Skip Navigation LinksHome / Liberal Arts Lowdown / What are the Liberal Arts?

What Are the Liberal Arts?

Libby, a college student, discusses with counselor Art what the "liberal arts" really means.

When I chose a “liberal arts” college, some of my friends thought I was training to be an artist!
Libby
 

“Liberal arts” comes from a Latin phrase, and it’s often misunderstood.
Art
 

Yeah, my dad thought “liberal” was about politics.
Libby

 
Nope, “liberal” in Latin means being free, rather than being a slave.
Art
 

And what about the “art” part—Art?
Libby


In Latin, art means a way of doing something or an ability. For example: “the art of living well.”
Art.
 

Hmm. So, when I put liberal and art together, I get, uh…freeway??
Libby

 
Ha-ha. No, Libby. Liberal arts means the abilities or skills appropriate to a person who’s free.
Art
 

That’s pretty cool. So liberal arts study is “liberating”!
Libby

 
Your translation skills are getting better, Libby.
Art
 
 

What Are the Liberal Arts?

A liberal arts education means studying broadly—taking classes in many different subjects—and building skills that are geared toward more than just one profession. By studying the liberal arts, students develop strong critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills. Liberal arts students learn to approach questions flexibly and to think across multiple disciplines. These are skills employers say they value most, even more than a specific major. In today’s labor market, career paths are changing rapidly, and graduates must draw from a variety of skillsets to adapt to challenges and capitalize on opportunities.

You might be surprised by the kinds of subjects and majors that are included in the liberal arts. They include much more than studio art and English classes (though those are great!)—they range from mathematics to Mandarin, from statistics to sociology. At liberal arts colleges and universities students can study the sciences—such as biology, chemistry, and physics—and social sciences—including economics, political science, and psychology. Students can study newer subjects, such as environmental science and neuroscience, and traditional ones, too.

At liberal arts colleges and universities, students have the opportunity to test out different areas of interest while progressing toward a degree. If you’ve already made up your mind about what you want to do after you graduate, a liberal arts education can help you think more creatively about your future profession and prepare you for changes ahead. The liberal arts will prepare you for a career in law, medicine, and business and for careers you’ve never heard of, but might be just right for you. Whatever path you pursue as a liberal arts student, you can explore many interests that will enrich not only your professional credentials but also your personal life and community impact. To read how the liberal arts has affected graduates and influenced their careers, visit Who Studies the Liberal Arts?
Yes