one side of knowing what it is (in which case you don't need to read this!😂), the other side being those that think it is a type of art degree. I assure you it is not an art degree, well unless you think philosophy, sociology, media, history,criminology, economics and many other subjects count as an art. If you are American or Scottish then you are more likely to have heard of these degrees but they are slowly spreading wider a field. A liberal arts degree is different in England than in the USA.

In England a Liberal arts degree is an interdisciplinary educational program covering a breath of subjects where students learn to connect traditional academic disciplines to solve problems ( Read my blog seeing the bigger picture for more on connecting disciplines to solve problems). Where as in the USA the general structure, is that a student will spend a large proportion of the first few years of their degree taking general studies courses, so that they gain a good general knowledge, before specialising in their final year(s), but American degrees often have major and minors that they specialise in studying (two main subjects). Standard Scottish degrees often have this general knowledge element to them but they also have degrees specifically called liberal arts degrees which are more like the English version of liberal arts. With that aside I am going to be focusing on my experience of an English liberal arts degree and if you want to know more about the history of liberal arts or about it in other countries I can write a blog on these topics.

The point of an interdisciplinary degree is to enable students to gain many transferable skills that they can use to adapt in new environments. This is especially useful in the modern world with a rapidly changing job market, as it means students are able to apply their skills to a wide variety of jobs, rather than having a specialised degree which could limit the areas they are able to look for jobs. Being able to think out side the box is also a skill that a Liberal arts student should gain by the end of their degree program as that comes part an parcel with connecting the dots of multiple disciplines.

In my first year we had 3 core subjects one in semester one, one in semester two and a year long module. In semester one we took a module called the 10 problems of philosophy, which if you have or are taking A level philosophy it covers many of the same problems but at a much more rapid pace. Instead of spending weeks or months on a philosophical theory we had a new theory to tackle each week! Then In semester two we took the module mediated world, sounds like a media module I know! Well to me it really felt like it was as we were looking at media topics from a sociological point of view. Which as for one of my options I look a media module called the photographic message, and the content overlapped in several places it meant I was able to see the topics from both the view of a sociologist and that of a media student.

Finally we moved on to my year long module which was called understanding the world through the liberal arts. For all of my other classes liberal arts students joined in on other subjects classes but for this one it was just our little group, we started the year with 6 of us and ended the year with 4 of us on the course. I know in one of the older years there are only 2 students on the course! (I will talk about this more shortly) In our main liberal arts module we covered many different subjects from human and animal geography to history, ethnography, creative writing and most of it had a base in philosophy. Over the course of the year we studied a new topic roughly every two weeks, so this module is perfect if you get bored of a single subject easily!

In addition to our core modules we were able to take two options per semester in our first year. Now to pick modules is enjoyable and I would prefer to pick modules over being told which I am taking, however when you have 80 plus options per semester it can be quite the task!! In my first semester I choose to take BSl 1 and Chinese 1, I very much enjoyed BSL (bonus was that I also found it relatively easy to learn, you can read my BSL blog here) and carried it on as one of my options in semester 2. Chinese though was another story I found it too hard to keep up with the pace of learning it so I choose to drop it and take another option for semester 2. In semester 2 I took the photographic message as I mentioned earlier.

Back to small class sizes! One benefit of taking a liberal arts degree is that typically you will be in small class groups which allows for plenty of teacher-student interaction, helping you grow in confidence and to develop your ideas further. I felt this small class size was nice as it meant we all got to know each other and the main class tutor. Your main class tutor is able to know you as students rather than a number, which with knowing some classes at my university can have 300 or more students in a class you can understand what I mean by this.

So as a summary a liberal arts degree is an interdisciplinary education with a huge breath of subjects covered, that you are taught to connect together too solve problems. There is plenty more that I could talk about, so let me know what you would like to know about liberal arts and I will do my best to answer any questions.

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